Skiing in Nagano: Shiga Kogen (1300m-2300m)

After my successful trip to Madarao Kogen Ski Resort, I decided to try something more ambitious. Shiga Kogen would be my largest ski resort so far (64 lifts, divided into 10 areas), as well as the highest. Access was via a winter-only express bus; as the last bus back was fairly early, I would only have five hours to explore this huge resort. I was wondering whether it would be worth it, but since the weather was supposed to be sunny all day, it made sense to go. For once, I could look forward to skiing many different slopes in one day in ideal conditions.

Looking down from the top of the Ichinose Family area

I arrived at Nagano station before 9am and headed directly to the bus stop outside the station. There was a small booth on the pavement where I could pay for my ticket (where do they sit in bad weather?) It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and as I waiting, the sun shining in my face, a long line formed behind me. During the 70-minute bus ride, I had fine views of the mountains of Togakushi Kogen on the left side, and Mt Kosha straight ahead (see video). We passed the entrance to the Jigokudani monkey snow park, and a little later, I saw a few monkeys enjoying the fine weather in the snow next to the road.

A beautiful day for skiing

Despite its high altitude, the resort is entirely below the tree line

I had reserved my skiing gear the day before with Alpina Sports inside Shiga Kogen Yama no Eki (志賀高原 山の駅); I got off there at 10:25, the bus continuing to Oku-Shiga at the top of the valley. The ski shop seemed brand new; the staff were super efficient: I had all my gear in less than 10 minutes. I could also buy my ski pass there, and I chose one for the entire area, 600 yen more than for the central area. It was impossible to visit the whole resort in 5 hours, but at least I could try. By 11am, I was ready to ski, and I headed towards the gondola next to the shop.

The northern half of the North Alps and Togakushi Kogen

View from the top of the Terakoya area

I was surprised that my first ride of the day was down instead of up. Apparently there was no way to ski down to the start of the central area. Luckily it was a short ride. From there, I decided to up the mountain to the higher areas, leaving the smaller and lower Sun Valley area for later. I was keen to see the views from the top of the resort before the afternoon haze set in. It me took one gondola and two chairlifts to reach the Terakoya (around 2100m) at noon. Incredibly, I had spent the first hour of my short skiing day just sitting on lifts!

Ichinose Diamond area on the other side of the valley

Looking north towards Niigata prefecture

There wasn’t a cloud in sight from the highest point of the central area (around 2100m). I could see the northern part of the North Alps, as well as Mt Iizuna, Mt Kurohime and Mt Myoko (also a ski resort). This was where I had ended my summer hike in Shiga Kogen last July but I could barely recognise it. I did a couple of short runs and then decided to stop for a quick lunch at Terakoya, a restaurant serving Japanese and Western dishes. I then skied along a blue connecting slope through the forest to the top of the Ichinose Family area.

Ski lift and ski slope at right angles

Matching ski wear on a chairlift to Higashi-Tateyama

From there, I had the most impressive view of the day: I could see most of the vast resort, spread over both sides of the valley. Since it was already past 1pm, I thought it would be better to continue to the opposite side (called Ichinose Diamond). Once there, I realised that I couldn’t just take a lift to the top, and then ski diagonally across the mountain; I had to follow the various lifts as they zigzagged across the mountain side. I found that Shiga Kogen was a hard resort to understand (and probably to explain); it made no difference whether I was looking at the map or looking around with my eyes.

In the center back, Mt Myoko

Mt Iwasuge, a mountain I hope to climb this summer

After making one such zig-zag, I reached the top of the Yakebitai area (around 2000m) at the end of a gondola lift. I was now outside the central area, and I was glad I had bought the all area pass. To my right, I could see the Oku-Shiga area, at the northern end of the resort. It was now 2pm – could I continue all the way there, and still make it back to the ski rental shop and bus stop by 4pm? after estimating that it would take at most one hour and a half to get back, I set off, skating at a brisk pace along the short connecting slope between the two areas.

Waiting to get on the gondola in the Yakebitai area

View from the top of the Oku-Shiga Kogen area

I was enjoying the amazing views of the mountains of the Joshin-Etsu Kogen National Park from the top of the Oku-Shiga Kogen Gondola, when I realised that it was already past 3pm. I quickly crossed back to the Yakebitai area and immediately skied down the Panorama course, stopping at several viewpoints on the way for some quick photos. Doing the zigzag in reverse, I eventually arrived at the road separating the Ichinose Diamond and Ichinose Family areas, halfway back to my starting point.

Top of the Oku-Shiga gondola

Few people on the slopes on this side of the mountain

This was where things suddenly went horribly wrong. I was unable to find the middle part of my next zigzag and had to ask a ski lift operator for directions. At the top of the lift, I discovered that I had dropped a glove while we were talking, and I had to ski back down to get it. I was starting to seriously fall behind schedule; there seemed to be no end to the zigzags. At 4pm, I was at the top of the Higashi-Tateyama area (2000m), mournfully looking down towards Yama no Eki five hundred meters below, where the last bus back to Nagano station was leaving in less than half an hour.

Riding the Ichinose quad lift

The classic Shiga Kogen view

Determined not to give up, I raced down the mountain, following a long winding blue slope. Ironically, this was the longest run of the entire day. I arrived at the final gondola with about 10 minutes to spare, only to see that it was stopped. It was an agonizing wait while it slowly started up again. I arrived at the rental shop with only 5 minutes to spare. I returned my gear in record time, thanks again to to the efficient staff, and collected my belongings from the coin locker at the back. The bus was waiting patiently outside – it was the starting point for the return – so I hopped aboard and settled in for the ride, relieved that I had made it back on time. Less than 2 hours later, I was seated comfortably on the shinkansen for the 90 minute ride back to Tokyo.

Check out the skiing conditions at Shiga Kogen Ski Resort

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