Have you ever considered snowboarding and skiing in Japan? The quantity and quality of the snow is unsurpassed anywhere in the world, it is great value for money and you get an interesting cultural experience thrown in for free. After visiting a number of times pre-kids, it was time for a ski trip with kids. This time to the awesome Myoko Kogen ski area.
Coming from and living in Australia is tough if you love to ski or snowboard. Ski resorts in Australia tend to be super expensive, with sometimes inconsistent snow. Once the kids were up and skiing after a few short weekend trips to local ski resorts we were excited to take a week long ski trip to Myoko Kogen, Japan.
This time we were going with good friends. All up we had 4 families with 7 kids – the stage was set for a family ski adventure in the snow at Myoko Kogen.
There are apparently over 500 ski resorts in Japan! It is tough to decide where to go. This time we decided to ski at Myoko Kogen Ski Resort staying in the small village of Myoko Akakura, about 3 hours by train west of Tokyo.
The Myoko Kogen ski area is one of the biggest in Japan and was established in the 1930s. The ski resorts receive around 14m (46ft) of snow per year and often have bases over 4m (13ft)! Another advantage of Myoko is that it is directly accessible from Tokyo via train.
It is also quieter and more traditional than some other popular areas such as Niseko and Nagano which makes it a great place to take the family or those looking for a more traditional Japanese experience.
The village is at the base of two interlinked ski resorts and there are several other ski resorts a short drive away. It was our first time visiting the area and we were very excited to arrive and start exploring.
Getting to Myoko Kogen
There are a number of ways to get to Myoko Kogen from Tokyo. Here I describe how we managed it on public transport.
Once we were through customs at Tokyo Haneda Airport we caught the train from the airport in to Tokyo, changing once from one line to another. Once in the city we made our way to the Japan Rail office to trade coupons for our Japan Rail passes that allow unlimited travel over a certain period of time.
Train travel is fantastic in Japan but is quite expensive. The Japan Rail Passes can save you quite a bit of money. There are a number of different passes and when we were in Japan the passes need to be purchased before you arrive in Japan.
Once the rail passes were sorted we made seat reservations on the bullet train to Nagano. By this time it was peak hour. Carrying our backpacks and dragging a 32kg snowboard bag through a massively crowded station was a bit of a mission.
Thankfully it was not far to go and we bought some bento boxes for snacks on the train, which left exactly on time. Trains run like clockwork in Japan!
The trip to Nagano took us up into the mountains and it was exciting to see a lot of snow around. There had been a massive dump of snow a couple of days earlier and the locals were on the rooftop of many buildings shovelling it off. It looked like hard and dangerous work to me.
At Nagano, which is another popular winter destination, we transferred to a small local train line that made its way up the valley to Myoko. The journey was nothing short of spectacular. The train wound along between snow covered trees beside a beautiful stream with snow-capped mountains in the distance. It was such a beautiful journey.
In about 40 minutes we arrived in Myoko and hopped off the train. We were pleased to see our local tour organisers from Powder Recon waiting to transfer us 10 mins up the hill to their lodge. We had finally arrived!
It was a bit of effort to get there. Especially with tired kids and ski gear in tow. In hindsight it would have been a lot easier to pay for one of the bus transfers on offer from the airport. We went for the cheaper option but after an overnight flight it was an exhausting way to arrive.
Powder Recon at Myoko Kogen
We booked our accommodation through a company called Powder Recon. Powder Recon specialise in customised ski and snowboard trips and provide accommodation and on mountain guiding services. The service and support they gave us was exceptional. I highly recommend them.
We stayed at the Powder Recon Lodge at Myoko Akakura. The Lodge is perfectly located across from the base of a lift and at the start of the main street in the village. The owner, Bryce, had spent most of the summer refitting the lodge.
The lodge was beautifully finished with timber throughout. Rooms were comfortable and decorated in traditional Japanese style. Like most ski lodges there is also a communal lounge and dining area. While there is quite a lot of accommodation in the small village. the Powder Recon Lodge was the perfect choice for our stay.
Skiing Akakura Kanko (Akanko)
On our first afternoon we spent time purchasing ski passes and lessons for the kids whilst marvelling at the huge amount of snow around the village. The kids entertained themselves with snowball fights as we walked along.
The next day we took the kids to meet their ski school instructors with Myoko Snowsports. The lessons started at 10am and the meeting point was conveniently across the road from the lodge. With the kids all sorted we headed up the lift to explore the mountain.
Visibility was poor and there was no fresh snow but the snow quality was still amazing and there were a few powder stashes in the trees.
We had lunch in a cute little restaurant half way up the mountain. I have to say the food is one of the things that makes skiing in Japan so great (apart from the snow!). You don’t just get metres of amazing snow, the food is delicious too! We had a steaming bowl of ramen noodles with tempura veggies and washed it down with an Asahi beer before heading out for the afternoon.
After a day sampling the various runs of the resort and remembering how to snowboard we met the kids at 4pm.
They had all had a great day and had picked skiing up again very easily. It was the first time at the snow for some of our friends’ kids but they had all picked it up quickly. Kids and parents alike cruised down the hill for a couple of runs before lifts shut at 4:30pm.
Dinner that night was take away kebabs from a little temporary shack on the main street. It was decked out in a Caribbean surfer theme complete with reggae music playing for the customers queuing in the snow waiting for their yummy food. It was a chilly wait but worth it.
We skied two more days at Akakura Kanko. It cleared up in the morning of the second day giving us a spectacular view across the valley to Tangram Ski Circus ski resort (more about that later).
Down the valley was Lake Nojiri which is popular for water-sports in summer. High above us we could see the impressive Myoko-San peak, standing at 2454m.
The highest lift point at of Myoko ski resort top is only 1500m, so there was a lot of extra untouched terrain accessible for those prepared to hike.
In the village we tried a restaurant where make your own okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes, and my favourite Japanese word). It was such a fun night. They provide you with all the ingredients as well as a hot plate and you create your own meal at the table. The kids had a great time.
Japow (aka Japan Powder Snow)
It was predicted to dump with snow overnight so I got up and headed out solo for first lift. The aim was to get in some fresh pow runs and meet the others at 10am for the ski school dropoff.
It was still snowing and visibility was terrible but I knew the mountain pretty well by now and Bryce had given me some extra tips on where to go. There was 30cms of fresh snow on the marked runs so I did a couple of them before heading to the top of the mountain and venturing into the trees. It was incredible.
You get such an amazing feeling as you float down the mountain dodging the trees. I could picture myself in a snowboarding video. When I met the others at 10am I was covered in powder snow with a massive grin frozen on my face.
We all enjoyed the powder for the day and were happy but tired by the afternoon. The mums headed off to find an onsen and I picked up the kids and we did some tobogganing in the back yard of the lodge. There was so much snow, over knee deep.
Skiing Tangram and Madarao
For our last 3 nights we stayed 30 mins drive across the valley at Tangram Hotel.
The hotel is very large and is situated right at the base of the Tangram Ski Circus ski area. Many of the rooms look out over the mountains with a spectacular view up the runs. It is ski-in ski-out, which is perfect when skiing with kids. With indoor and outdoor onsens on site, it makes a great spot to stay.
Tangram is not a large ski area and has a large open front bowl. The resort has mostly green and black runs with a few steep tree areas deemed acceptable for skiing. When we stayed at Tangram a large group of local kids were on a ski trip and learning to ski down the front bowl. They made quite a sight in their matching ski outfits!
Tangram is linked to Madarao Ski Resort on the other side of the mountain. Madarao is bigger and has a lot more intermediate runs. It has heaps of excellent gladed tree runs of varying difficulty. It also has more of a village feel with a mix of hotels, lodges and restaurants. This area would also make a great place to stay.
One major drawcard of Tangram Hotel is the hotel onsen. Going to an onsen is an essential Japanese experience.
Once everyone gets past the fear of being naked with strangers, it is such an enjoyable experience! The onsen here is outdoor and made of natural stones. There is nothing better after a day of skiing than soaking tired muscles in super-hot water while snow flakes float down around you. It was my favourite spot every afternoon after the lifts closed.
Guided ski tour of the mountain
Part of our tour package with Powder Recon included a half day of mountain guiding at a nearby resort of our choice. We considered nearby Suginohara, which has the longest run in Japan at 8.5km. Once again it was snowing and a few of us really wanted to do powder runs in trees.
Bryce advised us that Tangram and Madarao are probably the best places to be when it is snowing. Jarrad was our guide and we were on the hill just after 8am for some warm up runs. The front bowl of Tangram had been groomed the night before but still had at least 20cms of fresh snow on top! Once we were warm we we hit the trees runs which were steep and deep.
It was tough, but loads of fun. By lunch we were pretty tired and had a long lunch to discuss the adventures of the morning.
Our last day skiing was spent with the kids at Tangram and Madarao. It was snowing so hard that our tracks were covered by the time we came down for the next run.
Navigation was a bit tricky and we but it was some of the best snow we had seen. We really did have good luck with the weather. The snow was sooooo good.
Thankfully none of us injured ourselves while on the snow on this trip, but when we travel to the snow we always take out travel insurance. If you are planning a trip, don’t forget to arrange travel insurance before you leave home and make sure you get the right level of cover.
Skiing can be dangerous and you need to make sure your travel insurance will cover you if needed. We use World Nomads when we travel internationally.
Luggage forwarding from Myoko Kogen
After 6 amazing days of snowboarding and skiing it was time to leave.
Fortunately we found out the Black Cat “TA-Q-BIN” courier service. For a measly $30 AUD they offer a luggage forwarding service and transported our huge snowboard bag to Narita airport where we could pick it up before our outbound flight.
They deliver to and from airports and hotels or any other address and they will store the equipment for up to 7 days. It was so good not having to lug this big and heavy thing around. I would have paid much more than the $30 it cost to send to Narita.
In hindsight, we should have sent the bag from the airport when we arrived in Japan (and possibly stayed a night in Tokyo to ensure the gear made it to Myoko on time).
It was sad to leave Myoko but all good things have to come to an end. Fortunately our week visiting Kyoto and Tokyo was also amazing full of intriguing culture and great food. Snowboarding and skiing at Myoko was awesome and Powder Recon made the trip absolutely fantastic. Japan is one of our favourite ski destinations.
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