Shiga Kogen 2019

Ohisashiburi (long time, no see) Shiga Kogen 2019! … well except for our last snow trip there of course, but last year we stayed in the Ichinose area, whereas this time we stayed at the Prince Hotel a short ways down the road, which we haven’t stayed in for nigh on a decade – so that’s completely different!

I booked the Prince on Expedia (where I often book places at the moment it seems), and got a very decent rate on a family room. The listing said it was a smoking room which used to make us often reconsider, but because we were really limited on possible dates for this year, so we decided to take the risk and take what was on offer for those days. As it turned out that was a good choice – it was cheap for four people, and it turned out it didn’t smell of smoke at all.

If anything, we were actually quite impressed with the room as there was plenty of slide out boxes under the beds, which when you’re travelling with young children is a boon to help keep things organised, and you weren’t left trying to find some 3DS game or sock 30 seconds before check out. The only real negative to the hotel facilities is that there wasn’t really an onsen (a natural spring hot spa) in the hotel, just a washing and shower area, but there was was a rotenburo, an outdoor spa, where we could sit, watch the snow and feel our hair literally turn to ice. We really enjoyed that because for the adults it’s nice and relaxing after a day on the mountain and for the kids, they can sit in a steaming hot bath and grab snow from the surrounding piles of it. I admit, I might have done that too. Purely to illustrate scientific principles to my child.

Okushiga Sukijou

The weather as ever it seems in the Yakebitaiyama area was pretty good, a bit overcast now and then, but not too windy, and even some snow. One day we traversed over the top lift to the Okushiga area for a day to have a go on their slopes. That day it got cold, very cold, as in ‘the coldest day in years according to the local news’ cold, and to compound that, winds closed the top of the mountain so we had to take the bus back instead of traversing over as planned. Even my GoPro and the batteries seemed to struggle, but we still got some decent footage. Most of the second half of the trip it was thankfully a little milder, and began snowing that nice dry powder for which Japan is rightly famous, so it was all silky smooth.

Shiga Kogen is a great area, with a lot of variety of slopes for different skill levels, which is why we go, and with the free buses, it’s easy to get around the area even without a car. It seems to have varying fortunes from a patrons point of view, and during the week, when we were there, it was fairly sparsely attended with some Chinese tourists forming most of the skiers and snowboarders, with a few Aussies thrown in here and there but very few Japanese, even locals. The weekend saw more people arrive, many for day skiing, but it continues to concern me that the snow enjoying population is shrinking, perhaps linked to the pricing structure I’ll come to later.

Yakebitaiyama 4 way lifthouse

So as ever, the boarding was a lot of fun, and even more so when we found that kids could board for free on the Yakebitaiyama slopes. We actually found this out over breakfast on the second day via a small, water stained sign on the dining table, written only in Japanese. Certainly no one mentioned this when I bought the kids passes the previous day (!), so before we hit the slopes, we went over to the ticket office to ask what the situation was, and though they initially didn’t want to, they did refund the previous days money since they were purely for that slope (a misunderstanding, they said).

Costs, oddly would give us an uplifting tale that night. As expected, prices at the restaurants in the hotel were expensive, but since we’d driven there, we could get out to local places which whilst not cheap, were far better value for money for a family of four. The fairly unimpressive evening meals in the hotel and annex went for between 5,000yen (~35GBP) per person and up to almost double that. For a family of four, that’s an expensive night out. The Chinese restaurant was completely empty when we went to look at their menu and (high) prices, at 7.30pm.

One night, we decided to have some of the instant noodles we always travel with, and left the empties tied in bags outside the door that night for pickup when we finished. The next morning we found a note written in neat Chinese pushed under our door, and initially we were a bit concerned we’d upset some fellow hotel guests. However, following a translation via photo from a friend (thanks LH!), it turns out the note was from a fellow hotel guest politely along the lines of ‘glad someone else thought of this too!’. It seems we weren’t the only ones balking at the prices.

Please don’t think that the trip was defined by the money side of things though, since the snow was great, the views were great, and it’s a fantastic place to be as a family, even if it means just eating instant ramen and playing Monopoly the odd night, but it captures some of the concerns I have as a keen snow person about accessibility for families.

As an individual or for single people there are plenty of deals here in Japan, especially for short trips from Tokyo on the bullet trains, or flights to Hokkaido – this is purely my concern as a parent who wants his kids to get some snow experience.

Sadly that was our only trip this season – usually we try to stretch to two, but with other family things going on, that wasn’t going to happen in 2019, but we’re already looking forwards to next year.