Snowboarding in Skiga Kogen & Furano
Here is some firsthand info for you on Japan- Shiga Kogen & Furano
We went for the first time in Febuary 08.
It is a great place to visit and given it is only 8/9 hr flight from the Australian East Coast many Aussies make it an annual visit.
As someone mentioned earlier Niseko is probably the most popular tourist destination on the north Island of Hokkaido.
We decided that we see enough Aussies at home and in New Zealand so we went off the beaten track a little and checked out some of the other resorts with more Japanese flavour.
A quick 3 hr ride from Tokyo by Shinkansen (Bullet train) is Nagano which is on the doorstep of 2 fantastic locations - Shiga Kogen & Hakuba.
Shiga Kogen is more of a collection of smaller resorts/hotels across a wide area that are all accessible using one lift pass. It is possible to ski/board from one side to the other using some of the 71 lifts and a cable car link. One of the great features of this area was that if the wind was up from one direction you could ski over the other side to an area that was sheltered and still have plently of terrain.
Depending on where you are stationed at Shiga Kogen, Après varies from reasonably slow to non existent and it is very difficult to get from area to area after dark as the buses/shuttles finshed at around 7 & 9pm respectively. We stayed at the Prince Hotel East and the facilities were excellent, dinner was included and was also excellent.
We got lucky at Shiga Kogen and had some of the best boarding I have had anywhere. The place was like living in a snow globe - it snowed pretty much the entire time we were there and we had some epic powder runs with uncrowded lift lines.
With such a big area comes alot of people and we did find that the main runs had quite a few school groups ect which did tend to chop up some of the main runs off the big gondala's - on the flip side there was plently of runs to explore on the older lifts that had barely any people. As far as off piste goes, it could be done allthough the ski patrols generally frown on it.
After Shiga Kogen we headed north to Furano in the centre of Hokkaido, by this stage we had pretty high expectations as we had had it pretty good for the first 10 days and Hokkaido is more renowned for its powder than Nagano.
Furano is alot easier to explain as it is basically a town at the base of 2 interconnecting areas. Taxis are easily accesable and the town centre is close when you get sick of the hotel food. Once again Apres is kind of slow although there are heaps of places to eat & drink cheaply. When checking out some bars we bumped into a few groups of tourists which was plently of fun.
The Furano tourist association does a great job. They provide an english guidebook which helps you make your way around and a bus that runs into town sponsored by them which is very handy. In addition to this they have a free ski guide program where you turn up and the local ski guides give you a tour of the mountian. After having a few sakes the night before the bar owner told us that he is a guide and we organised to meet him up on the mountain the next day it was a great experience.
Unfortunately we didn't get the powder we had enjoyed at Shiga Kogen (the locals told us we missed it by a week and showed us some amazing photos of chest deep turns). Midweek there was also some School & Army groups snaking thier way down the hills to negoitiate which by then we were starting to think was standard fare wherever you go in Japan.
All in all we had a blast there wasn't much we could fault except maybe the nightlife was a little slow in Shiga Kogen and there was no english TV- Take a laptop & some english dvd's and you will be fine. The people are great, so is the food and drink (which is cheap outside Toyko). You do not need too much Japanese allthough a couple of the basics always go down well (like anywhere you go) but if you get stuck you can usually find somebody that can speak some English that is willing to lend a hand.