Skiing in Niigata: Myoko Kogen (800m-1800m)

Since the start of the season, this ski resort had been at the back of my mind as a potential day-trip. Famous for getting lots of snow and having a very long season, it’s nearly 200 km from Tokyo, and would be the furthest resort for me so far. Most people take a local train from Nagano station, about 30 kilometers south. Since I was using the Welcome Japan JR East rail pass, I decided to ride the shinkansen to the new Joetsu-Myoko station, 20 kilometers north; there, I would catch a bus for Akakura Onsen (赤倉温泉), part of the Myoko-Kogen Ski Resort. Although I needed to leave before 6am, I would arrive before 10am; for once, I would be able to hit the slopes early. The weather was supposed to be overcast in the morning, before turning sunny after lunchtime. I had climbed Mt Myoko (2454m) several years ago in thick mist, so I was looking forward to finally seeing the views from the slopes of a hundred famous mountain of Japan.

View from the top of the Akakura Kanko ski resort

At 8h30, I arrived at Joetsu-Myoko station in Japan’s snow country (“yukiguni“). There was over a meter of snow and little sprinklers placed on the roads were preventing them from freezing (see video). I boarded the bus outside the station, and arrived at Akakura Onsen at 9h30, just as the sun was coming out. I headed at once for Yukibancho rentals on the main street. Erika, from Australia I think, set me up with skis and boots; I appreciated the explanations about my gear, which I had never gotten before. As I was about to walk out of the store, I realised that I had mistakenly brought two left-hand gloves. Without hesitation, she lent me a pair for the day – I was glad I didn’t have to start my day with a shopping trip!

The start of the Akakura Onsen ski resort

First stop: the ski rental shop

The Akakura Onsen ski area was just a few minutes down the road. For an extra 1000 yen, I bought a combined ticket that included the neighbouring Akakura Kanko ski area. I then stepped onto a short moving belt that took me through a tunnel to my first chairlift of the day. I decided to move to Akakura Kanko (赤倉観光) as soon as possible, ski over there for a while, then move back to Akakura Onsen and finish the day there. I had learned from my Shiga Kogen experience that moving between areas inside the same resort can be confusing and time-consuming!

Still overcast in the morning

…but starting to clear later in the day

I soon felt that Akakura Kanko was the better of the two areas. Not only did it have the resort’s sole gondola lift, it also had the highest lift and longest run. Getting to the highest point, however, required some maneuvering. First, I had to take the gondola; then ski down one third of the way to a chairlift; after that, ski down a few seconds to another chairlift that would finally take me to the top. After two hours of skiing, I stopped for lunch at Burnet, a kebab place right on the slopes. I was surprised to see a huge cone of meat behind the counter, and even more surprised to see the Japanese guy serving the food wearing a tall turban. I had a satisfying “kebaboo” with “caesar cream” topped with egg and tomato for 7oo yen.

A quick stop for lunch

Great weather in the afternoon

At 1pm, the sun had come fully out of the clouds, and I was ready to hit the slopes again. Now that the morning clouds had lifted, I was able to enjoy some amazing views. Northwards was the flat coastal plain of Niigata; westwards, I could see the mountains of the Joshin-Etsu Kogen National Park in the background, and Mt Madarao and lake Nojiri in the foreground; behind me, was Mt Myoko, one of the highest peaks of the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park. I had been to the area several times before, but this was the first time I saw the snow-covered mountains in clear weather.

The Akakura Kanko hotel

The mountains of Joshin-Etsu

At 2h30, I dropped by the bakery at the Akakura Kanko hotel; there, I had an amazing chocolate “melon pan“, a type of sweet bun. I suddenly realised that it was already 3 pm, and I had less than an hour to catch the bus back. I had been having such a fun time skiing in the Kanko area that I hadn’t left any time for the other half of the resort. I crossed over, and managed one more run before it was time to return the skis. At 5pm, I was back at Joetsu-Myoko station, where I checked out their well-stocked Japanese sake shop while waiting for my high-speed ride back to Tokyo.

See what it is like to ski at Myoko Kogen

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