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ippollite Name JBC
Location tokyo, AL, JP
Level Instructor  (3237 points)
Member Since 10/26/2009
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Bio
"MONKEY THREATDOWN!!!" 
General  
Gender: Male
Age: 33
Languages: English
Experience  
Years Riding: 4
Average Days/Year: 15
Skill Level: resort powder rider
Riding Style: freeride
Area of Expertise: weekend warrior
Preferred Terrain: powder, backcountry
Sizing Info  
Height/Weight: 5'10, 172 lbs
Board Size: 159
Boot Size: 28
Clothing Size: L
Jacket Size: M
Pants Size: L
Thermal Size: M
Ride with Me  
Region: Asia
Location: Japan
Resort: Hakuba
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12/30/2013 2:02:21 AM
2/25/2013 11:34:56 PM Sugadaira - The review! Who: Ippy the munificent, keeper of the keys and slayer of the 100 day monster. So er, 120 days or thereabouts. You knows the score, not very good at snowboarding, nor staying in shape, nor remaining flexible, and completely incapable of recovering from any injury sustained whilst hitting up jib features he clearly has no business riding. When: February 24th 2013.Where: Just down the road as it happens. Ive even cycled there. Its a KILLER of a bike ride. Ran out of water about 3km from the top in the middle of summer. But for the fact fans, about 40km East of Nagano up the mountains somewhere between Suzaka and Ueda. Why: Free tickets brah! Plus i always felt kinda lame for giving it short shrift and never visiting it whilst at Suzaka, so this was my chance to make amends and show i could equally enjoy the little out of the way places.And did you? No. Im telling you this right now so that you understand that no matter how fair and objective im going to be 1) my loathing of the place is going to make its way through into this review, and 2) my desire for "objectivity" is going to simultaneously cause me to underplay some of the things i genuinely disliked about it. However, I will get on to this point elsewhere and it should go some way to balancing the force.Conditions: Freezing cold, like proper jumper weather. Pretty blustery and low visibility as well. There was 5-10cms of fresh on the main groomers around Davos, jumping to around 20cm over at Pine Beak. Off piste and the trees in the less popular/tracked areas were somewhere between 40-60cms. On the more exposed areas of Taro/Davos though it was sometimes akin to riding an ice cube. The wind does a hell of a number on the snow around here.Access: Took the bus direct from Ueda. I believe theres one from Suzaka as well. Ueda bus is 1200 yen each way, fairly straightforward. Super empty on Sunday morning, which is a blessed relief since its just a local bus. Probably a bit pricey for what is around a 20km trip up a hill (if you have a car though, its WELL worth driving instead). Ueda, (for them that dont know), is around 40km south of Nagano. Trains here leave fairly routinely, and if you're coming from Tokyo, the shinkansen stops here before you arrive in Nagano making it fairly convenient. Bus from Ueda is around an hour. Sugadaira explained. Ticket Info: 4300 yen for a day ticket, or 4500 yen if you pick up the lunch pack (pretty much making it 3500 yen in truth). Can't find the season pass info, but i remember finding it earlier this year and laughing IN ITS FACE!!!! So probably around the 40-50,000 mark. The resort also has a snowcat operation taking you up from the top lift on Davos to the very top of the mountain. The cost is 3000 yen. I honestly can't tell you if its worth it. Not only would i not pay 3000 yen (though if I'm reading their website correctly, its gone UP to 3300 yen) on top of a lift ticket, but thanks to the semi white out, I couldn't even see up the mountain to get a sense of what you were paying for.About the Snowcat: The terrain at the starting point (the top of Lift 1) is MEGA soft. Like barely breaking downhill and runs like that for a good 200 meters before dropping into a decent pitch. The top of the lift operations is 1647m, whilst the cat tracks up another 600 or so meters. Three thousand yen for that seems a little... i dunno. If you have the skins, I reckon you'd be better off just hiking it. And if it IS steep, well, 3000 yen for a short bomb down a hill even if the powders fresh flowing seems also a little... if money isn't an object though, probably beats whatever else there is to do on the mountain. Any other Info: Sugadaira is rugby world! Its the home of Japanese rugby union. First time I came here I was STUNNED to find about 15 rugby matches going on (they have a LOT of rugby pitches here). Its a beautiful little flat area at a rather high altitude making for great cool weather in summer, and some seriously wild winters. Its a functioning town and owes its existence to its outdoor pursuits and its farms. Since its a town first, that means plenty of resources, but they're all kinda spread out. If you have a car, you're completely fine. If you're using public transport its going to be a little messier.And why is Public transport messy? The first thing to mention is the lack of a central area. Its pretty hard to know where you need to be. Sure, there's an information center. But its miles away from the lifts in a sort of no mans land between the two main areas meaning youre unlikely to find yourself there unless you happen to be staying around this area. Mainly its just a bunch of roads, with some lift possibly somewhere around you. This causes problems as I personally found when I got off near lift five at Davos and found the nearest coin lockers to be either a 20 minute walk up a hill, (or 2 lifts and a traverse via snowboard). Guess which one i chose, board bag and all?And second, theres a good two or three Kilometers of fields, farms and houses between the Taro area and the Pine Beak area. You won't be walking this one. These two resorts are NOT connected by lifts or a traverse. If you're switching between the areas, you'll either be needing a car, or you'll be riding the shuttle bus. And this is where it gets spectacularly messy. For you see, the shuttle bus actually charges you to ride the resort you've paid your ticket for. It's not much, but it really irritated me that i had to pay 400 yen for a round trip to access the parts that my pass was apparently paying for (well... not me though - yay! free tix! but had I have paid, i would have been incensed to be honest). Worse still, it runs every two hours. It does two loops (around 20 minutes per loop), then its gone. If you miss the bus, its back up the hill and an hour and 20 minutes twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next one. And if you switch out, you better have your timings well planned to make it back in time for your bus back. If you are coming here then and using public transport here's my two INVALUABLE pieces of advice:1. Pack very lightly. Preferably get a backpack with straps to carry your board, wear your gears to the resort so you don't need to bother with lockers. They aren't all that common it turns out.2. Memorize the bus timetable. Fortunately i went there and took a picture of it, so this means no matter what, you're gonna have a better time than me.And here's that shuttle bus timetable:Explaining the review: In effect, it's really two areas: Pine beak and Davos/Taro. These areas are completely independent from one another. You cannot just ride from one part to the other.But i figure the best way to explain this resort is really to break it into the four main sections listed above: Pine beak 1 (the main pine beak area); pine beak 2 (the smaller mountain connected to pine beak 1 by a miserable traverse); Taro; and the Davos area. Obviously I tried to hit up as much as I could, but I maybe rode around 60% of the runs. I don't believe i missed out on some amazing secret though.Breaking Down the Hill Part 1. DAVOS (Top of Davos lift 1)Davos is a weird one. On paper it's got a bit of everything: a load of soft runs for the beginners around lift 4 and lift 6; some fun little stashes around lift 5, a fun advanced beginners rolling bumpier course from lifts 2 and 3, a nice big central area at the base of lift one. Lift one takes you all the way to the top of the Davos area and itself has a few fun beginner-intermediate lines. On top of this you of course have the snowcat operation which might (i honestly cant comment on it - visibility at the top was less than 50 meters) give more experienced riders something to do.The area in general however is much more suited to beginners and low intermediates (and I assume advanced riders wanting to score some fresh lines by earning their turns hiking to the very top of the mountain). Intermediate and above will find the lines far too short and not particularly engaging. Snowboarders will also find the traversing required rather irritating. The lift placements are somewhat disjointed possibly because lift 4 (area 11 on the map) has to service both the line down to lift 1 and also the line to lift 6. This cuts the area up a bit making it all a bit underwhelming. If you really want to enjoy yourself in Davos, you're probably best off making a bee line to the area serviced by lifts 1, 2 and 3 (area 12 on the map) and sticking around there. Lifts two and three really overlap in many ways so ultimately its two lines. Beginners will honestly enjoy them, as will burgeoning intermediates looking to deal with a spot of speed since there are a few decent pitch lines mixed in. In general the lines here are okay, nice and open, straightforward and probably a lot of fun for someone in their first twenty or so days... they are somewhat on the short side though making things a touch frustrating for anyone looking to bomb the hill. Finally, the area seems to get seriously exposed to the winds meaning that even in a drop you have a good chance of the fresh snow being blown away. It was also incredibly cold. Stay warm! (getting ready for the hike to the top).Turning to the other half of Davos (chairs 4, 5, and 6 - area 11), you have some SERIOUS beginner terrain. Chair 4 possibly has the softest terrain on the mountain. Its an awesome place to lap for first timers. Theres no real challenge from the pitch and due to the fact that line 1 seems to be the popular part of the mountain, the traverse between the two areas actually keeps people from riding it. This means there's a lot of space for you to do your thing and learn your skills. If i ever decide to pick up skiing, this part of sugadaira is going to be high on my hit-list. Chair 5 on the other hand has some really fun looking lines for intermediates and above. The only problem here though is that the lift is INCREDIBLY slow, and the terrain is as you might expect, rather short. Lapping seems like a great idea until you sit on the lift and realise you don't really want to waste your time here on such a small tiny line. Pity. i would have really liked to have hit up some of those lines. Its probably the only part of Davos that a progressing intermediate might find interesting and worth the bother.This leaves line 6. Line six is your connection to Taro. It's got a few restaurants hidden in the trees i wanted to go visit, but aside that its a pretty mild run to the bottom. Getting to the top of line 6 from line 4 requires a bit of skill and speed if you don't want to unclip, and the resort was kind enough to add some rollers to keep you moving between the two. As i say though, great place for beginners to ride, but there's nothing here (aside those restaurants) for anyone who can ride a bit. Its super soft, super mellow, short and wide. It's real value though for most people is that it connects you to the Taro area and to the shuttle bus to Pine beak. (Line 6 from up the top of Taro) In summary, the entire Davos area (aside the short lines from chair 5 and the hike to the top) would suit a very inexperienced group. It's got a nice atmosphere at the base of lift 1 making it very family and beginner friendly. For solid intermediates and advanced riders not doing the snowcat/hike, there really isn't that much for you guys to do. Its kinda dull, the pow is super exposed and wind blasted, and because the snow level isn't so deep, the trees are pretty tight and scrubby. It's worth a look for the nice views but i wouldn't really sit around here for too long. There are better lines to play on.But not necessarily at Taro...Part 2: Taro Looking at Taro from pine beak 2Great terrain, but stupidly short. The lifts chug up at a decent speed keeping things moving, but most of the lines seem to mirror one another and all seem to be mid 20 degree straight runs to the bottom. I hit up a few of these lines and i'd suggest that the more technical and fun lines were found on the side facing pine beak. The side facing Davos is of course fun to play on, but it is barely breaking 500 meters whilst at least the Pine Beak side pushes out a couple of hundred extra meters. None of these lines though break 800m, so that should give you some sense of what you're really dealing with here: a rather tiny hill with a decent gradient. Again, nowhere near enough snow to cover the brush. (its got an alright pitch to it)Theres really not all that much to do here. Beginners will find it rather intimidating, intermediates will of course enjoy the challenge of the steeps, and though advanced riders will enjoy a proper good steepish run to let rip a bit and bomb the hill, its going to be short lived and again somewhat underwhelming. The only thought going through my mind here was that i could be riding similar but MUCH LONGER versions of these on just about any resort I've ever ridden. As a stand alone area, it kinda blows. Connected with Davos though its a bit more charming. It does at least offer a progressing beginner/low intermediate mixed group a convenient and fun challenge once they start getting tired of the softer lines on Davos. And really that's how I think of this place...Taro on its own is around 12 short runs of totally mixed terrain - beginners paths mix in with 28 degree downhill bomber lines. If you choose to ride all of it, you'll easy kill a half day. Mix it in with Davos and a lowish level group's going to have a genuinely good full day out. But it just wasn't for me. I took a couple of the lines either side, mainly the steeper ones and reckoned I'd seen enough to get a good idea of the place. Maybe if someone else comes here and spends some time they can tell you in more detail about the area (I do feel that not riding the A course might have been a bit of an oversight since it looks like it had a bit of fun to it). However, for me, the Taro area really was a stop gap area between my bus home at Davos, and the shuttle bus across to Pine beak (it goes from areas 3, 4, and 5 on the map) and as such didn't really do much to hold my attention. It definitely has more fun lines than Davos, but it really is held back by its length. A pity of course, since what little it has, is rollicking good fun. But stay here and you'll be riding lifts more than you'll be riding the course, and since I'm no longer in Korea and have actual options, I think id rather spend my time riding the course to be fair. Naturally, if you're leafing and side slipping your way down a 26 degree course, i dare say you'll take a bit longer getting to the bottom making it a bit more of an effective use of your time. Part 3: Pine Beak 2. Berzerkah! looking up pine beak 2. In truth, this is about as high as it goes and where the lift drops you up 3/4s of the way up. The very top is more like a down then up dip. After a couple of runs the view of pine beak was becoming somewhat tempting. Effectively a bowl with a flat run out it seemed to offer at least something a little different and hopefully slightly longer than what I was currently riding. Both Taro and Davos (in particular) had been hugely disappointing, so perhaps a trip to the other side would lift the day. By pure luck I arrived at the bus stop in time for the 11.52 bus across to Pine Beak. I've already moaned about the timetable and the extra cost so ill just pretend that I'm not holding some kind of grudge about it by adding a sentence into the review of the zone moaning yet again about it... so back to the story!Pine beak 2!I'm starting in pine beak two because that's exactly what I did. The bus drove past pine beak 2 (I had no clue where i was) and then pulled into the main pine beak area. I checked my handy map, realised I had 3 lifts and then a traverse. I was cold, kinda fed up and bored. Pine beak was a bit of a revelation. The very short lines between the connecting lifts to the top were decent fun. I realised coming back here might be a decent option after all. However first I had to make sure Id checked out everything Sugadaira had to offer, so at the top of the lift I took the path across to Pine beak 2.Its a fun little run through the trees... for about 300meters. And then it gets flat. And i dont mean it gets flatter. I mean it gets flat. Absolutely spirit level flat. You will be unclipping and you will be walking. And its a considerable distance. At least a good five to ten minutes. Thankfully by now i was so primed for boredom and annoyance that it didnt particularly phase me and i only let out a single muttered "i ****ing hate sugadaira!!!" before happily skating on my way.I grabbed a quick lunch and then scooted up the hill. Really you might as well consider this one lift. It goes from the base to the top, with a small drop off zone about 3/4s of the way up. Its a nice quick lift making lapping possible, and because its kinda out of the way no ones really around. Theres just you, a few beginners cutting the teeth on the baby lift/run, and an amazingly fun looking downhill practice line for skiers, and get this! SNOWBOARDERS!!! Theres a snowboarder downhill line!If you have an alpine board and want somewhere to give it a wee run out on a practice course, dudes! pine beak actually accommodates you! This was really awesome and made me like the place almost immediately. I dont know if its a dedicated line, or if they only had it up for the day, but it wasn't a competition or anything, it was 5 or ten dudes on their alpine sticks just bombing down the line. Its not long or anything, but it looks a fun little line to just blast on!On the exact opposite side of the lift just prior to the first get off point is a nice little powder zone. It was closed, but well, in the interests of research i er, had to you know... and its a blast! Decent pitch, lots of powder, and very lightly tracked.And if you do get the lift all the way to the top, guess what? TREE LINES AND FRESHIES EVERYWHERE!!!  Whee! the hidden gem of the resort. Again, the lines are shortish, but the fact you can get in the trees here gives you something to drag those lines out a bit longer with a few happy face shots.Of all the zones, this is the one that really delighted me. It has very little for beginners and maybe low intermediates, but solid intermediates and above will really enjoy this small out of the way area with only a few runs to its name. It definitely cheered me up a bit, and what with the lines id spied over at pine beak 1 it seemed like my afternoon might deliver something a little more entertaining than the morning session at Taravos. (copyrighted!) Truthfully its got a few laps in it. You'll likely get bored after a couple of hours, but they're a much better couple of hours than Id been led to believe were even possible in Sugadaira. Well worth that miserable traverse over here.Part 4: Pine Beak 1. (looking at pine beak from the base of Taro)Possibly a worse traverse back if im honest. Ah wells... Just know its coming and mentally prepare yourself for it. It will end! it will end! it will end!As for the resort area itself. Id already got a quick feel of the place making my way across to pine beak 2, and was rather impressed. The park line looked immaculate and good fun. Higher up and the pitch turned into a decent bobbly messed up choppy powder-scape. If you are a powder hound its pretty clear that pine beak is going to offer better quality and deeper lines (with the *possible* exception of the hike to the summit over at davos of course) that those found over at Taravos. (a bit washed out im afraid. But up around teh top of pine beak 1) The lines were also a great deal more diverse, entertaining and fun. They're pretty identical in truth given that its a bowl area, so straight drop into a run out, but it does offer quality terrain, a semblance of length (though still not what youd class as even a medium length decent run - unless you truly try and drag it out by running all the way to the very bottom so you can ride three lifts back up). Beginners will find the lines serviced by the lower lifts certainly accommodating, whilst park rats are going to at least have a decent line to lap (i never hit it of course, but it looks like they have a beginner and intermediate line). Finally more advanced riders are just going to love cutting in and out of the trees up the top and playing with the steeps and bumps.Its cut up, its tracked, its moguled in places, and if it gets icy, its going to be utter hell, but in a drop, its well worth a look in. Lots of ways to plop down from the top lift, so really if you find one run cut up (possibly the two flanking the main lift to the top) you can just pop a little further along for slightly less steep but also likely less cut up lines to muck around on. In all, its a fun area. Its also fairly popular compared to the other parts of the mountain which gives it a bit of an atmosphere. It's got a little bit of everything which makes it a great place for a mixed group to consider basing themselves. It was a little busy mind you and you can see its the kind of place you might be fighting for tracks. But a fun (little) place. Deciding on Pine Beak or Taravos?Youve got a day, youre using the bus so its a pain in the ass getting from one side to the other. What to do? Well, genuinely i think the two areas offer a completely different experience from one another. High intermediates, park rats, and powder hounds are definitely going to want to skip Taravos. Aside the whole centralish hub feel of the surrounding area, the actual terrain is either too soft to enjoy or too short to let rip. Throw in the exposure to the elements and its not really all that enjoyable. Beginners and intermediates on the other hand will find almost the entire area accessible to them and theyll get a great sense of accomplishment tackiling some of the more tricky faces of Taro. I also think of the four, the Davos area is possibly the prettiest part of the mountain making for a genuine "experience".Pine Beak on the other hand definitely suits the more adventurous rider. The steeps are steeper, the lines are longer, and the pow is deeper. The tree riding, (though short) is nevertheless a nice break from the endless groomers over at Taravos. Pine beak 1 offers an all round fun small hill to kill time on. Its not somewhere I'd probably find myself really wanting to head to, but if I found myself stuck there for some reason, then it definitely offers something resembling a slightly alright ride to it.Finally, the powder hound looking for fresh lines and not really too concerned about pitch (and the Eurocarver looking to refine their skills) will definitely enjoy a couple of hours over at pine beak 2. Its a great place for doing your own thing and enjoying the stillness (once you escape the omnipresent shit music blatting out of the speakers).This is really a decision that makes itself based on your skill level and what you want. If you want fresh lines, a bit of a challenge with the terrain, and some runs through the trees, probably spend more time over at Pine beak. If you want the AWE of being on a ski jo with a happy friendly unchallenging line where you can just splat on your face then base yourself around Davos. If youre after moving up the mountain a bit and want to have a crack at some different terrain then Taro/Davos is probably going to give you plenty to keep you interested. The two in conjunction would work really well for a beginner to early intermediate group looking for something not too intimidating, accessible, and a decent enough area to keep it diverse.Finally if you want a hike, well, why the hell not just follow the rest of the people skinning up to the top of davos and pick your line?At a push, theres honestly something for all levels to do and enjoy.Just found this and it seems a nice idea to add it in and give you an idea of what youve been reading and maybe also goes some way to balance my slightly more fussy viewpoint. It also seems that although im right about the terrain up the top of davos being soft, i didnt realise there were mad photo opportunities up there with some snow monsters. If i do go back. Mayhaps i will have a wee scoot to the top after all.  Ipps in Sugadaira ...but Its that qualifier. I cant seem to remove it from my head... "at a push..."You see, I can't think of a single way I could enjoy this place. Sure, I loved pine beak, But its a relative love. Its a fallback love. I love it because its not Taravos i guess and that it gave me at least some degree of joy from a rather dull day. But even compared to little Togari, a small resort that i was absolutely charmed by, there just isnt that much to like... let alone love.I liked pine beak 2. Its a charming little area. Quiet, deep, fun, and empty. But In effect its one lift. And just how many times could i conceivably lap that lift before I'm either throwing myself off a cliff just to try and find something new? At heart Im a bit of an explorer. I like to find stuff. That i bothered to find it at all, is frankly enough in itself. I could have maybe stretched out an extra hour or so, maybe two or three even if i popped into the cafe for a few beers. In fact, getting drunk and falling down it seems like a great idea since its just you and a few other people... but the point is, the happiness that such a place even exists here is only comparative. It's still small. It's still one lift. And just how much exploring can you honestly do here since its ultimately rather short top to bottom?So i could head to pine beak 1 and play there. With a car this is a great plan. Pine beak 2 then 1 then back to 2! great day. But without a car, I guarantee you wont be wanting to ride that traverse ever again. And pine beak 1 is a bit hectic. Its fun! In miniature its like going from kagura to naeba in many ways. You go from a quiet peaceful, powdery untracked area, into better lines, more fun terrain, but more tracking, more chaos and more chop. Its a fun diversion, but that's all it is. Once you've ridden three or four of the lines you realise you're riding a mirror of everything before it. Its pretty much charge, bounce, bounce, run out. Or charge, bounce, trees, run out. Variations on a theme of bowl. All paths go to the same place, it all leads to the same line. Yet again, its too short to make the various lines feel any different from each other. So yeah, with a car, this place is working. Without one... not so much.So what about the other side? Well Davos offered me nothing... other than of course the sheer joy at realising i was (barely) riding a plateau. The top of it is probably alright, but without it, its a few short semi-intermediate lines to the bottom with some crusty shallow pow and scrubbed trees you likely cant get into. The traversing yet again is miserable and the lifts are too slow to really outpace the time it takes to charge whatever line you pick up on. Taro suffers a similar fate. Though it has a far steeper pitch and some decent runs in it, they're simply too short to make up for the time spent on the lifts, and once youve ridden a couple of them, you realise youve ridden them all.And this is really one of the (many) problems i have with Sugadaira. If you can carve, you're really outpacing the lifts. You're also going to realise very quickly that you are riding pretty much the same line just with a few degrees difference either way. There is just not enough run out to make it feel like you're getting a different line. Of course part of this is because i only rode the steeper and more obviously interesting lines, (and skipped over the paths as much as possible), but really why would i want to ride a reasonably soft gradient path crisscrossing through the woods? Don't i have enough of those stretching 6 or so Kms in Nozawa or on any decent sized mountains?What does this place have that i cant get anywhere else bigger, better and more varied?And the answer is nothing at all... well, with the exception of a dedicated alpine course and the very much on piste hike at the top of Davos. Since i have neither an alpine board, or a splitboard/snowshoes, I'm stuck with the resort itself, and i really cant say with a straight face that there's anything that would impel me to return.If i HAD to come back, sure! If i lived here and i had a car, and it saved mucking about, then sure. If i didn't already have a season pass and i was broke and this was a free ticket and the only way to give me a day out, then SURE!!! why the hell not? Its better than nothing... but i literally mean "Its better than nothing."Its really the best thing i can say about it. There's nothing here for me. Maybe for a group of beginners it'll work. There's loads for them to do. Heck, Id even suggest they should come here for a couple of days just to make sure they can explore the whole thing. But for me, its got nothing that i couldn't find elsewhere. In a fix, it'll do. But if I'm honest, it was a bit of a letdown and a wasted day on the slopes (well aside, the opportunity to moan about something!). Unless i carry out my threat to pick up a pair of skis, its fairly unlikely ill be back for a second helping. Sorry Sugadaira, thanks for the ticket, but in the words of Ivan Karamazov, if that's the cost of entry, i think ill have to respectfully decline. Ticket two is winging its way back to the SJ dudes for someone who honestly will enjoy it to have a stab at the place. It can be fun, I really think a low level group will have a blast here, but it's just not for me. 
1/28/2013 7:00:58 PM Madarao Tangram: Day 1 ReviewSo I got me some tickets thanks to SnowJapan and Madarao. Tangram gave me NOTHING! those guys can su... ha! One love! Jah rastafarai! Thanks for the freebie SnowJapan dudes!Where?:Madarao/Tangram.When?: January 27th 2013Who?: I hate snowboarding. Im sick of it. "Take this job and shove it! i work here no more!" But yet... i keep getting up and riding trains and buses every weekend instead of lying in bed and contemplating the existential futility of it all. Why do i feel like im getting worse and less comfortable trying new stuff? Its annoying. It also feels like an endless merry go round of riding a lift, riding a hill, riding a lift, riding a hill, riding a lift, riding a hill, riding a lift, riding a hill, ridin...Ticket Info: http://www.madarao.jp/ski/tickets Day pass is 4200 yen, whilst the madarao/tangram joint ticket is 4500. This is a no brainer to be honest. Unless you really really know that you are only going to enjoy madarao and are definitely lapping the only high speed quad in the whole place, then just get the all mountain. Its 300 yen more and it means not only more terrain to play on (and decent terrain at that), but more importantly it gives you a way up the mountain that avoids the crappy one seater tea tray bottleneck at madarao to get to the top. Easy worth it!Public Transport Accessibility: Direct bus from Nagano station. Left at 9.20, arrived around an hour later. Bus back was equally convenient, left at 4.30, pulled in at nagano station around 5.30. Bus was 1400 yen each way... a bit pricey, but youre at the resort with no drama so pretty straightforward.Conditions? Bluebird. Apparently there had been a drop with 20cms covering, but i was genuinely hard pushed to accept that. Not only was the resort cut to crap, but the snow in the trees felt decently packed. Not wet or crusty, just well packed. Im going to suggest that this was a couple of days old freshies... so not freshies. But you know. No crust layer, just choppy cold and cut up well packed snow.Crowds?: Surprisingly rather crowded. The five people on the bus led me to believe that everyone had gone to Myoko or Hakuba instead. No such luck. The place was pretty busy. Queues for lifts weren't awful, but on a busier day you're looking at some definite bottlenecks. Indeed the tea tray to the too is a nasty little bottleneck on a normal sunday. I shudder to think what its like on a holiday weekend. Again, the tangram lift pass pretty much means you can skip a lot of those crowds and just get the Tangram 2 lift up to the top.Lifts: To be honest, the lifts here blow. There are too many lifts in the first place taking you really sort distances. Theres also some traversing in places making placement seem a bit odd, and on top of this theres some serious bottlenecks. As the only lift to the top, it seems SCANDALOUS to make it a single seater. Finally, they are probably the slowest lifts ive ridden. Theres a couple of decent quads there, but only the madarao one goes at a decent pace. The rest are slow and mellow. This is arguably the worst feature of the place.  (teatray to the bowl up top, queue at 11.30ish).Resort Facilities? Reminds me a lot of Naeba in many ways. Its got loads of stuff for families and to keep the little ones entertained from day care to game centers. Outside that I cant honestly tell you from this review, i spent very little time inside im afraid. Its got some restaurants on the piste, and a big welcome info center/restaurant by the looks of it. Again, cant be too specific. It didnt seem lacking in anything in particular, and if the continual whirring of snowmobiles were anything to go by, they also have a racetrack just off the resort as well. Seems like you might have some stuff to do if you fancied a day just chilling out here without climbing the walls. Anything Else? Actually nope. Thats about it to be honest. Theres a bus from Nozawa to Togari to Madarao, and there's a fabled bus from Iiyama making trips here pretty easy. But yeah, i think I've covered most of it. It seems like a decent family resort with a nice hotel as its centerpiece. Its not too far from Nagano so day trips are fairly easy if you live in the area. You can ride it in a day, but I reckon you really need a couple of days here. A day isnt enough to get your fill of it.Madarao! Tangram!: FIGHT!!!Preview and Preconceptions: Looking at the data... the longest run is 2500m, the vertical is a very modest 400-500m, and its pretty much a solid distribution of beginner to advanced courses (30%/40%/30%). Lifts look annoying on the trail map, but it sorta reminds me of Naeba in its general shape. Maybe a smaller scale Naeba.Its also famed for its tree riding and to a lesser extent its snow, so preconceptions were rather on the mediocre side. Sure it might get some snow, but its a family place, its going to be pretty busy, and its really rather small if the vert is anything to go by. So er Naeba vs Kamui?Not expecting the moon on a stick, but kinda want to see what the hype is about and whether there's something I'm not seeing in the stats and trail map.Madarao-Tangram for Beginners:(cruising the skiers right beginner path).Here's the problem: I really don't think this mountain is beginner friendly.The whole resort has the makings of a bowl. In fact i'm fairly certain it is (If you pop over Tangram you'll see that its a massive bowl). And like a bowl this means steep descent often into flatish run out. And that's pretty much the case here as well. This means there's no real decent intermediate lines to break things up and give progressing beginners a way to get around the hill. More often than not, its super steep bumpy dangerous black diamond lines into a super soft flat absolute beginners line. This doesn't mean a beginner wont have places to play on; there are plenty of places to ride! It just means there's a real problem for beginners looking to explore the mountain and wanting to maybe hit up most of the sights. If you're an absolute beginner I wouldn't genuinely use any lift that takes you more than half way up the hill. And it's not a huge hill, so really that keeps you in a narrow band of the resort. Horizontally there's a fair bit to play on, but it doesn't really give you a MOUNTAIN to ride. More half a mountain, and mostly the bit without the awesome vista and sense of exploration we all want on our first few days learning to ride.Getting back to riding though, the tangram area probably has the most beginner friendly terrain overall. The sheer majority of this area is green runs with only really the quad taking you into slightly more difficult terrain. Aside the pair lift on the madarao border, none of the lifts go into the top half of the mountain, meaning you can pretty much get on any base lift and enjoy yourself. The three main lifts (and the fourth lift over the far right hand side of the trail map) access all the beginners lines making this zone a great choice for people picking up their first turns. Its a fairly light gradient around the mid teens for the most part with a few steeper sections coming off them in places. I dont recall the top of the quad lift being that problematic even though its listed as a red run but theres a zig zag path cut into it to on the skiers left hand side to make it accessible for beginners. Again, so long as you only ride half way up the mountain (which is pretty much any of the lifts from the base), the whole of Tangram is pretty much your oyster.To get back to Madarao, just take the furthest base lift on the Madarao border (lift 1). This line brings you down the Madarao Skyview course on a fairly nippy line and into one of the next big areas for beginners to lap: The crystal course, (serviced by lifts 11 and 12 and dropping into the Banff restaurant) is an excellent little area for beginners looking to progress towards carving. Its a bit steep maybe for absolute beginners towards the top of lift 12, but lift 11 should be straightforward for lapping and learning to get those first turns. Its also a great place for progressing beginners who to start developing their edge control a bit more. If you can turn, the two lifts are a great place to move forward, if you can't turn I'd just lap the bottom lift there until you feel comfortable to move on.(the crystal course on lift 12 i reckons - since thats the tea tray across from it).***At this point I have a small confession to make. I had no idea how the hell to get out of this area without taking the lift all the way to the top and coming down the lines from there. I dont think you need to do this however, since the trail map shows a small lift/tow rope/walkway next to the Banff restaurant. Im not sure what it is, but I just figured it was a restaurant - oops! Shows that one day on the resort isn't really enough to write a decent review****.Anyways, assuming the walkway is still up and working, that's probably your best way back to the main resort area.And once there you have only really have a couple more lines to play on: A few runs serviced by the number 5 lift, and the line skiers left serviced by the number 2 quad. I didn"t ride the line off the number 2 quad so can't tell you anything at all about it, but the champion course of lift 5 was a decent mellow pitch and interesting enough to keep you going. The lines looping further out though get pretty flat, so expect unclipping if you brave them.Ultimately, theres a decent amount to hit up. And in total it does make up a fair amount of the mountain, the trouble is that it isn't really progression friendly and its often cut up by extremely difficult red/black lines. Overall, the best place by far is clearly Tangram for the diversity, space and terrain you can play on. Following that I'd just lap the two lifts on the crystal course and maybe look at that tea-tray and the associated cut line for the sheer terror of it and some cheap thrills. In all, plenty to hit up and you wont be going out of your mind with boredom, its just that there's a bit of a progression gap and a lack of diversity of its lines once you start feeling comfortable with your turns.How About Intermediates Then? Every review of this place says its an intermediate area with predominantly intermediate terrain. But Im going to be honest. This is also not really an intermediate mountain. Well... not if youre kinda just moving into intermediate territory. If you're a strong intermediate rider its got a fair bit going for it and you probably should come here. But hand on my heart, i found the whole resort pretty challenging. Id put myself in that strong intermediate bracket now (6 seasons 120ish days lifetime, very happy on a bomb) and even I was reluctant to just let rip here. There's a few reasons for this, and I'm putting it down to these three or four things;- First, it gets cut up, check the pics of some of these lines. - Second, it gets COLD. This means if theres no freshies, its going to get pretty cruddy in a lot of the designated runs. Check the pics.- Third, 60% of the whole area is ungroomed. And that pretty much means all the runs from the top, so north eastern facing, cut up, ungroomed, its going to get cruddy. - Finally, it's pretty bloody steep once you get out of the beginners area. Its good in that moguls dont really stand much of a chance here, its often too steep to cut them in, but you will get moguls and they will make some of those lines bumpy and sketchier than you'd want if you like a bit of a charge. Again, just check the pics of the steeps. Allegedly the resort had 20-30cms on it from the night before, but the place was shredded. Far more shredded than it really should be if there was a serious top up. The "groomers" were pretty icy as well making the running extremely fast and rather bobbly. This isn't an easy mountain to ride. It's pretty steep, but throw in the aspect and it gets also a little hard and bumpy. Intermediates WILL have fun, but its going to be hard won fun. You'll definitely feel like you've had to step up to enjoy it.However, that being said, there are a few obvious lines out there for intermediates to hit up. For instance the giant course in the main area of Madarao, or maybe you'll just bomb down the crystal course and dial in your turns. There's plenty to lap and play with on the super quad, and given that its the only high speed lift in the whole area, you'll probably have a great day just riding it and maybe venturing into the more tricky areas like the powderwave 1 or the world cup MOGUL course. Should you head further up the hill (and why wouldn't you?) you'll find plenty to play on, but you ain't going to be riding this stuff easily. Its going to spank most intermediates because, (and i cant stress this enough), this mountain isn't really intermediate friendly. There are more playful and appropriate lines out there.What makes a good intermediate mountain is a few things. For instance, a consistent relatively steep terrain in the mid 20s like the Skyline and R1. Also some soft trees like the middle of Akakan or the lift runs in ikenotaira make great slackcountry beginner/intermediate lines. Diversity and exploration also make a great intermediate line. If you can access almost all of the hill using the reds and greens, without having to ride to many black runs, its going to be a decent hill for intermediates. Finally, maybe a decent dump turning places like Ushikubi into fun mayhem or the top of Toomi on Goryu makes a great intermediate line.The lines here on the other hand are... fun?... for intermediates but not necessarily suitable for them. Its hard to express this clearly, but i just didn't feel this mountain had a lot to offer a genuine intermediate rider. Its steep, its choppy, its icy and its not at all easy to get to grips with. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and it will help you push forward, but it's not necessarily what youd call "fun!" fun. You sort of need to earn your fun here. Same over at Tangram. The top lines are great fun, but they're not easy. Let the board run a bit and you're probably getting spanked over there. If you're a progressing intermediate there's a lot to do here, but someone moving from beginner to intermediate is really only going to find themselves either cruising the softer lines at Tangram, lapping the crystal course and exploring some of the powder lines, (but invariably skidding their way down most of these runs). Which is great and all, and it can be serious fun! You wont have a BAD time here, but you'll just have a more SUITABLE time maybe elsewhere. This place in a drop is of course going to be hilarious, but once it gets a bit cold and icy its definitely going to feel like a lot of hard work for some of those turns. If I had to give this resort a designation, i'd suggest that the people who'll get the absolute most of what this place has to offer are strong intermediate to advanced riders. Its very rare I feel confident enough to say a mountain "is a mountain for riders of X ability", but this one is ticking the boxes. Low intermediates or progressing beginners are going to feel this mountain is missing a whole stage of progression and that the challenges posed by the steeper runs are maybe a bit out of their depth, so they might feel restricted o certain lifts and lapping the same parts over and over. Whilst solid intermediates are going to find this place hard work and a bit of a slog for the goods. Progressing intermediates though will find it hard work sometimes, but the chance to hit up some serious tree riding or bomb down some tricky and complicated piste runs will certainly give them plenty of challenge to sink their teeth into. This is a great place for strong intermediates because the whole resort has a really nice consistent challenge to it that will keep you on your toes. In a proper drop of course, all bets are off, but in the conditions we had yesterday, it was pretty tough to ride those runs. And those tree runs ain't soft like Kagura or even a lot of the Myoko stuff. They're steep and fast as hell.Which brings me to...Madarao and Tangram for the Maniacs.I can see why BM loves Madarao. It's like someone designed powder wave2 and those tree runs off tangram especially for people to point their board down and just nuke. The trees in the respective powderwave courses are EXCELLENTLY spaced making it a decent run for progressing intermediates, but the pitch is pretty steep meaning if you love bombing your trees (which i kinda don't), then you're going to be hitting some atrocious speeds in here. This place is genuinely awesome for on piste tree riding.Over Madarao side there are few ropes and few restrictions, so you have a BAZILLION lines to pick from. As i say, the whole top half reeks of a bowl. Get the tea tray up to the top, head along the ridge towards the 'adventure course' (beautiful view of Nojiriko by the way), drop in anywhere at all and BLAM! fresh lines all day. Alternatively head past the adventure course (a very narrow up/down/flat path taking you towards Tangram) and now you have the whole of powderwave 2 to play in. Honestly, its face shots all day even if the rest of the resort is cut to crap. "If you're good enough to rip it in there, you're going to have a good time." Alternatively you could head towards the high speed SUPER quad and just ride powderwave 1 all day. Its got a lot of lines for you to hit up.(abandoned lift stanchion over at tangram - pity, there was once probably a decent lift up here meaning easy access to some great lines).Tangram is more obviously a bowl, but there is a ZERO tolerance to tree riding here. People do get their passes pulled and ski patrol is VERY VISIBLE in patrolling the obvious exists. There's a beautiful looking area in the trees for example under the Tangram 1 lift, and i was just thinking about the line i was going to take on the lift when i looked across to see a ski patrol dude just standing exactly where you'd cut back into the resort. He was still there when I came back up the lift the second time. I was speaking to a couple of dudes from the UK who rode that exact line and said the only reason they got away with it was because a group of Japanese kids came out ahead of them and were busy getting bollocksed by the ski patrol. They ain't kidding. No skiing in the trees in Tangram. I should also add that I had my lift pass checked EVERY TIME i used the lifts. Tangram are pretty strict all over. Which is fine. Consistency and enforcement is good in a resort.Tangent aside, the "groomers" on Tangram are PHENOMENALLY good. They're super steep, no ones riding them, and though some get cut up and even mogulled, they weren't unrideable trenches like you get on the mid 20s runs like Schneider and my beloved Ushikubi on Nozawa. You can also "flirt" with the trees a bit by ducking in and out of them to also break off the ice wall feel of it all. Overall, the Tangram piste runs are some genuinely fast, complicated runs that really will beat the crap out of any slip ups. The lakeview/kings slalom line is a challenging fun ride with almost no one else on it, whilst over the other side of the mountain you'll find the village line, which is cracking good fun to be honest, (but completely spoiled by requiring two lifts to lap it (one of which is tortuously slow - actually they both are... actually all the Tangram lifts are... actually, all the Madarao lifts beside the super quad are). Definitely worth at least one trip down it, but after you get the number 6 lift back up, you can decide for yourself if you'll bother having a second crack at it). Realistically, they're closer to difficult intermediate lines than advanced runs, and really advanced riders would really find those trees far too tempting, but once it gets icy, it's double black on all of those lines from the top. All in all, advanced riders who like a bit of pow and a bit of a run in the trees down some pretty heavy steeps are going to love this mountain. As I've said throughout, treat it like a bowl and you wont be too far from getting what this place is about. You get to the top, you traverse to where you want to drop in, you drop in and blast down a pretty damn steep tree line with well spaced trees before being spat out into one of the open lines down to the bottom. Pretty easy and straightforward stuff. If you like your trees and you like face shots, this is probably a great place to come. Pick up the Tangram pass too and you can break up the tree runs with some fun bumpy ripping runs to the bottom. As far as Advanced riders go, this place is pretty much leaning towards you. The Naeba facade of the whole welcome area and amenities is pretty much the surface of this mountain. Look a little deeper and you'll discover the real heart of this place: steeps, trees, freedom to go where you like, and massive face shots. Ipps in Madarao and Tangram: Part 1."Part ONE!!!??!?", i hear you splutter! But yes, its just a quick first impression. Obviously I couldnt see everything AND enjoy myself in one day by riding fun lines. This trip was more of a recon mission to scope the place out and decide if it was worth adding to the list of places I actually enjoy. First impression is positive. Not ecstatic. It ticks a great many boxes it needs to, but it is ultimately a medium sized and borderline small hill...I'd say at a push maybe its a decent place to hit up for a long weekend. Longer than that and you'll be taking in the incredible views of Myoko, Nozawa, Ryuoo, Togari, and whatever else it was I could see up there, and maybe feeling like a nice long 8km cruise down suginohara or skyline might be in order. Whatever it is, you'll start feeling like a bit of a change from trees and pow. It's got a sort of Kamui vibe, but not quite as interesting. Don't take that as a criticism though. If this is as close as I'm getting to Kamui, I'm bloody grateful its here at all. Its FANTASTIC that here in Nagano, I can even make the comparison.For me, it's a 5 or 6 days a season type place. Which I shouldn't need to say still makes it pretty solid but it's not the sort of place you could honestly ride everyday for a season without feeling a little stuck and hemmed in. Its got BRILLIANT tree riding and (I'm assuming) some really good snow when it drops, but it's still kinda smallish top to bottom and though you wont notice this on day 1, and maybe even into day 2. By day three its going to be all you'll see and your mind will start longing to be elsewhere i think. So a few trips a season on a drop though and it's going to be one of your favorite little secret stashes that you can shock and awe your less informed mates by bringing them here. I wrote elsewhere that it "out Myoko's, Myoko" in its off piste policy and its tree riding. It certainly delivers a cracking day or two and despite the lack of a decent lift taking you up the full length of Tangram (or madarao for that matter), Tangram really adds a tonne of value to the Madarao ticket. It's a small place, its only got 400 or so meters of vertical, but the sheer wealth of lines, and the complexity of its drops make it a seriously little contender for few days each season in the Nagano trees. It's not the worlds most complicated place to get your head around, and its kinda short, but each top to bottom run is long enough and steep enough to make you feel like you worked your ass off for it - and that's going to keep all but the hardest of the hardcore happy.Even without the extra free ticket id be back here. It's the kinda place you come to for a change of pace from your main mountain. Again, like Kamui. I love Kamui, but I wouldnt want to be there for a whole season either.Its not huge, but its got something unique and exciting for a day or two of buzzing about in the trees and on whatever line you want to play with. Its great fun, but its not soft or mellow cruising in the pow "fun" (which kamui sort of is), its a bit of a bitchy hill with a vicious little sting in its tail. Once you look past the bubble facade, you realise its not half as friendly and welcoming as you think. Its sorta mean and kinda difficult to ride when you get to the real heart of it. Every other resort has difficult lines of course. This isn't unique, but this place just has walls of them. Almost every line above 1100 meters is going to be a nasty 30+ degree pitch either on a chopped up smashed to crap groomer, or through some terrifying trees, and that's going to ultimately define your relationship to it. I loved it. Ill be back. It's a wicked little place. 
1/14/2013 8:37:59 PM Lens died on monday, now fogs up on the inside so seal has gone somewhere. Cant see any damage, but you know... So time to do what i always threatened to do and pick up a couple of new lenses.  My splices have the emerald v50 which is a pretty solid lens for all round conditions (though the straps lost its elasticity a bit - probably should get a new one).  So definitely looking for flat light lens. Contemplating the yellow/silver chrome or the yellow/blue chrome. Which one you reckons? Needs to have abit of diversity so it can be used in variable conditions, but definitely could do with a flat light tint on it because i live in powderland. 
1/12/2013 10:53:42 PM Listing with Pics here:http://tokyo.craigslist.jp/spo/3542273346.html Only Japan alas. Cant be dealing with shipping. Shipping is about ten bucks inside japan. Ill knock off a thousand yen for pick up.   Prices and conditions 1. 2011 Bataleon Riot (155): No scratches, just very small chips in topsheet (very VERY small). No scratching in base. Has around 6 days on it. Perfect condition. Needs a wax, might do it for you if you buy it. Jpn25,000Yen 2. 2011 Capita SMF (144); Unused. One scratch in base, but super thin, caused likely by the one day it ALMOST got used but the girl bailed when she got to the resort. Stayed in the car. JPN23,000Yen 3. 2011 Capita Charlie Slasher (164): Top sheet scuffing at tip, no other damage on the board. Perfect condition with only 8 days on it. JPN30,000yen.  Getting my zerker back so reducing to a two board quiver (zerker and sierrascope). 
12/1/2012 1:53:08 AM i feel its time to come clean about who i am and what ive been doing posing as an expert member for the last two years with TruSnow and sierrasnowboards... I hope you guys dont mind me explaining this here but i felt that if i kept it to myself much longer that it would eat me up inside. So here goes... (better start to a thread than the usual list of random icons if you ask me :p) Nah, only kidding. Look dudes, time to give me (and a few others) proper mod powers i think. Its really annoying spam flagging people and threads that could be moderated in a much healthier manner. Can we just give me the powers that the first wave got to moderate. I dont know why we dont have them anyway, it seems silly. We just need to be able to lock, delete, merge, and move threads. This means i dont have to say stupid things like "can you please post in the relevant section". Instead i can just move the thread. Or hell, merge the thread. And as for spammers, genuine spammers, i could actually delete their posts before they even had to time to remake them. I could maybe even IP ban them too! (though truth is i dont really need the power to ban people). So er, time to make it happen eh. :) 
10/23/2012 8:31:52 PM I see them on the-house. When they coming here? Your pal,  ipps. 
5/24/2012 5:26:11 AM Nozawa Onsen: The Review.Where?: Nozawa Onsen, Nagano, Japan.When?: 2 days in Feb 2010, 3 days in Jan 2012, 1 day in March 2012Who?: Ippy Vangelis. Clutz. About day 80 lifetime. Awful balance. Likes slackcountry and the trees, used to like air, but became gutless last year and stayed in his comfort zone this year instead of fighting his cowardice.Ticket Info: 4600 yen a day (i swear it was 4500 when i was there last). There is also a thing they have where you get 500 yen off if you bring a previous day pass. So really if you're there a few times over the year you might as well consider it 4100 yen. (Of course that was this season, so maybe its not the same next year). Season Pass is a fair 60,000yen which is pretty much comparable for most of the other decent sized places in the area (hakuba 47 and Happo1, shigakogen, myoko big 4 etc.). Fifteen times and it starts paying for itself. http://www.nozawaski...ift_charges.phpPublic Transport Accessibility: Bit of a faff, but not too awful. You can get the bus from outside Nagano station for about 1500 yen each way which drops you off outside the resort. The problem with that is it doesn't leave until after 9.20am if I remember right so you wont really be on the course until 10.30 or even later. An alternative (and where the faff exists) is to get the train to Togari-Nozawa Onsen (about an hour journey), and then get the bus up to the resort itself. The problem is that the buses and trains arent entirely linked up all that well (you usually have a good 15 minute or so wait) and even when you do get up to the resort you then have to either walk another ten or so minutes up the hill or wait for the shuttle bus (which also wasnt exactly running in perfect harmony with the rest of the network). Basically it all felt like a bit of a mission. The reason is (of course) that first there was the spa town, then came the ski town (from december to late march). The schedule isn't really made for tourists without their own transport.Snow Conditions?: First trip it was spitting rain, no real coverage, hard and icy in plenty of places. Second trip was insane pow. The final trip in March this year was late season sticky snow up to the top of the gondola, but fluffy up at the peak. Crowds?: Over the bank holiday weekend in Early Jan (on the sunday in particular) the gondolas were pretty busy in the early morning, but by around 10.30 most people were spread out over the mountain making waiting times pretty much normal as they go. Small queues, nothing too dramatic. For the life of me i cant think of a single pont where i felt id cocked up and ended up in a bottleneck. Arguably the reason for that is that the two gondolas pretty much do the leg work here. They get everyone up the mountain nice and quick and let them hit any one of the four main lines (each with a few smaller lifts to break it up even further). There isn't really a congestion point. Probably the busiest area is the Uenotaira area and maybe the link lift to get you over to the Nagasaka gondola when you come down the Uenotaira/Schneider side into Hikage. If you're looking for a nice quiet spot though, the middle line down towards Ushikubi (after the beginners turn back on to Uenotaira) and the Karasawa areas never seemed to have that many people on them.Resort Facilities?: A few cafes and restaurants and a couple of shops as well as a museum. But really, on piste there isnt ALL that much. There's enough to keep you going at the base, and there's a little crypto-cafe at the top of the gondola as well as a typical skijo restaurant at the foot of uenotaira, but I wouldnt exactly say its brimming with facilities or anything. Anything Else?: Nozawa is a little town nestled in among the mountains. Its GORGEOUS to wander about in on a saturday night in peak season when the snows falling. Its even pretty enough to keep significant others who hate riding entertained for a day. Truth be told i have my stoke on about Nozawa resort right now and though the town itself is the stuff of chocolate boxes, I dont really feel like chatting about it. Its pretty. You should wander about it to relax at night and see if you can catch one of the events they have there routinely during the peak season (free soup/sake nights, fire festival etc). The nightlife though still isnt exactly kicking. It's fairly sleepy and come 10pm the party pretty much stops for all but the hardcore. It aint niseko or hakuba but its gentile and quaint. So er... thats pretty much it. Lots of free onsens, but i never used them (since theres usually about 400 dudes all crammed into these tiny little baths). Nice footbaths around the town, and plenty of little shops to look in (mostly restaurants and omiyage/tat though).Anyways, summary over. The towns nice, it'll keep you entertained for a nice evening stroll. But i aint really here to review the town. So on with it.Nozawa - The resort.Beginners:(Karasawa on a typically busy day)Absolute beginners are VERY well catered for. The base of the resort ares itself (between the three ridge lines) has a decent incline with loads of open space and plenty of lifts to get you lapping the zones fairly regularly. If youre learning to side slide, leaf, garland or grabbing that first turn the 3 areas (hikage, nagasaka, and Karasawa) are almost the perfect pitch and just long enough to give you a bit of a practice, but short enough to keep you feeling like you're moving a bit. Once you've learned your turns (or if you just want to see a bit more of the mountain itself), there's also the Uenotaira area which slips into a really long very shallow green path bringing you down to the base of Higaki. As if that wasnt enough, theres a nice little green path going down the middle ridge (the panorama course) which then pops over to the paradise course at the base of the Uenotaira area before plunging into that path down to Hikage. Finally, you can elect to head down the skyline a bit before taking the first turn off it into Karasawa and enjoying what is an entirely wide open, completely empty part of the mountain for you to get comfy doing whatever it is you want to do. Basically beginners have a LOT of the mountain they can play on before they're liable to feel they're repeating themselves.Intermediates:SKYLINE:(skyline 2010) On my first ever snowboarding trip to Togari Onsen I remember looking across at the skyline and wondering how long it would be before I could ride it. The skyline was just this thing of pure beauty. I knew nothing about snowboarding, but I knew absolutely that i was looking at something sublime. Now I'm being a little effusive here... you'll forgive me. Unless you too were learning to turn on your second real day of snowboarding and looking across at it, you probably don't get what I'm saying and you might be naturally wondering if I'm being a little over the top here. Well obviously I am. It's just a run after all... a perfect, delicious, incredible, terrifying run. But just a run...Nah, it ain't. It's freaking awesome. I defy anyone to run it full pelt for the entire thing. Consistent fall line, some serious steeps, a few nobbly bits, the greatest optical illusion I've ever seen since electric brae (ayrshire represent!), a nice long ride, and all round one of the finest bombing runs I've had the pleasure to play on. You just have to rip it. Theres nothing else to do on it. Point the board straight down and rip. Its exhilarating stuff. I've also been spanked on it at full pelt onto my head (backwards), so i know just how much a slam on it really will give you a proper concussion even with protection... So er, take it easy, and don't push yourself too much. It might list itself as an intermediate run and it might seem straightforward (point board down, bomb, ???, profit), but be aware theres some hidden little bumps every now and again that wil catch you in flat light late in the day when you're a bit knackered. Skyline is probably the best fall line on the mountain for an intermediate. Its nice and long, it's going to be a challenge and it's gonna give speed freaks a serious kick. Obviously be careful of the people in front of you though (and be careful where you stop), it can get crowded near the top where it is a bit twistier and narrow, and since it is kind of the crown jewel ride of the mountain, lots of people want to have a crack at it regardless of their level. That being said though, if you are fortunate enough to get an open line, you do what you need to do!Yamabiko:At the very top of the mountain and slightly cut off from the rest of it (you need to take a lift back up to reconnect to the top fo the nagasaka gondola area), is the Yamabiko area. I kinda gave it short shrift the second time out since its pretty small and powder was everywhere anyway. Its fun, has a bit of tree riding between the main runs, and for an intermediate starting to flirt with the trees or slack country its a great little area to muck about in. First time I went to Nozawa it was decent fun, felt a bit short though so by the second trip i felt it wasnt really worth the trouble. Cue trip three though, late march and powder starved. We popped up there and was STUNNED to find fresh dry fluffy untracked powder still hanging around. It didnt hurt that a couple of days prior there was a top up in Nagano, but it was still superb quality freshies. It really changed the entire dynamic of the day. Obviously we decided to hang about there and skip the rest of the mountain. The area is GREAT for powder when the rest of the resort starts getting a bit tracked out, sticky, moguled and slow. Pop up here and get your groove back. Some great lines, as i say, a bit short, but nevertheless a stack of fun.Speaking of Pow... when it drops, the line down the middle on Ushikubi is AWESOME fun to hit up. Its STEEP, and it will scare the hell out of you if you're seeing it for the first time, but once you start splatting into soft fluffy pow, who gives a crap? It gets wild and bumpy, its way out of most peoples difficulty level in truth (i dont think i saw many people ride it like it was nothing), but it was puking, the pow was wild, everyone was grinning and enjoying the whole bumper car spirit of it all. Id avoid it once it gets a bit barren. Its steep, moguled and pretty much double black.(Mizunashi area) As far as my mates in January were concerned (one a solid intermediate and the other a beginning intermediate), the Mizumashi into Ushikubi was their absolute highlight. They kept making me ride that stupid mizumashi lift all day when i just wanted to play over at schneider  The Ushikubi was maybe a bit much for the burgeoning intermediate if I'm honest, but the other one was ripping it. (I was just launching off the bumps and splatting every three or four turns by the way - it was a blast!)Finally for intermediates there's the Hikage area. But truth be told, though its a little steep at the very top of it, it wasn't really that bad. A glorified green run if you ask me.Advanced:(ushikubi pow)I'll let you into a secret. I already wrote a review of Nozawa after the second trip. I accidentally erased it from history when I had a brain fart and copied over it with my Kagura review. I mention this here because it was really the advanced part that was the troubling part of the review for me. You see it's like this: Skyline is great, the powder is great, and the steeps are AWESOME. But there's just this massive middle break in the fall line between the top of the Nagasaka gondola and the good stuff that really lets Nozawa down. It was around this thought that the entire review ended up being less than enthusiastic.I still feel that to be accurate. The best lines for advanced riders (aside skyline which is genuinely an advanced ride, but a bit of a one trick ripper), are found in the bottom half of the mountain coming off those ridges. Ushikubi is the highlight, and the line coming off that into the top of Higake is pants wettingly steep and ridiculously bouncy. In the three days i spent riding that area i never saw a single person own that line: its pure chaos. Over the other side and similar but slightly mellower in its incline is the Schneider area. I'm fairly sure the first time i was there it was nothing but SERIOUS moguls, but the second time it was just powder. So hard to say. When its powder, its arguably easier than the lines coming off skyline and Ushikubi, but once the snow stops i can only imagine it to be utter hell for a snowboarder. Alas, the only time i spent any real time over this side was the first trip up, so ive kinda forgotten which one of Uopia or Challenge course that had a ridiculous steep to it as well.(foreground utopia, behind that are the drops off the ushikubi ridge line, and behind those is the skyline and the drops from it).To summarise. There are a LOT of awesome little steeps you might want to play on here. The only trouble is you kinda have to ride through a tedious bit of crap at uenotaira or yunomine to get to it. Where it is awesome, it's seriously challenging and interesting stuff, but when you're spending ten minutes of your ride cruising through very slow gradients and praying you dont have to unclip (i always did: my bataleon and the wax job i gave it kept letting me down), then it can feel kinda tedious. Eventually i just started getting off the gondola at the middle station just to avoid it all, and well, that kinda sucked in truth.That broken fall line really put a massive dent in the nozawa sheen for me which i found hard to get over. Of course I still loved the place, but it meant that the pull i felt looking across from Togari (and the serene beauty I experienced on my first trip there) was gone. It had a massive flaw and it was all i could see. The fall line was broken, the mountain was really really small and way too spread out once you start getting the gondola up only half way.And then i went out a third time purely because i had the free tickets from Snowjapan and wanted to use them to save a bit of cash.The Third Trip to Nozawa:So there we were mucking about on the walls (the slow parts are a bit more fun when theres no snow - lots of little walls to ride). It was alright, we were enjoying it, it was free, i hadn't done skyline yet so there was that still to look forward to. I took us down ushikubi but it was a bit gnarly, so really I was looking at a day of bouncing around on the walls. What snow there was on the side was kinda sticky. The groomers were fast and light, but in the sides it was a bit heavier and not really worth it. So i figured we might as well head up to Yamabiko. Well, ive already mentioned above how fun it was but I'll reiterate: Lots of nice little lines and ridiculously light powder to still be scored. Some great little sidecountry and all in all, pretty much great times. But somewhere along the ride i got greedy. I saw some lines heading under the ropes on skiers left and off the side of the mountain. I wanted to know where they went, so being ever the idiot I followed them and figured if i had to hike back, so be it. And this is when Nozawa seriously blew me away.The line is dangerous. Im going to say that now. After the first ride on it i wasnt entirely confident i wanted to ride it again. Not because the line itself is super steep or prone to sliding (though it probably is). It was more that flanking it were loads of little walls that clearly were prone to sliding and any slide was definitely shooting down the line you're on.This is a classic terrain trap.If it slides and you're caught in it, I dont fancy your chances much even with safety gear and mates. There's plenty of trees, it's plenty steep enough to carry you into them and even with your gear on, i can envision serious impacts. So yeah, my brain is definitely aware that this is slightly dodgier stuff than I'm used to and that maybe I need to be a bit more careful riding this than maybe the slackcountry at Kagura. This is kinda the step up between slackcountry and backcountry in my head. I know that makes me sound even more stupid because slackcountry is DANGEROUS FULL STOP and only an idiot marches into any part of the mountain that's unpatrolled thinking it isn't dangerous, but there's an ocean of difference riding this and riding some of the slackcountry areas i've ridden the past couple of years. Most of the stuff i'm hitting would barely qualify as a red run if there weren't any trees and it was groomed - Kagura being a prime example (except for the face that pushes into Tashiro... which I'm always happy to be off and into the trees on the other side, death free .This area you definitely know is dangerous. You just need to open your eyes to see it. And even the hundreds of lines you see half way down don't exactly comfort you. So yeah, much as i want to say "dudes! this ride was freaking awesome!" (and i will say that), I also think it's really really important that I stress this put the willies up me. I didnt have any safety gear that day because I was sure Nozawa didnt have a real off piste, but I got lucky the three times i rode it. Next year there's not a chance in hell i'll be heading to Nozawa without my safety gears.So public service announcement over. Just look at it! The line is phenomenally good fun. Anyone who wants a bit of a fresh, powder heavy 3km or so valley is going to blast it. I cant really say more about it than that...Well, I can say that there are TWO avalanche barriers (about 300 meters away from each other), the line comes off the Yamabiko C course and the line pops out at the very top of Karasawa. Just look at a trail map and its pretty obvious. Other than the fact its a clear avi path for any slide, its a fairly straighforward reasonably steep little run to the bottom. And after the rush of riding all that, it's actually a real joy to pop out into an empty, wide Karasawa where you can just butter about and muck around with some side hits and ungroomed spots. All in all, you couldnt really ask for a better, more enjoyable run... well, I couldn't, but then again i dont hike... so its all relative. Obviously if you're a proper BC kid, this is just a glorified piste run, I imagine.Nozawa Onsen Conclusion:(upside down looking up korokura I believe)It's tough to conclude this without feeling the scowly eyes of people with much more awareness of the dangers of slackcountry (and the danger you pose to the people at Karasawa) burning into my head as I'm typing this. I'm hoping that by trying to emphasise that it's VERY DANGEROUS to ride this area (like you might when you nip into the trees at Myoko or kagura (as a tacit extension of the piste - we all do it)), they might be placated enough to let me type my thoughts guilt free. But they wont because theyre jerks. Jerks looking after you from idiots like me i should add, though! But screw the man! I know and understand how foolish i am even talking about this. I live in the hope that this review is so long winded that no ones even gotten this far to see it. But the truth is i LOVED this run and i cant talk about Nozawa now without mentioning it if i want to explain my little conversion here.On the second trip out I lamented the break in the fall line and the fact that the skyline, awesome as it is, is still just really a bombing run that doesn't give you enough variation to want to keep hitting it. Well its all changed now.Not only does it have the skyline, a very serene and beautiful vista (the blues of the mountains in the distance contrasting with the deep black of the trees on the resort is honestly breathtaking), some fun off piste between the yamabiko lifts, and some excellent terrain once you get past the horrible flat middle part, it also now has fantastic slackcountry on top of all that. Going into season 6 Nozawa pretty much justified itself as the number one place on my hit list for next year. I know theres better slackcountry rides out there, (feel free to school me on it), and i definitely know there's nothing better than pure hiked backcountry (from one whole hike and a ride that was pure face shot heaven). But right now this is the most enjoyable slack line I've seen and until i find something better its pretty much at the top of the list for next year. Were it not for the fact I'm definitely gonna get nabbed at least once next year from patrol (i wont be able to resist the temptation) and they're definitely gonna take my pass away, I'd be saving up right now for a season pass there. I'm pretty much done. Unless I accidentally end up with a job in Yuzawa or Hokkaido before November, It's Nozawa next year for me. 
3/18/2012 8:36:09 PM Naeba, Yuzawa: The Review Where?: Naeba, Yuzawa, Niigata in Japan. When?:  Feb/march 2012 (usually half days). Who?: Less than 100 days LIFETIME. Feeling the cold in my bones, and too old for this park nonsense. I likes me some bumpy sketch terrain and still feel a sense of accomplishment 50/50ing a rail.Ticket Info:  http://www.princehotels.co.jp/ski/naeba/ski/lift/  Day pass (8-5) is 4500yen, 5000 for the mt Naeba (which lets you hit up kagura as well). The full pass (8am-9pm) is 6500 and if you get there early afternoon they even have a 12pm-9pm pass for 5000yen. Kinda pricey, but relatively comparable to some of the bigger name resorts out there. Plus i think the nighta is pretty pico if I remember right from the trail map (a couple of the family zone lifts).  Accessibility: From tokyo or Nagano super easy. Take the bullet train from tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa station, then get the bus out of the backside of the station (i think its East exit - the one furthest from the JR train gates). Then hop on one of the buses there to naeba. Gets SUPER crowded peak times in the peak season though. So if you plan on even getting on that bus I'd get there at least 15 minutes early.  Snow Conditions?: First time (early feb): tracked powder; Second time (late feb): groomered (soft in spots, icy in spots, groomed for the main part); third time(mid march): wet  Resort Facilities?: This is a resort. When i use the term here though, im using it in the much more classic sense of a holiday destination tourist trap. It's got EVERYTHING you need, and a 100 other things you didnt know you need but are pretty stoked they're there. This is the kinda place you can bring your S.O. who hates the cold and have them chill out while you go riding and have a fun time. Have a family with kids, but dont want the kids slowing you down?... kids play room ahoy! This place will probably have just enough to keep your bored mates a little less than totally bored. It's not a theme park mind you, i dont remember a bowling alley or a cinema, but because its pretty much built around the prince hotel, theres going to be (likely pricey) pampering all over it.  A brief word about *The Dragondola*: Linking up Kagura and Naeba (and thus allowing you to ride both on the same ticket (the Mt. Naeba - 5000 yen and only a little more expensive than the usual day pass for either resort)), is the Dragondola: the world's (fourth) longest gondola. It takes about 20 minutes to get from Naeba to Tashiro and a fiurther 45 minutes to get to the gondola at Kagura. It is the curse of the gondola that kagura is the wrong way around so you end up at Tashiro rather than the best bit of the mountain at Kagura. Were it the other way around the Mt Naeba would be a no brainer - free access to the piste on naeba and the off piste on kagura in the time it takes you to ride a few lifts! Awesome!  Instead you probably have to plan it out a bit more, and here's why:  Getting from Kagura to the dragondola isn't too bad. From the top of the Kagura High Speed 1 (the good part of the mountain), i dont even recall having to ride another lift. Probably takes you 15-20 minutes tops. But getting back is a different story. You need at least 4 lifts, you have a few flats, and it's going to take you 40 minutes to an hour to get to the top of the kagura high speed 1 from the Dragondola (which means 5 lifts actually). It's not a terrible thing, but just something to factor if time is pressing. Going there and back is going to eat away about 2 hours of your days riding time (not including faffing around and maybe hitting up a run or two on your way), so you likely need to decide a bit in advance if you're going to switch resorts.  Anything else?: Nope. That about covers it. Oh wait... I should start this review with an admission. I haven't ridden the entire mountain. I've hit up parts of the sprawling family area and the two main lines flanking the resort. I have yet to hit up the black runs going down the middle of the mountain to the family area. Apparently the riesen banh is a mogul run and the mens and womens slalom is a decent steep (though i suspect after Feb they get pretty gnarly).  But aside those two runs (and any potential secrets lying outside the ropes) i think ive seen most of what the piste has to offer, so i can have a decent crack of explaining it. Naeba Explained : Im going to start by saying Kagura is awesome. Kagura is right now my favorite resort in Japan. But it is lacking something. If you love your slackcountry/backcountry, then kagura is wicked fun. It doesn't get crowded, and also it gets puked on. This easily makes it far and away my number one choice for somewhere to ride in peak season if you're not in Niseko. But it lacks a little something.  What it lacks is rather weirdly, a decent on piste line. Once you realise that the gondola run isn't that entertaining, (and tashiro is kinda filled with fun, but kinda short lines), it suddenly feels a little small. Instead, where it shines is in its access to side and back country lines.  "Thats nice, ipps", you might be thinking, "but this isnt the Kagura review. This is the Naeba review! How about you review the resort you mentioned in the title instead?"  But hear me out, i have a reason: For what Kagura lacks, Naeba makes up for in spades. It's a decent size, has a great fall line, has some excellent little steeps mixed in and just has some nice long runs in it. It feels a lot more fun to just ride and enjoy it. I'd dare say it is a perfect cruising mountain for weekend trippers were it not for the fact you might think I'm damning it with faint praise. . I reckon its got more than enough going on to keep you happy and entertained at least a few days. The terrain is just really good fun.  The first thing you might notice though are the negatives and i want to get them out of the way before i look at the mountain itself.  The first one will be the people. Naeba gets busy. On a holiday weekend (the first time i ended up there), its bedlam. Naeba is the closest ive seen a Japanese ski resort get to the numbers i routinely saw at Muju. If you can help it, avoid holidays and weekends if you come here.  Annoyance number two might be the sheer number of lifts clunking along for the family section. It really breaks the suspension of disbelief that youre in a winter wonderland when youre seeing all these bodies being mass transited up the hills. Its like a ski factory in a way. It definitely bothered me in a way that has nothing at all to do with the ride, and everything to do with snobbery. I just didn't like the idea of being herded up a mountain by some kind of inhuman mechanized operation. As i said though, that's snobbery and nothing at all to do with the actual ride. It's all about an illusion being shattered rather than some kind of cosmic truth. The bottom area of Naeba feels like a cynical money spinning operation and trying to pile as many people as they can onto those mountains as fast as they can. Again, this is not a statement of reality, its one of the ILLUSION of riding many of us carry. I mention it because it is almost diametrically opposed to the vibe at Kagura (which in turn plays into the illusion of the "authentic" and "serious" ski experience). Its a silly prejudice and something i want to chastise myself for.  :)  You see, for all those lifts, the bottom area is nonetheless routinely filled with queues. Naeba is in demand, and with good reason.  Now that we've got that out of our systems, lets actually look at the mountain: The main brunt of the mountain is the Family zone dfirectly in front of the main Prince Hotel. On the map its the Sanroku station (which is just the gondola). The whole are is fantastic for beginners since it has a lot of wide open spaces, and a decent green run gradient (not too steep but not so shallow that you'll be fighting speed). You can pick your favorite gradient and ride the lift for it until you're happy. The area is seriously made for beginners to earn their first turns and have a happy time at the resort.  Honestly its hard to say much more about this area. It's huge. Its pretty straightforward, and because its way wide, it never feels so crowded that you feel like youre tripping over everyone else. There are plenty of lifts to choose from and plenty of places to ride. And down at the bottom of it all are a stack of restaurants, lockers, hotels, and shops.  Bisecting the mountain:  Getting the gondola 1 and one of the two pair lifts up to the top you get a much more interesting experience. From here you have two really fun lines you can hit to the bottom with a few decent choices in the interim for a spot of variation.  Firstly, you can follow the little red path down skiers left bringing you back to the top of the gondola. From here its a really fun little cruising green run (with lots of side pow on skiers right and some little walls to hit on skiers left) down to the top of gondola 2. At this point the runs branch off and you get to make yet another fun choice. Alternatively from the top you can plough down the mogul bahn. Right next to it is an awesome face of fresh pow. (I believe they don't rope it off all the time, but when i was there it was roped off every time.) It brings you out near the top of the green cruising run i just mentioned and onto the top of gondola 2.  Skiers right and skiers left: Heading down the hill you have 2 real options. Ride the main face of the red run, or follow the winding (undesignated on the trail map above) zig zag path. Beginners usually take the path since the red run is actually rather steep and can be pretty bumpy. This brings you to the main junction and yet another set of choices. The central line are the slalom bahns mentioned in the anything else section. I havent ridden them, but obviously if you want a rip these will be your first choice. There's also the mogul bahn at the riesen Slalom course you could hit up. Alternatively though you could just head skiers right and follow the main red line.  This is a cracking little run with lots of little side hits, it also has loads of variation on what you want to hit up. At any time you can just get off the line and head towards the base area. It's pretty much a straight red run/green run piste course thats good fun to either just cruise, play on some of those side hits, bonk some trees, ride some walls, or even just run the baby park they have half way down it. Whatever you decide, its a great little run and if you can link a turn, youre going to find it a lot of fun. In all, the run (top to bottom), is going to be a good solid nippy line with an unbroken fall line, very little twisty turny semi flats and loads of variation (with little spots you might want to hit up to change it a little each time). It's a solid line where you can just rip past all the beginners side sliding it, or you can just chill out with them and enjoy hitting up some of the natural features.  It's got just enough of a kick in it to make it feel feisty, but not so difficult that your advanced beginner mate is going to feel out of their depth (though there are some steep little spots on it...) Alternatively you can go skiers left at the junction heading towards the dragondola and have a completely different experience. This one is pretty much a natural little half pipe through the trees. Loads of side hits, pretty icy, and you can pick up some decent speed on it. Of all the runs, this was probably my favorite (though all the hits are on the right hand side, so if you're goofy, you'll be working on riding heel side/switch up those walls :)). This is a cracking little run and once you get through the trees just head right and you'll find yourself back at the base resort (follow the path left for the dragondola).  Ippy goes to Naeba: the Review.  I started this review with a discussion on Kagura. The reason should be pretty clear as to why: Naeba's piste is a stack of fun. For beginners theres loads to keep you occupied, and for intermediates and above theres a tonne of awesome decent length lines to play on.  Naeba is a wicked little ride. I should of course qualify this by reminding you that this is Japan, its not steamboat, the trails arent thousands of miles long, but for Japan its a long run with a tonne of options to hit. There's also loads of little side hits and walls to play with all over the mountain as well as some technically challenging terrain to navigate.  In part, thanks to those nice long runs flanking the main central line of the mountain (both with really good solid intermediate inclines), you have a real change of pace from the piste at Kagura. Naeba has what Kagura lacks. And in turn, Kagura brings to the table the off piste lines and slack country in ridiculous untracked powder with almost no one around to score it. Singularly they both deliver an exceptionally good ride and both are great places to hit up, but together they offer one of the most interesting rides you're possibly going to get on Honshu. Ultimately when the conditions are good and you want a solid ride through the trees or in the pow, id head to kagura. But when the conditions kinda suck, or you just want something a little more fun to muck about with then get the dragondola over to Naeba. A couple of times i found myself a little tired of riding the lines at Kagura or hating the conditions (this weekend for example), and on both occassions a trip to Naeba really lifted my spirits and cheered me up. Because the terrain at Naeba is great fun, it doesnt really matter what the conditions are. You're going to find you can do what it is you want to do... be that bomb the mountain, muck about with the side hits dotted all over it, enjoy lapping the gondola and getting a nice ride and take in the scenery, or just cruise with your mates winging snowballs at each other (or of course hit up the park, but as ever, ipps dont park.. but at least the lift is pretty quick and runs the length of it).   For me, Kagura delivers something closer to what i want in my mountain. But its much more reliant on its conditions. Naeba delivers (more than) a few days of decent riding regardless. Im having no problems strongly recommending it as a stand alone mountain or as a base for messing about on both mountains.   Definitely a cracking little place on its own. But in conjunction with Kagura, you need to add this place to your list. This is serious competition to both Niseko and Hakuba (like both of those, the whole Yuzawa area is rather tourist friendly). You will have a blast here, I absolutely guarantee it. 
3/13/2012 3:09:39 AM Myoko: Akakura Kanko Review Who: Ippy the 'til. Season 5, fast approaching the 100 day mark in his lifetime of boarding, can't park, but can cruise.Where: Akakan Myoko, Technically Niigata, but pretty much in with the other nagano resorts to all intents and purposes.When: Several times over the years, but in this instance March 10/11 2012 (though the photos date form early 2010)Predominantly rode: Hit up most of the groomers, but spent a great deal of time under the lifts and in the trees (as ever).Snow conditions: Had a few cms the night before, but was quickly tracked by the time I reached it. Day 2 was predominantly slush/spring conditions.Resort Info: All lifts still in operation. Peak season, tickets are around 3900 yen. Off peak (i think it starts late march), its around 2000 yen. Prices have come down at all the myoko resorts in the last couple of years. There's also (as with most Prince resorts), a discount coupon online that gets you lunch (up to 1000 yen) and the lift pass for around the same price as the lift pass. Local hotels also will have even better coupons if I remember right from last year. I also saw a 15,000 yen season pass for the late season (26th March to the end of the season around the start of May). Other years it would start earlier I assume, but the heavy base in january/feb gives them high hopes of getting a decent long season out of it which is obviously good news.Accessibility: Relatively straightforward. Get the train or bus to nagano train station and pick up the train to Naoetsu. It's about 40 minutes, and costs around 650 yen. You then catch the bus to the resort of your choice (340 yen to akakan). There is a proviso though... the trains run about every hour or so, but the buses don't. If you want to be on the resort before midday and dont want to shell out for a taxi (1700 yen or thereabouts), then you need to catch the 9am bus, and this means catching the 8.12 train from Nagano. The next bus to the resort from the station is 11.35.Alternatively you could pick up the direct bus from nagano station. I haven't used it so can't tell you the time or how long it takes, but its probably going to be around 1200 yen and take around an hour to get there (but it will drop you outside the entrance of the resort, so much less faffing) and likely wont leave until 9am (so you get an extra hour in bed).Surrounding Area: In the immediate vicinity are the other Myoko resorts: akakura onsen (which actually shares some terrain with akakan, though the companies running the two resorts aren't exactly capable of playing nice and offering a joint ticket (without adding a MASSIVE premium)). You also have both ikenotaira and Suginohara. Finally a little further out is seki onsen (routinely the highest humbers for snow year after year in japan), Myoko pine valley, and Madarao.If you pop back to nagano you are suddenly spoiled for choice: Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen, and Hakuba (several resorts) are all easy to access (id advise bus for all three). There's also the resorts in kita shiga kogen (x-jam, takaifuji, and the gem that is ryuoo). Finally there's loads of other little resorts (like Kurohime - the stop just before myoko) and sugadaira scattered around the area that you can go play in. Basically you won't get bored if you're basing yourself around the area, and if you have a car you could be here for decades before you fancy a change of scenery....Oh, and lets not forget that you could just hightail it to the Yuzawa area (also Niigata) if you're on your way back to Tokyo and fancy a little more time boarding.Anything Else: One thing... Black Mountain on snowjapan alerted me to a deal on the akakan web page. It requires either a bit of fiddling with google translate or better yet Japanese reading ability, but it's awesome value and worth the trouble. Just head to the akakan homepage, then look at the STAY menu. At this point you're on your own, but the gist of it is this: Lift pass, plus accommodation, plus breakfast, plus dinner, plus a drink coupon for around 6000 yen. Ridiculously good value for people on a budget looking to score the best deal. As I say, you're on your own, but make sure you look at the bottom of the page in one of the steps for a little green box. If you don't select anything from there (and its easy to miss), you'll spend a frustrating hour wondering why your order isn't going through.Akakan: Under the Microscope.  With a decent unbroken fall line as well as a solid gradient, Akakan is going to offer a little something for everyone. Thanks to the constant bickering with akakura onsen, the resort isn't exactly epic by any standards. It's closer to a medium size Japanese resort (possibly even slightly smaller than Hakuba Goryu). A top to bottom run might be about a 20 minute cruise... which isn't exactly terrible considering most of that is straight lining with very little in the way of meandering paths twisting you around the mountain. Horizontally there isn't really much going on though. To wit! Looking at the map you can see a few things. First, it would be a great deal more epic were the two resorts on speaking terms (though akakura onsen as a stand alone ride kinda sucks - but it would get you to the village area a lot easier and would at least give you some more terrain to play in). The second thing is that there are ostensibly three lines... the first one coming down skiers right which is fairly straightforward (red run into a red run into a green run and back to the gondola). The second line which intermediates will probably find most interesting, takes you from the top down to the middle. The final run either involves hitting up the curving black run at the onsen border and cruising down the bottom, or following the line from the top past the gondola and cutting all the way through skiers left to the green run bordering the onsen boundary. You can probably tell this mountain has a decent amount of diversity for its area, so there really is something for everyone to sink their teeth into.Akakan for Beginners: (not really for beginners, but i havent got too many pics of akakan myself :))Beginners wont find the lines too intimidating and can easily spend their day just lapping the gondola. Absolute beginners will also find themselves accommodated thanks to the two lifts going up from the base to the midway point on skiers right. The first lift from the base is very much the stuff of a bunny hill. Its a super mellow gradient, just enough to pick up speed, but definitely not too intimidating. As you move up the mountain the pitch increases in a way that feels like it was designed by someone who actually knew what they were doing. It feels very rational. Top to bottom you might think of as akin to an exponential curve in a way. At the top its got a decent steepness around the 30 degree mark, and as you get down the mountain it shallows out to a gentle 8 or so degrees. If that area feels a little crowded, there is also a VERY under used beginners area right next to the onsen area. This area of the mountain has a very gentle slope and a nice path gliding through the trees. I personally feel the gradient might be a little too shallow for beginners to really move on beyond leafing, but it does offer an alternative to the main base station for those who want a bit of privacy to faceplant.Akakan for the Intermediate Rider: Much like Hakuba Goryu/47, Akakan feels a lot like an intermediates mountain. But whereas goryu feels intermediate due to its pitch and the challenge some of its lines hold for speed and control, Akakan offers a slightly different experience.The big selling point for an intermediate rider isnt really the piste so much (though the piste has some great fun long lines to just muck about on that will give you a nice fresh zippy ride), but rather its the accessible tree riding and some of its lift runs.  For someone looking to move toward dealing with natural lines and slightly deeper powder, it's a great stepping off point to get those first turns in the trees without having to duck a rope or potentially end up off a cliff somewhere. Don't get me wrong, a few of those lines are way dangerous, but that's not really what you're going to be playing on. You'll be playing in the trees that are dotted all over the resort and are in fact part of the designated resort (and course) boundaries. And youll find many of these near the champion B course area (the middle line).Progressing intermediates though might try and cut their teeth through some of the tree runs up near the top of the mountain. The top lift has some really fun terrain to muck about with, and with well spaced trees, plenty of little open lines, and a nice mellow fall line, they let you push a little deeper into the slack country without too many negative consequences.Of course, the further in you go, the more you need to pay attention, and there are some seriously sketch areas i wouldn't be comfortable hitting myself (under the lift at champion A looks incredibly dangerous to ride even if conditions are top notch). But for the most part there are plenty of areas that youlll find challenging and fun without feeling you've stepped beyond your comfort threshold (the lift line next to champion B and the trees skiers left of Hotel A course for example are a blast to ride for intermediate riders - though dont stray too far skiers left on the Hotel A and cut back in as the course itself curves to the right (otherwise you have a bit of a gnarly steep that you might find a little tough to ride)).On the other side at the top, I would caution against the trees around hotel C (the red run). The skiers right side is extremely dangerous and i wouldn't personally touch it, and the trees skiers left can be tough if you drop below the course line (since it forces you into the gully and then out near the lift). This year it was no problem, but I remember last year feeling I was a little out of my depth riding that area. So I would advise you to be reasonably confident in your slackcountry skills before dropping too far in.In terms of on piste, the best run intermediates are likely going to score is arguably the top down through the middle line. Its long enough to feel like youve got a nice rip on it, and the lifts are nice and quick so you can just enjoy lapping it (and mucking about with some of the trees between the red and black sides). There's also the top to bottom line coming down skiers right that can be a nice long muck around. I would honestly try and stay above the middle line though just because after the huge hotel (the midpoint), the slope really does start to get pretty shallow and is best left to beginners (unless you're just lapping the gondola).Akakan for Advanced riders:Obviously, Ive mentioned a lot of the areas you might want to hit up already in the section on progressing intermediates. Theres also an old disused course that used to go to a different part of the top which has long been abandoned (this means if you can be bothered to break out the splitboard and skin up, theres a fresh untouched CUT IN course of fresh lines you can play on). I believe it also allows access to some serious backcountry lines, (though I've never myself gone up there to see).What i really wanted to talk about though was the on piste advanced runs. They do take up a decent brunt of the mountain, but theres one thing i really need to mention about them: Moguls. (random dude looking across to champion B course)Both the champion B and the hotel A are moguled to hell. The champion B i actually think is a blast to ride. The pitch on it (38 degrees) means they stay reasonably soft pack and the lines at the side of the mogul field and in the trees are epic fun to blast on. In addition, the line that takes you from the lift to the steep is a lot of fun with some wild pitches and some seriously mad bobbles that spank the unwary. Its a great little run when conditions aren't too sketch (cutting off the side as a nice way to avoid the mogul field). Its actually my favorite run on the resort and i always try and hit it up a few times. Its also great in a party of burgeoning intermediates to take them along the ninja line that hides the steep, getting them to ride it and then showing them just how steep it was and what they just overcame once they get to the bottom. It gives them a nice kick.The Hotel A will suck for snowboarders (except those weird ones that really like mogul riding). The lines here are well cut, hardpack trenches. Should you find yourself on this course, you'll likely have a lot more fun just ducking into the trees (mentioned above) on skiers left and zipping through them instead. The course itself is definitely more fun for skiers and should probably be avoided since very little of it remains realtively mogul free (they track the whole thing).The final line is the champion B course, and honestly... i have no idea what makes this a black run. Its definitely a red run that was accidentally bumped up to a black. Maybe its one of those runs that gets treacherous in icy conditions, but genuinely i didnt see what the big deal was. Maybe its the trees? Either way, its not really that taxing and youll probably find better lines elsewhere.Ipps in Akakan (summary):I like akakan. It's a nice resort. The lines are varied, the fall line is solid, and the trees are awesome for building up your confidence. It doesnt hurt that its Myoko and so does get a hell of a lot of snow at the end of the day. Chances are if you hit this place in January youll be swimming in pow, and February there's a very decent chance you'll be catching some pow days on it. And like kagura, it can get pretty deep...What i would say is that it isn't all that big and after 2 or so days you've probably seen a lot of what it has available and may feel its time to check out something else if the powder isn't dropping. It's got fun lines but as i mentioned, ostensibly they are really a variation of three lines, and none of which really offer much in the bottom half (though the ride to the gondola is alright and gives you a nice cruise to the bottom with a few side hits to play on).Really where it shines though is in its accessibility to baby slack country. There are a lot of rather easy to navigate lines that dont stray too far off the courses and offer nice mellow gradients and decently spaced trees. Patrol dont give you aggro, and in fact will readily inform you about potential hazards if you ask them. I believe they don't like you riding under the lifts, which is fair enough, but you dont see many ropes and those you do indicate a genuine hazard, so kudos to the people running it for letting people take a bit of personal responsibility in their line choices.All in all its a solid ride. It maybe lacks a little in terms of size since you will find yourself running the same courses over and over again, but there's plenty of variation in each of those turns to certainly carry you through for a couple of days. If i was coming from outside Japan and staying longer than a weekend, i wouldn't base my trip around akakan alone since I reckon it would wear thin after a week or so. But i guess the whole myoko area would keep you occupied for up to a month or so if you felt like it.In summary, on its own it's a solid weekend trip that will give you a great time and plenty of decent lines. And if you're a skier, chances are you might eek out even more fun from it. But as a boarder, its pretty much trees, a few red runs, a very small kicker line (unless theyve squirreled their park away most of the kickers are baby size and they only have a few rails and boxes) in the top half, and a solid cruising line the rest of the way to the bottom. Definitely worth a weekend trip, and you'll have a blast riding a decent Japanese resort, but longer than that and you'll be feeling the urge to head somewhere else. 
2/6/2012 9:35:29 PM Mountain 3 Yuzawa Review Who: Ippy the inutil. Reactionary leader of the spartan Navy attempting to curtail the surge in Athenian power.  When: 405BC Where: Aegospotami, Turkey Warship Info: About 150 ships Accessibility: Defeat a small Athenian supply line in Aegina and Salamis to draw out the Athenians, then quickly move around their main navy and nip round to Hellespont where you can set up your base at Abydos before embarking upon a few raids threatening their grain supply and forcing their hand. Port Facilities: Access to Athens last real supply line from Abydos and the end of the Peloponnesian war is a bloody good reason to come here.  Battle conditions: Calm seas, a nice safe harbor and a bunch of Athenians riding in and out every day just to see if you want to come and play before going home exhausted, tired and hungry. Anything Else?: Probably best to let them come. For real shanigans you might want to wait until the nighta when theres fewer Athenians around and head out into open seas. Youll be treated by a completely unpatrolled area where you can scuttle the entire fleet and lol at the noobs desperately trying to clip back in before they realise youve already destroyed their ride home. No really, anything else? Oh all right. I came here on a Sunday, it was a one day recon mission. I made no attempt at all to take in every line, nor did I care about finding secret little stashes. I wanted to just enjoy having a wee ride and not spend my time criticising everything for a change. Basically, three mountains, a stack of connections, and just over 6 hours to do it before i had to get the bus back to echigo to pick up my 4.34 train home. This was never going to be extensive, or objective... or a serious review of the place i'm afraid. Preamble: Getting here is cake. Pop on the shinkansen from tokyo, land at Gala Yuzawa or Echigo Yuzawa. If you land at Echigo Yuzawa just hop on a shuttle bus (or take a taxi- about 1000yen) to Gala Yuzawa. At Gala Yuzawa station theres a slew of facilities (from rentals to creperies) to get you grounded and ready to hit the slopes. Once you're all done pop up on the gondala and bish bosh! youre at the base station. It's about as easy as it gets.  You can score individual passes for each of the resorts if you like, they do work out cheaper (by about 500-700 yen) of course and all offer a little something unique. Whether they all would be worth riding for a full day is a little questionable, but that's what this short (probably not short) review is about. The three mountains are Gala Yuzawa, Ishiuchi Maruyama, and Yuzawa Kogen.  [NB. If you do get off at Echigo-Yuzawa and want this ticket by the way, Yuzawa Kogen is about a 7 or 8 minute walk from the station.  Its a nice alternative to having to go to gala and then come all the way back on the terrifyingly slow (when youre about to miss your one direct train) shuttlebus]. The price is a perfectly reasonable 4900yen. I will preempt part of the review by categorically stating that you won't see it all in one day. I mean, you might get a reasonable outline, but unless you are literally only hopping lifts and nothing else, you will maybe ride about 60-70% tops. The ticket is therefore decent value. Its not three pokey little resorts that you'll be bored of by the afternoon. You'll instead be trying to decide what you want to leave out, or which runs you need to skip  just so you can say you've hit all three mountains up and got your moneys worth on it. Big Mountain Yuzawa Review: Section 1: Gala Yuzawa Once you hop on the gondola (thats right! no ropeway! yay!) up to the main staging area you realise you're in a tourist hotspot. This IS NO BAD THING JAPAN! Sure its gawdy, and sure theres a fair few people, but it's modern, vibrant and full of energy. You have everything you need for a day trip, (from repairs to schools to shops and restaurants) all in easy reach. I don't mind this one bit. I know older heads might feel a little like their japan is being crapped on, but i WANT to see a bit more accommodation of tourists in Japan.  When youre spending hours trying to figure out how to get to x resort using trains and bus timetables that are all in japanese, its a nice and very welcome change to see a resort which not only sets everything out in a superbly accessible way, but also signposts and announces in more than Japanese. Hearing both English and Chinese on the PA system really indicated that this resort was very international friendly. This resort wants to make it as easy as possible to get here, clip in and ride. It goes to great pains to do that and frankly a lot of resorts in Japan could learn a little something from this (though they really should switch the blaring racket of Helloween esque squeeling guitar crud assaulting my ears almost everywhere i went... oh to have remembered my damn ipod!) So the first piece of advice is this: DONT TREAT IT SERIOUSLY. This is a loud, frenetic, tourist trap. It has everything set up PRECISELY for people popping here for a quick stay. It's the McDonalds of Japanese ski-jos. You cant look at it with the same eyes you might look at something thats genuinely nutritious. Its a nice break from the wholesome stuff though every now and again. ...And that's how i felt clipping in and getting on the first chair. It was kinda relieving to know I was just going to ride this place and not give too much of a crap about how good it is. And this is where you get hit with your first neat surprise. The terrain is actually... ... pretty decent!?  The groomers are IMMACULATE, but once you get to the top you're met with a nice little zippy red run. After a few weeks of Kagura I'd almost forgotten what a nice fast red run felt like. Sure it wasn't massively long, but it was a fun gradient to just crack out some of those first turns and warm the legs up. A bit of speed and the blaring racket of the PA system was a long forgotten memory. Gala kicked off with a really good first impression. I took a few more laps up there and then popped down the mountain on skiers left (into a nice cute green run with ungroomed side areas) and grabbed my breakfast. Sorry blue steel or whatever your name is, but your food is awful. Avoid it.  After id choked down the hotdog and coffee and tried not to bring it back up, i popped back up to the top to find they'd opened the south side.  This area was genuinely superb. The powder was light, fluffy, cut to crap, but it didnt matter. I didnt see one glum face here. Everyone was smiling and having a great time and seemed in sheer disbelief that this even exists in a McSki-jo. The nice thing is the area doesnt seem to get packed. Not many people venture over this side making it not only the most fun part of the mountain, but also one of the quietest. It makes a great little getaway if you do find the bedlam of the main staging area to be a bit much. Its also top quality fun. The lines arent massive (they never seem to be in Yuzawa to be honest), but the powder was deep, plentiful, and great to just roll around in.  The south area really offers a great contrast to the main Gala zone, making the resort itself a little more interesting than you might have initially thought. This isn't just the stuff of cynical tourism here. After riding this a few times it became very apparent that JR were incredibly shrewd in their purchasing of this place. It's not just the kind of place you ride because it's accessible. It's actually got terrain... and pretty damn decent terrain at that. Its also got snow. Of course, nothing ever feels epic, but it does feel much better than you likely think it will be. Its good quality stuff that you could happily spend a full day here no bother. I'm strongly of the opinion that even were there no shinkansen link and a bunch of day tripper stuff here making everyone comfortable, people would still come here because its actually a good and diverse little mountain.  Odd that im summarizing Gala when ive literally rode 60% of it... well alas that's about all i had the time to ride. I didn't really get to the north area or take a few of the lines down. Instead at this point i figured since i was right next to the connection to Yuzawa Kogen i might as well nip across and see whats up. Lucky for me the ropeway was just boarding as I made that decision (xx.00; xx.20; and xx.40) so off I went.  Section 2: Yuzawa Kogen: What a VIEW! You pop out of the ropeway and are immediately hit with mountains as far as the eye can see. Alas my stupid gopro has no real means to draw this out, but its genuinely beautiful to look at. The second thing you might see is a more traditional japanese way of doing things. It felt a little more sedate over in Yuzawa Kogen. The MT,3 pass was suddenly coming into its own. The crowds weren't here, the lifties weren't cracking their best disneyland forced smiles. It was more... normal.  I hopped on the little kiddies lift which took me half way up and then got the chair to the top. You can then either run a black powdery run to the middle (and a red steep to the (sort of) bottom) or a long green path that winds around the side of the resort (and probably has some very beautiful areas - i never rode it), into a nice green bunny run back to the ropeway.  There is a third line that i was ITCHING to ride, but ski patrol evidently spied me clipping in suspiciously close to the rope and stood there until i left. (its basically a drop off skiers right from the black run down into a few trees before plopping out on the aforementioned path).  The runs themselves were alright. Bit short, but they did leave some of the tracks ungroomed which was nice. They werent hugely long, but the lifts were zippy as hell, so no bother. The resort is kind of pronged however. The area i was in really only leads to the middle of the mountain. There is however a single long red run that brings you down to the base of the yuzawa ropeway (near echigo yuzawa station), and it was the entire reason i was stoked to be there. Unfortunately i rode it and realised it was too zig zaggy to let rip so it was a bit of a waste of time and energy if i'm honest.  At the very foot of Yuzawa Kogen are a few little bunny slopes that bring you to the ropeway staging area where i realised i had a 15 minute wait for the next bus up. Blast.  So i waited then got on the ropeway, trundled up the hill ready to head back to Gala only to realise that they have the exact same times on the ropeway connecting to Gala... they all leave 00, 20, 40. So you get off one ropeway and are left hanging about for another 15 minutes waiting on the next one. Kinda stupid, but there you go. By the time i got back to the main gala area it was around 1pm and i still hadnt got to eat lunch or see ishiuchi. My mood was darkening. I popped back to blue steel and gobbed down one of their burgers before flying... into a massive queue for the lift. Dammit! forgot about queues. 10 minutes later and i was away. I rode down the green path on the north side (the swan course) through tonnes of beginners, lost my brain, thought id missed the turning to ishiuchi and went back up the lift again only to be told by the lifty that it was actually where i was and i needed to get the kiddy lift to the top. A little signposting maybe? Got on the worlds slowest pair lift (though the veracity of this claim has been doubted on the snowjapan forums), to ride a little flat around to ishiuchi.  Section 3: Ishiuchi Of all the resorts i wanted to hit, this place was at the top. It not only had a brochure for its park, but it also had one called ishiuchi powder land. Clearly this was going to be the best of all three. It looked big, open and had great diversity in its runs. It did lack some length of course, but even the photo of the resort showed that fun was definitely on the cards.  (fun... only not at ishiuchi - more of the south side of gala).  And then i got there. Nothing but ice, slush and crud. All the tracked out areas had melted and frozen and melted and frozen and become pure evil crud. The gelends were bumpy with some nasty moguls scattered here and there, and all round it was just kinda... dull. There were a few lines you could happily just bomb, and thats nice, but without powder the whole zone just felt really flat. I did try and pop into every side ungroomed part, but immediately rued the mistake when it was yet again top quality crud, and rode back onto the groomers. And the thing is, almost all of the groomers felt the same. The only difference seemed to be just how much leeway the groomers let the skiers mogul it out.  It did have a nice cute baby park though which was nice. It also had a fairly solid looking park with several decent kickers and a few jib features. So that was nice as well. But honestly... if id have paid to ride only here i might have been even more annoyed than i was. I guess its my own fault for hyping it in my head, but the place just completely failed to deliver anything but a few charging ice walls. And i mean honestly, theyre nice when you want a bit of speed, but they arent really long enough to be technically challenging or fun. You get off the lift, you hit the steep, you carve down it, you unclip and get back on the lift.  I dont know. I didnt have long here and maybe it was just because it had been relatively sunny most of the day, but it was seriously poor conditions and it seemed really exposed to the point that this would be much more common than uncommon. If you get here directly after a drop it might be a riot, but if a single ray of sunshine should hit that resort its melt/freeze time.  And heres another thing... aside the park side, a lot of this mountain felt rather skier friendly. I dont know if this is correct of course, but my instinct told me that this place is really an awesome powder zone for SKIERS to learn to ride powder. I wish i could clarify what i mean by this, instead im going to suggest that im right but offer no evidence at all to back the claim up. It just felt like if you were a skier this place might be a lot more fun (and playpark like fun) for you as you learn to start dealing with powder skiing.  For me it was a massive waste of my time. I really regreted that i wasnt lapping the chair at the south side of gala. I really really regretted the decision though when i took a wrong turn back to gala and ended up coming back down into ishiuchi and realising the one connector lift to the central gala zone was heaving with people.  <Snake snake snake snake> then bulleted down the green run to the base station through MILLIONS of other people scattering them like skittles (of course i didnt, but i seriously felt like it). I made it just in time for the 4pm bus to be told there was no 4pm or 4.05pm bus after all and id have to wait until 4.15. (A bus i should add that was due to arrive at echigo five minutes later, but arrived at 4.31). Do you need to know this? I dunno. It annoyed the shit out me though and in part, i blame this on ishiuchi making me into a mean bad tempered little ass :)  Conclusion: There's a few things i learned about this little recon mission. The first was that Gala Yuzawa is significantly better than i anticipated. Its not the stuff of a serious days boarding, but if you live in or near Tokyo and just wake up one day and feel like pulling a sickie to go for a ride this place is going to give you a great day on the slopes. It might get a bit familiar after a few days so i wouldn't come here for an extensive period of time, but a day trip in the right conditions and you'll have yourself a great day out. Its a cracking little place to be honest.  The second thing i learned is that yuzawa kogen, beautiful as it is, is still rather small. Were that red run a bit more open and a bit more interesting (and not just a zig zag cut into a slope), it might stretch out to a day. Otherwise half day maximum. A yuzawa kogen ticket on its own wont really deliver more than a couple of hours. I was barely there for an hour and i felt id seen enough.  Third, ishiuchi is at the mercy of the elements. I have a feeling that given the right conditions it would be a lot of fun for a day out and might even deliver on its powder land promise. But a bit of exposure to the sun and its game over. It makes the place feel really one dimensional and all the runs feel like mirrors of each other. There seems to be a decent top to bottom run in it, but i didnt have the energy, time, or mood to run it. Pity because it might have cheered me up a bit. It does mean though that unlike the kogen, i am prepared to give ishiuchi another crack at it. It feels very much like i saw it in its worst light when i was in an already foul mood from trying to see it all before the day ended.  Finally, the pass itself is fantastically good value for money and easy has two days worth of terrain to hit. But given that both ishiuchi and gala have enough in themselves to keep you entertained im not entirely sure if you need to shell out on it.  Its nice in that it gives you a reason to go and see yuzawa kogen and enjoy it, but maybe a gala pass that included just the kogen would have been a better way to go. The two resorts feel like they complement each other rather well and the link is after all only a very short ropeway across. Maybe they should just throw in a quad lift, link the resorts up, and just call it all gala yuzawa :) Ishiuchi feels like it has its own vibe to it and its really the gala/ishiuchi that's selling this pass.  Would i buy it again? It's certainly possible. Maybe if i want to check out ishiuchi but dont want to get stuck there if the conditions are kinda lame. I mean it is only 700 yen at the end of the day here. Its three resorts, and i already know im likely to skip the Kogen next time im there, so maybe that gives me a bit more time to play in the south area of yuzawa and also play in ishiuchi before it turns to crud. Its also pretty decent that i can start and end right next to echigo yuzawa station instead of gala if i want.  All in all, 4900 yen and a pretty decent run out with minimal fuss and annoyance. The connections could be improved slightly regarding timings (gala->kogen->gala) and signposting (gala->ishiuchi->gala), but other than that its a great place to come if you just feel you need to get a sneaky day under your belt. The terrains good fun, theres plenty of diversity, there's plenty of places you can also just chill out and relax at. There's not much i can really say that's all that bad... except maybe you shouldn't try and see it all in one day.  If you're here for a couple of days you might be better spending a day at gala first and then shelling out on day 2 for the three day pass. Other than that its pretty much worth it if only to get a little feel for the place. All in, its a nice little getaway. Pull a sickie, pick up one of the cheap return shink/lift pass weekday deals and hit it up. You'll find its far better than you maybe thought.
2/5/2012 5:33:03 PM Rider: Ippy inutil. Lazy, fat, happy on a charge, loves pop, enjoys pow, parkphobic.  Board: 2012 Ride Berzerker 158. All mountain hybrid camber, narrow ass waist, 3 part directional sidecut (9.8, 7.3, 8.3), mellow camber from tail contact to inserts then a very mellow rocker on the nose. Directional, 90A Slimewalls, sintered, carbon array 3, 3/4 inch setback, and a ride flex of 7. Time on the board: 2 days so far.Bindings: My trusty peeling apart, ratchet hell 2009/10 green forces. Conditions: Day 1 (kagura) overcast, pow, slightly packing, but still japow. Day 2 (gala yuzawa/kogen/ishiuchi): sunny, so the pow got progressively heavier. At ishiuchi it was full blown crud. Other: Day 1: Rode bindings fully set back for pow. Day 2: switched up to a centered (though in built setback) stance. Tech preconceptions: A hard charging board but with a little extra kick for pow. Might be a bit squirly in icier conditions but i can live with that. Probably wont be too playful though... Review:  Strapped in and the first thing i did was had a wee test of the flex. This board is NOT STIFF. I mean, it might just be that i'm fairly used to boards that give you a hernia when you try and press them, but this board presses EFFORTLESSLY (comparatively speaking of course -its not a horrorscope). I'd dare say this was even easier to press than my airobic. Well there goes preconception number 1. I bet it rides crap in switch though... blam! no. Rides switch fine thanks. Bindings set back or not, it just feels like riding switch.  Right, it butters. If i was giving it a flex rating id put it at a classic medium flex. Maybe even slightly softer than a medium flex. That's surprise number one then: It is mellow camber with a mellow rocker nose after all... its kinda buttery... i guess that means its going to suck on a carve. So i put it on edge and got hit with revelation number 2. First, getting on edge was super smoooooooth. You lock into a carve right away and you KNOW you're on your edge. The second thing though is that this board has a gas pedal!  You know in movies when someone hits the turbo button and they get knocked back into their seat... its like that. I swear to god! you get on your edge and there's none of this slow build up, you are now going immediately faster. It was kinda funny. There was no pop on it, i didn't bounce into this edge, just rolled onto it and boom! acceleration.  And it locks. If you blind tested this board, you wouldn't know this had any rocker at all. Its edge hold is solid. The word "wash" didn't even enter my thoughts until i was on the train home thinking "holy shit, the idea of this board washing never even crossed my mind once this weekend!" Naturally then the rocker is not affecting the carve so it must be sooooo mellow that its barely going to affect the pow either... its probably just like riding a broken in camber ride, right?  Wrong again ipps.  Kagura gets deep. The board killed it. No nose diving issues to report. I took it into the areas the riot really got spanked on (the trees up near the top lift which gets both deep and can be flat in places), and this board rode it like i was on my charlie. Naturally no taper and 6cms smaller than the slasher means the charlie still has its role, but for anything but the deepest terrain this board is going to kill it. With the bindings set back i had no problems at all. It eats up slackcountry japow. [I should add though on day 2 when i centered the bindings i did have a couple of moments when it tried to nose dive, so its not a pow board in that regard]. But when you have a pow day, knock the bindings back and blam! semi-pow stick.  So Day 1 conclusions: This board is a mechanical marvel. Someone is going to be ecstatic about this board. If i did have to pick apart one thing on it, it did seem kinda lifeless... it was missing a little oomph to it that i want in a board (and that i definitely get on both the quiver killer/NAS and the riot). It handles it all, but its just lacking that little aggressive tweak that makes me want to bounce off everything and throw it everwhere. It does it, but in a kind of "thats nice, but dont you want to go play in the trees?" type of way. Its like an old faithful board. Maybe even a slackcountry quiver killer. Its buttery fun with an amazing consistent ride and fantastic float. Pretty much ticks almost all the boxes youd want. Just not all the boxes i want.  And then on day 2 i decided this opinion was massively influenced by both the lines i rode (pow lines and chopped up steeps - the mainstay of kagura) and my binding positioning. I needed to test this out and see the difference it made. Well, as luck would have it, the first run i clipped in on (the top run at gala yuzawa) was your classic intermediate groomed steep.  And here i learned two new things about this board.  1. The board is seriously quick. 2. The board does not care one way or the other whether you want to ride an entire line with one edge change. Preconception number.... lets say ten... smashed. This board isnt just about tight sharp turns. I mean it turns super quick as youd expect, but as you might not expect, (but only later come to realise as to why), it also runs long straight lines without hooking you round. And then you suddenly remember the mellow rocker and the extremely wide angle in the sidecut at the nose... thanks ride R+D. :)  So on a carve its quick, its got super easy turn initiation, it doesnt hook (i should also mention this for landings as well though i personally wont be testing that one for you), it locks like youd expect camber to lock, it can do super quick transitions thanks in part to its narrow width and sidecut and also holds long arcs with no real problems. So if this was a carving board, youd be pretty happy with it.  In the pow it floats, doesnt nose dive, stomps and slashes, it feels really meaty and you wont feel like youre skidding out. It kills it. So preconception number 1 delivered! its an aggressive board with a powder lean. Yay!  But its not. Its also seriously playful. Day 2 i spent shooting up walls, playing in the baby park getting baby air, 50/50ing boxes and rails, hitting every side hit and bouncing every bit of crud and chop you could find. I mention this in part to humiliate myself by reminding you that im not a park rat, but also because it was the change in the feel of this board that actually had me wanting to do all this. If this board was just the board from my preconception above i would have spent the day kinda chilling and burning down the groomers... Its just not though, its super playful. But in a buttery playful way, kinda like the indoor survival type of playful as opposed the riots type of playful. It has pop, and decent pop at that (especially bouncing edge to edge which is a stack of fun), it wants to ride walls (theres about a 100spots of formerly immaculate sidewalls on the groomers of gala that have this boards little imprint on it now) and it wants to just spin and butter about. Its just really fun on top of everything else.  So let me take a brief moment to point out all the contrasts... 1. Its both super playful when you want it, and super aggressive when you want that.2. It floats like an untapered s-rocker but loses nothing in its carve to deliver that.3. It excels at sharp explosive turns, but doesnt hook on long turns. 4. Its poppy yet buttery. I cant think of anything its missing to be honest... I guess the last thing i should mention is the dampening. Ive never ridden a board specifically with dampening built into it so im not exactly the best person to ask... but even in serious crud i didnt come out of it with jelly knees. I never felt like i was being bounced around so i hope that helps you out.  Conclusion:  What the hell else am i going to say except this board is genuinely the best board ive ever ridden. I mean ive ridden less boards in my life than someone like the angrysnowboarder rides in a weekend test so this statement should carry zero weight. But I cant help but think somethings actually clicked in this deck.  Its rather batshit insane if im honest. I keep mentally digging through this check list of things a board needs to do (and do above average), to be considered that perfect kill it all deck... and it keeps ticking the damn boxes. I want to say something negative about it, i want to say "but yeah... you still want to ride your riot though!" but thats more out of masochism and the sheer mischief that board carries. This deck on the other hand is pure functional elegance. Everything works and it works to perfection. Its not simply good at everything; its very good at everything AND even exceptional in some of those areas (its carving, its speed, and its turning just for three things).  Ive spent the past two years stating categorically that theres always a trade off... and im trying desperately to think of it... but bugger me, i dont honestly know what it is. I cant think of a bad thing to say about this board. I guess i could say its pop is still a little flat... maybe... but only a little and only because my last two go-to boards (well one of them is my current), are the riot and the quiver killer - two boards built for pop.  I dunno what to say dudes... this is annoyingly positive. I want to criticise it. I want to find fault in it and have that "aha! i've GOT YOU NOW!!!" moment, but if you want a board thats going to kill it all no matter what and not sacrifice anything in doing it, then shtooking hell... this might actually be that board. Its far and away the most versatile board ive ridden and until they design that board (which currently only exists in my head and changes its flex and shape like you can change your stance), it probably will be for a few years yet.  Im quite gobsmacked by it to be honest. 
1/16/2012 10:25:19 PM Kagura Japan: The Review Where?: Japan, Niigata prefecture, Yuzawa town, Kagura resort When?: January 14th and 15th 2012  Who?: Your man in japan, ippy the magni... i mean the dude that still after 4 seasons can barely press a board, barely stay on his feet and still gets owned by cross courses because he is going way too fast by the time he hits the 4th or so roller. Ticket Info: Tickets are very reasonable at 4,200yen. A little under the 4500 benchmark i use to assess a decent mountain. Im sure theres also something you can do in the restaurants to get a discount with your day pass. But i couldnt work it out. The 2 day pass at 7,700yen is AWESOMELY good value. Theres also the Mt. Naeba ticket which allows you to ride both Kagura AND Naeba for a mere 5,000 yen. The two day ticket is 11,000 but this also allows you to ride the nighta at Naeba on that first day which goes on to 10pm on saturdays! Definitely an attractive option if you turn up a bit late on the first day. Both resorts are connected by the Dragondola so this isnt a mickey mouse operation. Both resorts are rather big and certainly big enough to keep you occupied for at least a couple of days each, so there is a LOT of terrain here.   Accessibility: The bus to kagura isnt that often. I think theres about 5 or so per day. But its cheap (300yen) and drops you right outside the base at Mitsumata. Snow Conditions?: Ridiculous pow.   Resort Facilities?: The resort itself is pretty threadbare. There are a few restaurants scattered about, a couple of tuning and rental places and a couple of shops at the base of Mitsumata. You arent really talking echoland or hirafu here. It's more like myoko. There also aren't that many buildings around the area in general (at least on the mitsumata side - not sure about tashiro). So more than likely youll be staying in Yuzawa itself and busing in.   Yuzawa Town info: What can you say about Yuzawa? Unparalleled access from Tokyo thansk to BOTH a direct shinkansen line, and a rapid local train from shinjuku/omiya. Ten or so resorts going in every direction and all within about a 40 minute (local) bus ride. In addition to all this you have plenty of accommodation options in a small town that feels honestly, rather bustling and dare i say, modern. Yuzawa itself is kinda like a quaint japanese town, but unlike Nozawa it feels like it has a lot less of a focus on its cultural heritage and a bit more in supplying the stuff that tourists on day trips from tokyo will be looking for: restaurants, convenience stores, snow shops, ATMs (this is a bigger thing than you might realise), as well as all your omiyage (gifts for colleagues and family) needs and public baths to relax in. Its a spa town. But also pretty vibrant.  You'll have plenty of places to hit up if you stay in the area, and buses to all the major resorts leave from here. Accommodation DOES cater more towards the Japanese customer im afraid so you may have to do your research, but the tourist office just outside the station has excellent english speakers who can help sort you out.  Basically, if you're in Tokyo anyway and want to ride, forget nagano. Its a long way away, just come here dude, it's going to have enough to entertain you for even a few weeks at a time. But coming back to the resorts for a moment. You have Naeba and Kagura (which are arguably the biggest resorts in the area), and then Gala Yuzawa itself which is directly off the shinkansen station. Gala makes a great option on a weekday particularly if you get the ticket that ties it in with Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi. Ishiuchi has, i believe, one of the best looking parks in the area as well as a nice powder zone. Gala itself is the locus, and though its kinda lame looking, yuzawa kogen adds a little more terrain. Definitely fantastic value then if youre here for a day or two (but try and avoid the weekends if you can during peak season for obvious reasons). In addition to this you have a few other smaller resorts like Kandatsu, Maiko, Naspa, Iwappara... actually, here's a brief rundown: Anything Else?: A few curiosities on accommodation... Near the mountain itself there's a small room at the base of Mitsumata that has blankets and crappy futons, but you can in fact sleep there overnight for FREE. It might get cold, i honestly don't know, and id be a bit uncomfortable myself chilling there, but if you are a bit braver than me, it certainly gives you a cheap place to billit.  There's also a place called Yuzawa Kenkou Land. Its an onsen just outside Gala Yuzawa station (you can see it from the station - its virtually in front of it, but to get to it you need to walk a fairly long winding road).  You can stay in a massive dorm room overnight (with about 100 other people on your own futon (its noisy, bring ear plugs)) as well as use the rather decent onsen facilities for a BARGAIN 2,200yen/night. If you're in the gala area, it's definitely worth putting up with the farting, snoring, and 6am wake up call from everyone getting up to score first tracks before the bullet trains start dumping the population of tokyo on a small-to-medium sized resort.  In more accommodation news, there's an amazing value option on the mountain itself called WadaGoya: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/mtnaeba/newWin/accommodation/index.html  For 7000 yen you get to be central on piste (at the top of the gondola), you get a bed for the night, you get both breakfast and dinner. On top of this you also get some AMAZING deals on ticket prices (2000 for a half day, and 3000 for a full day Mt Naeba (naeba AND Kagura) pass. No doubt about it, next time I'm in teh area, I'm staying here.  One more thing to mention and it seems a touch superficial, but you will see a LOT more US brands on the mountain. Clearly this is the Tokyo influence playing its part. It sounds slightly silly if you don't live in Japan, but aside Burton, Yonex, and Lib, you will also see a hell of a lot of Rome, Capita, Ride, and even my first ever sighting of the lesser spotted Stepchild. Hell, i even saw not one, but TWO bataleons (a 2009 riot and a 2012 violenza). This tells you a lot more than you might think. First, this mountain is hit up by park rats (it has a pretty decent kicker line). Second, the population hitting it are not predominantly in their 30s to 70s like some other places (nor are they likely to be out on their first board); and 3. (surprisingly for anywhere outside niseko and hakuba), snowboarders may even dominate this mountain. The vibe here feels MUCH younger than a lot of the traditional japanese resorts, so again, if you're visiting Japan, this area in general is definitely competiting with Niseko and Hakuba for those tourist dollars.   [Addendum: Sorry, this was pretty long. Im going to make it a mission to try and hit up a few of the main resorts in this area, but this ones the first review, so its probably carrying a bit more of the Yuzawa weight than the others maybe will in the future.]   Hopefully ive covered the main parts and you get a general idea about the area. There are a lot of buses from Yuzawa; there's a town with a decent buzz to it; some rather incredible accommodation options; about ten+ resorts within spitting distance of Yuzawa itself; and incredible access from Tokyo. The place is definitely worth checking out.  But thats enough about the area in general... how about this specific resort then?  Kagura Preamble: The resort itself is in three main parts: "Mitsumata: Fun attraction area with Park and Kids Zone!""Tashiro: Attractive Scenery with gentle slopes. Ideal for beginners and Ladies!" and..."Kagura: Dynamic Ski zone with powder snow, bumps and steep runs!" The first part, Mitsumata, will likely be your base if you're coming from Yuzawa since it's the closest part of the mountain to Yuzawa itself. Unless you have accommodation in Naeba or Tashiro, youll probably be getting off the bus here. The second part is Kagura itself. This is the top half of the mountain. Here youll find arguably the best terrain in the area as well as the best powder. I sat here on day 1, and kept it as a treat on day 2 after I'd finished scoping out the third area. The third area is Tashiro. Most of the terrain here is beginner friendly and relatively short lines. It's not entirely special to ride, but it does have some SPECTACULAR views (and even a nearby lake (about 30 meters from the piste). Alas my gopro battery died before I got over here so all my pictures are in and around Mitsumata/Kagura (and flat light). If you like sweeping panoramas and not just smashing through powder, you should make a point to get over here. It's also the staging area for the dragondola connecting Kagura to Naeba.   Kagura for Beginners: (at the base of the gondola) As mentioned, Tashiro has some really nice beginner terrain. You have two central lifts in the area - the tashiro high speed 1 and 2, both of which give you a stack of nice little cruiser runs to play on. Its hard to honestly remember which run is which, but the whole area had a reasonably shallow gradient, whilst not being so shallow that you'd lose speed. Obviously this is the stuff that beginners are going to enjoy. Add in the spectacular views and most people scoring their first turns are coming away relatively happy.  In addition you also have a nice little baby roller course, and plenty of little ungroomed side hits (as well as the most modern looking restaurant on the hill). A safe bet for a party of beginners can be found around the high speed 2 lift. This area ticks almost every box that a beginner is going to want (reasonably long enough, not too steep, nice and wide, not too many people, great lift access, fantastic scenert and some nice side hits to play on as well as a slalom course and a cross course to start getting some air).  It's interesting to note that even on a Sunday in peak season in perfect conditions it just wasn't THAT busy. I mean, there were enough people around here to give it some life and buzz to it, and there were queues in some areas (around the Tashiro high speed lifts), but im talking about 2 minutes maximum here. The only reason you'd mention it as a queue is so you can boast about how little time you spend queuing :) Moving in towards Mitsumata side, theres a GEM of a little pow field at the kagura romance lift 4. It's not challenging, but its certainly deep enough that it held my attention for four or five rides on it before moving elsewhere. It has a few side areas that are DEEP and are going to cause trouble for beginners (due to them also being relatively shallow). They also leave a considerable amount of the area here ungrommed, with only a central line or two getting hit. So if you fancy a spot of pow, chances are youll score some, somewhere around here.  (the little pow area on the Tashiro/Kagura border) Moving into kagura proper and you have the kagura main slope (that's it's actual name). It gets busy, the angle can seem a bit steep for beginners in truth, and it does get cut to hell. Its marked as a beginners run, but when it gets icy, it starts getting kinda gnarly, bumpy and a bit quick. So if youre looking for something a little faster and a spot more challenging to start opening out your carves, it's a definite option. You have essentially one lift servicing the area (the kagura high speed 1), and it can get quite busy since its probably the most attractive area of the entire mountain for all levels. But again, queues weren't massive and people were filling up the chairs and not leaving spaces so nothing too terrible. But don't think that's your fill yet! There's still Mitsumata. Unfortunately it contains the longest, and by far my most hated run... the gondola run. It's super busy, super shallow, and super irritating. Unfortunately, aside the gondola itself, its the only way down, so you have to suck it up. It's basically a long winding path without any of the endearing views you might usually get on a path. It's nice to look at and all, but it's still dull and gets in the way of your fun a bit. Beginners just wont have enough speed to carry them through this, so they'll be unclipping at least twice and possibly three times on this run. It might be nice for the more timid riders out there, but i can't imagine most people will get a real kick out of it.  This plops you out at the bottom of the gondola and from there its a short lift back up to the central mistumata base area. Here you have your final little area. And honestly, it's another fantastic little zone for beginners. It's a nice gradient, decently wide, and will get anyone through their first turns enjoying it. It'll also blow their mind when they realise this is one tiny part of the mountain and they start exploring the rest of it. :) If you're with a beginner (or are one) and you want to get riding asap, then this is the place you'll probably spend the better part of your time.  Definitely an ideal beginner line, while still having enough ungroomed side areas to keep you or your more experienced mates entertained.  As you can tell, beginners have a LOT of accessible terrain. And you might be thinking that this means the mountain is a beginner mountain. Well yes and no, the powder certainly gives you a strong incentive to come if you aren't a beginner, but I'll come to the real reason why that trail map is a little... deceiving in a moment. Let's first try and explain the two or three actually marked intermediate runs if we can.  Kagura for Intermediates:  (at the top of the Gondola looking up to the main gelende on Kagura).  The first place to mention might be the park at Mitsumata. I only SAW it (as if im going to go into a park these days?), but it looked pretty much immaculate with three central lines for people to ride down. Again, we are talking a relatively short run and were you to bomb it top to bottom, youd probably do it in under a minute or two. This is not long winding parks with millions of features at the end of the day, but its immaculate, well maintained and has a bit or variety thrown in. As mentioned above, the mountain draws in park rats, so there's definitely stuff here worth lapping (or cutting your teeth on). Of course i couldn't exactly confirm that myself, but there were some decent looking lines and hits that would tempt someone looking to progress in that direction. So there's the park? Well, there's also the powder. For instance, that little run on Tashiro i mentioned earlier is going to keep your intermediate rider well happy. Everyone loves playing in the pow!  (playing in the pow at the romance 4 lift).  But that being said... there really isn't much terrain that might be considered classic "intermediate" stuff. Really what will keep intermediates here is either cruising around tashiro soaking up the views; getting some baby laps in the park; playing in teh powder, or popping onto some of the more tricky runs more than the terrain itself. Theres no real long fast runs like R1 on goryu (the definitive intermediate run as far as im concerned). And though powder drops almost every black run into a red run (or even a green run), when it gets icier, those things will definitely revert to type with choppy, moguled, trenched steep runs.  (looking up at challenge course) In truth whats going to keep intermediates riding this area is the size of it (it is rather massive when youre actually out there) the sheer wealth of runs and diversity (the mix of paths, groomers, and easily accessible off piste to flirt with), and of course the powder. It can be rather immense. So really intermediates would be better off not reading this part and focusing more on both the beginner and advanced descriptions because that middle ground between the two dynamics is really what they're going to really enjoy about the mountain. Its not really an intermediate mountain per se, but intermediates wont be exactly bored either. And theres a good reason for this, which I am about to explain.    Kagura for Advanced Riders: (ducking the ropes and heading to the far skiers left and the soon to be mentioned powder field).  You see, Kagura doesnt have much in the way of on piste advanced runs either. It has a few over at Tashiro, and the main lines up at Kagura, but really advanced boarders will find the groomers relatively short, and pretty much chopped up. I mean, we all love choppy pow, but we all know some of those runs, but the pow wont last forever and that kinda sucks... So aside the park there's not much specifically going on. There's a few little neat spots (like the area around Tashiro Romance 6 lift) that are great fun and probably will have powder running on them (if albeit chopped to hell), right into april. But this all ultimately makes up a fraction of a resort thats dominated by green beginner stuff. Until you duck a rope. (chaaaaarge!!!)  And here's the thing. Those ropes... no one honestly gives a shit. Its got Myoko's very laid back policy. No one bothers to poach lines here, they just drop in on them in front of the mountain staff and track to their favorite spots. Just off the back of that black run at the top of Tashiro 6 for example is a rope. This rope has HEAVY cut in track from people popping a little skiers right before the challenge bahn to cut down a ridge line on some seriously deep pow. It shallows out towards the end which probably turns most people off, but you know people with the right board are hitting that and scoring awesome surf... and what's more, so do the resort staff. They probably have their own little secret areas they like to hit up as well, and it's unlikely that its on the actual designated lines.  Take for example the Kagura area itself... sure, you CAN ride the fun challenge course (it was caked in powder and nice and bouncy. It is a decent quality black run (if lacking in a bit of steepness to really take it above an advanced red run maybe). Or instead, you could just pop under the rope on skiers left just after you get off the lift and either track under the lifts (there are a LOT of lift lines on this resort well worth playing on by the way)... and you might thik this is awesome! And you'll be right, the lift runs are a tonne of fun! But maybe the second or third time you hit that line you'll notice that theres a few lines going much further skiers left. And you might follow them... and when you do you'll hit a massive open pow field (well tracked again), but with some serious powder fun.  (the small pow field between high speed lift 1 and the top of the gondola)And hell, the next time you might even resist the temptation to hit that line up and ride even further on. And here you're rewarded with less cuts and even deeper lines as it marches through that gully between the two ridge lines (and popping you out back at the to of the gondola station - i found this line on my last run on day 2 and it owned the crap out of my board).  What makes this wild is that it's clearly popular; it's not just a few pow hounds ninjaing these lines, its commonplace with a massive blind eye policy from the staff. As i say, this is just the obvious stuff that a dude riding a day and a half is going to find. But there's a stack of it, and its going to keep you in pow right into the late season here and that's honestly a fantastic draw for advanced and high intermediate riders.  I know you shouldnt encourage rope ducking (and im feeling killclimbz rightly scowling at me while im writing this ;)), but its clearly common practice on this mountain and no one at all seems to bat an eyelid. It's bizarre in a way. Maybe it's just to keep beginners from getting stuck? I have honestly no idea and thats part of what makes it slightly dangerous for the unaware. You see, very little of the mountain is actually roped off. They let you ride pretty much wherever, so it does beg the question of why these places are roped off when so many people are hitting it. So keep that in mind when you get here. There have already been two deaths this year around this area, not from tree wells or creek beds, but from people simply getting inverted and ending up head first and not being able to free themselves. Its still dangerous stuff out there even if that danger isn't obvious or apparent. So please do understand this.  That being said, the draw for advanced riders is precisely the access to free powder terrain. It's going to be deep, you're going to find lines, it's going to be face shots and you're going to have an awesome time riding it. And it seems to be almost all over the mountain itself. I didnt obviously spend a great deal of time exploring Tashiro but it certainly has some lines i might consider on my next trip (but i was kinda pushed for time when i visisted).  So coming back to the point above for intermediates: its precisely because the resort doesn't rope off much that youre going to get a lot of opportunities to start flirting with the trees or riding some of the lifts, or hitting the ungroomed side areas (as well as the obvious ungroomed powder zones) regardless of their official course designation. The trail map doesn't quite paint the full picture of what's actually going on here. There's a lot more under the surface here than you might think. So although it looks like a tonne of beginners terrain, this mountain is in actuality a little bit more complex than those green lines might make you think. There is a stack of things going on that you wouldn't realize just by looking at the map. It's all rather intriguing and you have to be here (or read this review) to get that.   Off Piste options: I'm looking around and one of the things im seeing is this: A lot of terrain within hiking distance. Indeed, clearly there's a decent hiking area since the shop at the base of Mitsumata rents out snow shoes for people to traverse (i expect) the ridge line up near the top of the mountain itself as well as tour groups setting out (rather cheaply by the way - 7000 yen i believe) to hit up some of the more easy to access stuff around the mountain itself. Further afield there are also some decent sized mountains with some terrifying looking rides that genuine freeriders (who actually know their shit) would want to make a bee line for.  Obviously im donny, this is out of my depth, but its definitely there just from the most cursory observation, and its obviously going to give you something other than the fun (but mellow) pow lines just off the main resort. If you lived in the area i honestly cant see why you wouldnt own a splitboard. The place screams HIKEABLE TERRAIN!!! If that's your bag, theres more than a few lines in the general vicinity that are going to keep you entertained for a decent while.  PS. The top will open up in Feb making hiking and riding that side ridge (the other side of the creek bed ride mentioned above) almost effortless. I saw some tracks coming from there on sunday, but i reckon those dudes worked pretty hard to get there. Come Feb and thats probably going to change a bit. So if you want to take some baby steps into the actual off piste, i reckon the mountain is going to deliver that too :)  Ippy goes to Kagura: the Review.  (at the gondola base).  So hopefully you have an idea of what the area is like, I reckon I've typed more than enough, so ill try and hit up the highlights (good and bad). Clearly I enjoyed myself. There's plenty to do and being a little slackcountry kid, so the mountain pushes a lot of my buttons.  The bad first (because im the type of person that eats the biscuit first on a twix so i can indulge with that sweet sweet caramel and chocolate).  First up is that annoying gondola run. I hate it. It's a real vibe killer. The fact you HAVE to ride it also annoys the hell out of me. You can of course cruise it, but chances are you'll be unclipping somewhere, and i hate that more than i hate boredom. So its boredom for me. The second thing is the line back from tashiro to kagura. It can get pretty winding and it also suffers from similar flat/unclipping issues. It doesn't really inspire, and it's definitely something you ride ONLY because you have to.  So yeah, theres some flats, and yes, they're compulsory if you want to check out the whole mountain. And they go BOTH ways. Getting to the dragondola for example will require traversing a few tedious flats just as getting back will also have you mumbling under your breath about these annoying bloody runs! Dont let that dissuade you though. Tashiro is rather pretty (and has some fun lines), and Kagura is swimming in powder. Regardless of the negatives, you will still want to hit it all up.  Another thing thats kinda naff is the length of time from arrival to getting your first proper ride. First you take the ropeway, then its a quad lift up to the top of the park, followed by a little scoot, then onto the gondola before popping across to the high speed 1 lift bringing you out NEAR the top of the mountain (the top lift itself doesnt open until mid February i believe, but by god it looks rather stunningly white). All in all it might be somewhere around 35 minbutes before you clip in and actually start riding.  And when you do start riding, the on piste can be kinda short. I mean you COULD ride all the way to the bottom (which is going to be rather long), but that gondola run pretty much makes the decision for you. You wont bother riding it until you have to ride it, so more than likely you'll stay up the top (unless you want to ride the park) and in that case it's pretty much half a mountain in reality.  But the pow takes care of that. As does the terrain which can be rather fun when it gets going, as does the slackcountry, and as does the view you're met with at Tashiro should you be curious enough to venture that way. All of this makes you forget about those annoying lifts and stupidly short lines. None of it matters because when its good, its honestly rather awesome.   But what really draws you in are those secret little lines and knowing that no matter how late in the season it gets, if youre on the right board, youre going to be scoring powder somewhere. The place is honestly a stack of fun. Its vertical isnt exactly stunning, but it's actually rather huge. It takes a fair while to trundle from one end of Tashiro back to kagura for sure, but there are plenty of fun little parts to hit up along the way keeping you distracted and not too bothered about the crappy bits. It's a strange mountain. I feel like i should be a little underwhelmed by it, but it just keeps delivering and opening up little lines i didnt expect or revealing little secret areas (including some of the on-piste by the way) that are a lot more fun and secluded than they might appear. It's really that sense of discovery that makes the place quite fascinating. You think you've seen the best it has to offer, and Blam! another little line opens up putting another smile on your face. And that's really why none of that stuff in the nagatives is worth even mentioning. The paths are annoying, the lifts can be slow, the flats can pop out of nowhere killing your vibe, but then youll think "hmmm... whats down this line?" And you've suddenly just discovered your new favourite part of the mountain.  (my favourite part of the mountain).  And its really this which makes me WANT to come back here. It feels like ive just scracthed the surface. It's like a powder/line treasure hunt. And even if it turns out i really have seen the best it has to offer, the powder is still there waiting on me anyway :) Honestly, its a great place, and when you throw in Yuzawa on top of it, I can't see a reason (outside the fact that all my mates find it much more accessible) that I'd want to head to Nagano any time this season. Sure, Shiga kogen is huge, Myoko is my ancestral home, and Hakuba is mischief central, but Yuzawa seems to have all that plus a tonne of waist deep pow just waiting for me to ride. It seriously has questioned my desire to base myself in nagano, and for that alone it's a place you'll definitely want to hit up if you happen to get the chance. (...and why ill be coming back regardless :)).  [ETA: i truly wish i got photos from the Tashiro area. This album really only does one side of the equation justice. A bluebird tashiro is honestly quite pretty to look at. It would have certainly added a bit more color to this review! Ah well, it wasnt to be. Maybe next time im there ill take some pictures and drop them in the thread itself. :)]  
1/9/2012 9:48:01 PM Where?: Japan, Niigata prefecture, Yuzawa town, Kagura resort When?: January 14th and 15th 2012  Who?: Your man in japan, ippy the magni... i mean the dude that still after 4 seasons can barely press a board, barely stay on his feet and still gets owned by cross courses because he is going way too fast by the time he hits the 4th or so roller. Ticket Info: Tickets are very reasonable at 4,200yen. A little under the 4500 benchmark i use to assess a decent mountain. Im sure theres also something you can do in the restaurants to get a discount with your day pass. But i couldnt work it out. The 2 day pass at 7,700yen is AWESOMELY good value. Theres also the Mt. Naeba ticket which allows you to ride both Kagura AND Naeba for a mere 5,000 yen. The two day ticket is 11,000 but this also allows you to ride the nighta at Naeba on that first day which goes on to 10pm on saturdays! Definitely an attractive option if you turn up a bit late on the first day. Both resorts are connected by the Dragondola so this isnt a mickey mouse operation. Both resorts are rather huge so there is a LOT of terrain here.   Accessibility: The bus to kagura isnt that often. I think theres about 5 or so per day. But its cheap (300yen) and drops you right outside the base at mitsumata. Snow Conditions?: Ridiculous pow.  Resort Facilities?: The resort itself is pretty threadbare. Theres a few restaurants scattered about, a couple of tuning and rental places and a couple of shops at the base of mitsumata. You arent really talking echoland or hirafu here. Its more like myoko. There also arent that many buildings around the area in general (at least on the mitsumata side - not sure about tashiro). So more than likely youll be in yuzawa itself.   Yuzawa Town info: What can you say about Yuzawa? Unparalleled access from Tokyo thansk to BOTH a direct shinkansen line, and a rapid local train from shinjuku/omiya. Ten or so resorts going in every direction and all within about a 40 minute (local) bus ride. In addition to all this you have plenty of accommodation options, a small genuine town that feels honestly rather bustling and dare i say, modern. Yuzawa itself is kinda like a quaint japanese town, but unlike somewhere like Nozawa it feels like it has a lot less of a focus on its cultural heritage and a bit more in supplying teh stuff that tourists on day trips from tokyo will be looking for: onsens, restaurants, combinis, ATMs (this is a bigger thing than you might realise), as well as all your omiyage (gifts for colleagues and family) needs and public baths to relax in. Its a spa town. But also pretty young and vibrant. Youll have plenty of places to hit up if you stay in teh area, and buses to all the major resorts leave from here. Accommodation DOES cater more towards the Japanese customer im afraid so you may have to do your research, but the tourist office just outside the station has excellent english speakers who can help sort you out.  Basically, if youre in Tokyo anyway and want to ride, forget nagano. Its a long way away, just come here dude, its going to have enough to entertain you for even a few weeks at a time. Coming back to the resorts for a moment. You have Naeba and Kagura (which are arguably the biggest), and then Gala Yuzawa itself which is directly off the shinkansen station. Gala makes a great option on a weekday particularly if you get the ticket that ties it in with Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi. Ishiuchi has, i believe, one of the best looking parks in the area as well as a nice powder zone. Gala itself is the locus, and though its kinda lame looking, yuzawa kogen adds a little more terrain. Definitely fantastic value then if youre here for a day or two (but try and avoid the weekends if you can during peak season for obvious reasons).  Anything Else?: A few curiosities on accommodation... in kagura itself theres a small room at the base of mitsumata that has blankets and crappy futons, but you can in fact sleep there overnight for FREE. It might get cold, i honestly dont know, and id be a bit uncomfortable myself chilling there in a very small room with random japanese people trying to include me in their group but not knowing how to, but if you are a bit braver than me, it certainly gives you a cheap place to billit. Theres also a place called Yuzawa Kenkou Land. Its an onsen just outside Gala Yuzawa.  You can stay in a massive dorm room overnight (with about 100 other people on your own futon (its noisy, bring ear plugs)) as well as use the rather decent onsen facilities for a BARGAIN 2,200yen/night. If youre in the gala area, its definitely worth putting up with teh farting, snoring, and 6am wake up call from everyone getting up to score first tracks before the bullet trains start dumping the population of tokyo on a small-medium sized resort. In more accommodation news, theres a decent value option on the mountain itself called Wada Goya: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/mtnaeba/newWin/accommodation/index.html For 7000 yen you get to be central on piste (at the top of the gondola), you get a bed for the night, AND you get both breakfast and dinner. Pretty decent value for a semi-budget dude. I assume its kinda busy though, so obviously book early. I should also mention, and something i didnt know, and now that i do makes this a no brainer... the lift tickets are INSANELY cheap!!! INSANELY cheap if youre staying here. So factor that in too. 7000 yen for breakfast, dinner, a 2000 yen ticket if you arrive after 12, (thats 1000 yen saved) and 3000yen for a day pass for the Mt Naeba (another 2000 yen saved). Mental. No doubt about it, im staying here if i can.  One more thing to mention and it seems a touch superficial, but you will see a LOT more US brands on the mountain. Clearly this is the Tokyo influence playing its part. But you will see a lot less burton and yonex and a lot more rome, capita, ride, and even my first ever sighting of the lesser spotted stepchild. Hell, i even saw not one, but TWO bataleons (a 2009 riot and a 2012 violenza). This tells you a lot more than you might think. First, this mountain is hit up by park rats (it has a pretty decent kicker line). Second, the population hitting it arent predominantly in their 30s to 70s like some other places and are likely out of their first board, and 3. (surprisingly for anywhere outside niseko and hakuba), snowboarders may even dominate this mountain. The vibe here is MUCH younger than a lot of the traditional japanese resorts, so again, if youre visiting Japan, this area in general is definitely competition for your cash for the two big international hotspots.  Addendum: Sorry, this was pretty long. Im going to make it a mission to try and hit up a few of the main resorts in this area, but this ones the first review, so its probably carrying a bit more of the Yuzawa weight than the others maybe will in the future.  Hopefully ive covered the main parts... lots of buses from Yuzawa; a town with a decent buzz to it; some rather incredible accommodation options; about ten resorts within spitting distance of yuzawa itself; and incredible access from Tokyo. The place is definitely worth checking out. But thats enough about the area in general... how about this specific resort then?  Kagura Preamble: The resort itself is in three main parts. The first part, mitsumata, will likely be your first stop. Its the closest part of the mountain to Yuzawa itself, and unless you have accommodation in Naeba or Tashiro, youll probably get off the bus here. The second part is Kagura itself. This is the top half of the mountain. Here youll find arguably the best terrain in the area as well as the best powder. For the most part i sat here on day 1, and kept it as a treat on day 2 after id ridden most of the third area. The third area is Tashiro. Most of the terrain here is beginner friendly and relatively short lines. It's not entirely special to ride, but it does have some SPECTACULAR views (and even a nearby lake about 30 meters from the piste due to the dam). Alas my gopro battery died before i got over here so i was cursing at my luck. If you like sweeping panoramas and not just smashing through powder, you should make a point to get over here. Its also the staging area for the dragondola connecting Kagura to Naeba.   Kagura For Beginners: As mentioned, Tashiro has some really nice beginner terrain. You have two central lifts in the area - the tashiro high speed 1 and 2, both of which give you a stack of nice little cruiser runs to play on. Its hard to honestly remember which run is which, but the whole area had a reasonably shallow gradient, but not shallow enough that youd lose speed. Obviously this is the stuff that beginners are going to enjoy. Add in the spectacular views and most people scoring their first turns are coming away relatively happy. In addition you also have a nice little baby roller course, and plenty of little ungroomed side hits (as well as the most modern looking restaurant on the hill). Its a safe bet for a party of beginners. They wont be going home miserable or feeling exhausted,a nd theyre going to have a blast, particularly if they hang out around the high speed 2 lift which ticks almost every box that a beginner is going to want (reasonably long enough, not too steep, nice and wide, not too many people, great lift access and some nice side hits to play on as well as a slalom course and a cross course to play on some rollers).  A final thing to note is that even on a sunday in peak season in perfect conditions it just wasnt THAT busy. I mean, there were enough people around here to give it some life, and there were queues in some areas (around the Tashiro high speed lifts), but im talking about 2 minutes maximum here. The only reason you'd mention it as a queue is so you can boast about how little time you spend queuing :) Moving in towards Mitsumata side, theres a GEM of a little pow field at the kagura romance lift 4. It's not challenging, but its certainly deep enough that it held my attention for four or five rides on it before moving elsewhere. It has a few side areas that are DEEP and are going to cause trouble for beginners (due to them also being relatively shallow). They also leave a considerable amount of the area here ungrommed, with only a central line or two getting hit. So if you fancy a spot of pow, chances are youll score some, somewhere around here.  Moving into kagura proper and you have the kagura main slope (thats its actual name). It gets busy, the angle can seem a bit steep for beginners in truth, and it does get cut to hell. Its marked as a beginners run, but when it gets icy, it starts getting kinda gnarly, bumpy and a bit quick. So if youre looking for something a little faster and a spot more challenging to start opening out your carves, its a definite option. You have essentially one lift servicing the area (the kagura high speed 1), and it can get quite busy since its probably the most attractive area of the entire mountain for everyone. But again, queues weren't massive and people were filling up the chairs. It's also the top of this lift that sets you on your way to Tashiro.   But don't think that's your fill yet! There's still Mistumata. Unfortunately it contains the longest, but by far my most hated run... the gondola run. It's super busy, super shallow, and super irritating. Unfortunately, aside the gondola itself, its the only way down, so you have to suck it up. It's basically a long winding path without any of the endearing views you might usually get on a path. Its nice to look at and all, but its still dull and gets in the way of your fun a bit. Beginners just wont have enough speed to carry them through this, so they'll be unclipping at least twice and possibly three times on this run. It might be nice for the more timid riders out there, but i cant imagine most people will get a real kick out of it.  This plops you out at the bottom of the gondola and from there its a short lift back up to the central mistumata base area. Here you have your final little area. And honestly, its another fantastic little zone for beginners. Its a nice gradient, decently wide, and will get anyone through their first turns enjoying it. It'll also blow their mind when they realise this is one tiny part of the mountain and they start exploring the rest of it. :) If youre with a beginner (or are one) and you want to get riding asap, then this is the place you'll probably spend the better part of your time.  Definitely an ideal beginner line, whilst still having enough ungroomed side areas to keep you or your more experienced mates entertained.  As you can tell, beginners have a LOT of accessible terrain. And you might be thinking that this means the mountain is a beginner mountain. Well yes and no, for you see the reason youre here is because of teh powder, and the powder is going to give your intermediate and advanced rider a lot to hit up.  Kagura For Intermediates: The first place to mention might be the park at Mitsumata. I only SAW it (as if im going to go into a park these days?), but it looked pretty much immaculate with three central lines for people to ride down. Again, we are talking a relatively short run and were you to bomb it top to bottom, youd probably do it in under a minute or two. This is not long winding parks with millions of features at the end of the day, but its immaculate, well maintained and has a bit or variety thrown in. As mentioned above, the mountain draws in park rats, so theres definitely stuff here worth lapping (or cutting your teeth on).  So there's the park? Well, there's also the powder. That little run on Tashiro i mentioned earlier is going to keep intermediates well happy. That being said though, there really isnt ostensibly much terrain that might be classic "intermediate" stuff. Really what will keep intermediates here is either cruising around tashiro soaking up the views; getting some baby laps in the park; and popping onto some of the more tricky runs. In truth whats going to keep intermediates riding this area is the size of it (it is rather massive) the sheer wealth of runs and diversity (the mix of paths, groomers, and easily accessible off piste to flirt with), and of course the powder. It can be rather immense. So really intermediates would be better off not reading this part and focusing more on both the beginner and advanced descriptions because that middle ground between the two dynamics is really what they're going to really enjoy about the mountain. Its not really an intermediate mountain per se, but intermediates wont be exactly bored either. And theres a good reason for this that im about to explain.    Kagura for advanced riders: You see, Kagura doesnt have much in the way of on piste advanced runs either. It has a few over at Toshiro, and the main lines up at Kagura, but really advanced boarders will find the groomers relatively short, and pretty much chopped up. I mean, we all love choppy pow, but we all know some of those runs are getting moguled out eventually and that kinda sucks... So aside the park theres not much going on. Theres a few little neat spots (like the area around Tashiro Romance 6 lift) that are great fun and probably will have powder running on them (if albeit chopped to hell), right into april. But this all ultimately makes up a fraction of a resort thats dominated by green beginner stuff. Until you duck a rope. And heres the thing. Those ropes... no one honestly gives a shit. Its got Myoko's very laid back policy. No one bothers to poach lines here, they just drop in them in front of the mountain staff and track to their favorite spots. Just off the back of that black run at the top of Tashiro 6 for example is a rope. This rope has HEAVY cut in tracks from people popping a little skiers right before the challenge bahn to cut down a ridge line on some seriously deep pow. It shallows out towards the end which probably turns most people off, but you know people with the right board are hitting that and scoring awesome surf... and whats more, so do the resort staff. They probably have their own little secret areas they like to hit up.  Take for example the Kagura area itself... sure, you CAN ride the fun challenge course (it was caked in powder and nice and bouncy and a decent quality black run (if lacking in a bit of steepness to really take it above an advanced red run maybe), OR you could just pop under the rope on skiers left just after you get off the lift and either track under the lifts (there are a LOT of lift lines on this resort well worth playing on by the way)... and you might thik this is awesome! And youll be right. But maybe the second or third time you hit that line youll notice that theres a few lines going much further skiers left. And you might follow them... and when you do youll hit a massive open pow field (well tracked again), but with some serious powder fun. In many ways it reminded me of strawberry fields in niseko. And hell, the next time you might even resist the temptation to hit that line up and ride even further on. And here you're rewarded with less tracking  and even deeper lines. But nonetheless bringing you back out at the top of the gondola and teh central station in the kagura area.     What makes this wild is that its clearly popular, its not just a few pow hounds ninjaing these lines, its commonplace with a massive blind eye policy from the staff. As i say, this is just the obvious stuff that a dude riding a day and a half is going to find. But theres a stack of it, and its going to keep you in pow right into the late season here and that's honestly a fantastic draw for advanced and high intermediate riders. I know you shouldnt encourage rope ducking (and im feeling killclimbz scowling at me while im writing this :)), but its clearly common practice on this mountain and no one at all seems to bat an eyelid. Its bizarre in a way. Maybe its just to keep beginners from getting stuck? I have honestly no idea and thats part of what makes it slightly dangerous for the unaware. You see, very little of the mountain is actually roped off. They let you ride pretty much wherever, so it does beg the question of why these places are roped off when so many people are hitting it. So keep that in your mind when you get here. There have already been two deaths this year around this area, not from tree wells or creek beds, but from people simply getting inverted and ending up head first. Its still dangerous stuff out there even if that danger isnt obvious or apparent. So please do understand this.  That being said, the draw for advanced riders is precisely the access to free powder terrain. It's going to be deep, you're going to find lines, its going to be face shots and you're going to have an awesome time riding it. And it seems to be almost all over the mountain itself. I didnt obviously spend a great deal of time exploring Tashiro but its certainly got some lines i might consider on my next trip (but i was kinda pushed ofr time this time out).  As i mentioned to intermediates before, its precisely because the resort doesnt rope off much that youre going to get a lot of opportunities to start flirting with the trees or riding some of the lifts, or hitting the ungroomed side areas as well as the obvious ungroomed powder zones which everyone loves in powder time regardless of their official course designation. Though you might be best to stay away from the more obvious rope ducking stuff, youre still going to find a LOT that's not really listed as suitable for intermediates, but that the snow quality helps take care of on your behalf. Just like with the advanced riders, there's way more here to hit up than it might appear just by looking at the map. :) Oh, one part ive forgotten is the path to the base from the mitsumata ropeway. Instead of getting teh gondola down, you can, if youre not an absolute beginer ride a very sharp turning path to the bottom. You can also just skip the path and fly straight down. Its kinda fun and gives you something fun to do at the end of the day to score that last little bit of pow fun.  Off Piste options: I'm looking around and one of the things im seeing is this: A lot of terrain within hiking distance. Indeed, clearly there's a decent hiking area since the base of mitsumata rents out snow shoes for people to traverse the ridege line up near the top of the mountain itself as well as tour groups setting out (rather cheaply by the way - 7000 yen i believe) to hit up some of the more easy to access stuff around the mountain itself. Further afield there are also some decent sized mountains (similar to hakuba in size), with some terrifying looking rides that genuine freeriders (who actually know their shit) would want to make a bee line for. Obviously im donny, this is out of my depth, but its obviously there, and its obviously going to give you something else. If you lived in the area i honestly cant see why you wouldnt own a splitboard. The place screams HIKEABLE TERRAIN!!! If that's your bag, theres more than a few lines in the general vicinity that are going to keep you entertained for a while.    Ippy goes to Kagura (the Review).  So hopefully you have an idea of what the area is like, I reckon Ive typed more than enough, so ill try and hit up the highlights (good and bad). Clearly I enjoyed myself. There's plenty to do and being a little slackcountry kid, the mountain pushes a lot of my buttons.  The bad first because im the type of person that eats the biscuit first on a twix so i can indulge with that sweet sweet caramel and chocolate.  The bad is first that gondola run. I hate it. It's a real vibe killer. The fact you HAVE to ride it also annoys teh crap out of you. You can of course cruise it, but chances are youll be unclipping somewhere, and i hate that more than i hate boredom. So its boredom for me. The second thing is the line back from tashiro to kagura. It can get windy and suffer from similar flat/unclipping issues. It doesnt really inspire you and its definitely something you ride ONLY because you honestly have to.  So yeah, theres some flats, and yes, theyre compulsory if you want to check out the whole mountain. And they go BOTH ways. Getting to the dragondola for example will require traversing a few tedious flats just as getting back will also have you mumbling under your breath about these annoying bloody runs! Dont let that dissuade you though. Tashiro is rather pretty and has some fun lines, and mitsumata is swimming in powder. Regardless of the negatives, you will still want to hit it all up.  Another thing thats kinda naff is the length of time from arrival to getting your first proper ride. First you take the ropeway, then its a quad lift up to the top of the park, followed by a little scoot, then onto the gondola before popping across to the high speed 1 lift bringing you out NEAR the top of the mountain (the top lift itself doesnt open until mid February i believe, but by god it looks very very awesome). All in all it might be somewhere around 35 minbutes before you clip in and start riding.  And when you do start riding, the on piste can be kinda short. I mean you COULD ride all teh way to the bottom which is going to be rather long, but that gondola run pretty much makes the decision for you. You wont bother riding it until you have to ride it, so its kinda like half a mountain in reality.  But the pow takes care of that. As does the terrain which can be rather fun when it gets going, as does the slackcountry, and as does the vista your met with at Tashiro.  What really draws you in though are those secret little lines and knowing that no matter how late in the season it gets, if youre on the right board, youre going to be scoring powder somewhere. The place is honestly a stack of fun. Its vertical isnt exactly stunning, but its actually rather huge. It takes a fair while to trundle from one end of Tashiro back to kagura and theres plenty of fun little parts to hit up along the way.  Its a strange mountain. I feel like i should be a little underwhelmed by it, but it just keeps delivering and opening up little lines i didnt expect or revealing little secret areas (including some of the on piste by the way) that are a lot more fun and secluded than they might appear. Its really that sense of discovery that makes the place quite fascinating. You think youve seen the best it has to offer, and Blam! another little line opens up putting another smile on your face. And thats really why none of that stuff in teh nagatives is worth even mentioning at the end of the day. The paths are annoying, the lifts can be slow, the flats can pop out of nowhere killing your vibe, but then youll think "hmmm... whats down this line?" And youve just discovered your new favourite part of the mountain. And its really this which makes me WANT to come back here. It feels like ive just scarcthed teh surface. And even if i havent the powder is still there waiting on me anyway :) Honestly, its a great place, and when you throw in Yuzawa on top of it, i cant see a reason id want to head to Nagano any time this season. Sure, siga kogen is huge, Myoko is my ancestral home, and Hakuba is mischief central, but Yuzawa seems to have all that plus a tonne of waist deep pow just waiting for me to ride. It seriously has questioned my desire to base myself in nagano, and for that alone its a place youll definitely want to hit up if you get the chance.   
12/22/2011 1:15:41 AM Screw it! time to start afresh.  My reviews because im a self publicising mani... i mean er, awesome: Hokkaido:Niseko: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=33409 Kamui: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=45161 Furano: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=45288 Nagano:Ryuoo: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=46275 Shiga Kogen: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=46233 Hakuba Goryu/47: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=47031 Myoko: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=38758- Myoko Akakan: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=51808&PID=1168814#1168814 Nozawa: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=52074&PID=1182086#1182086 Madarao/Tangram: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=53470&PID=1227834#1227834 Sugadaira: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=53664&PID=1233154#1233154Niigata:Gala Yuzawa; Yuzawa Kogen; Ishiuchi: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=51441&PID=1156959#1156959 Kagura: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=51096&PID=1148027#1148027 Naeba: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=51843&PID=1170385#1170385 Other Points of Interest:   Japan 2011 thread: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=38699Boarding in Japan thread: http://www.trusnow.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=28722The best website for Japan resort info: http://www.snowjapanforums.com/index.php/forum/2-general-snow-talk/ And finally: the greatest trip report on boarding in Japan i ever did see:http://forums.ski.com.au/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=924151&page=1&fpart=1 There, thatll do for a start.  Oh, and next week im off to Yuzawa for the first time, and the week after, im off to nozawa. So there will be reviews on both id say :) 


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