This week’s dream: Japan’s winter wonderland
Japan is “a backcountry skier’s dream,” said John Briley in The Washington Post. Only in the Land of the Rising Sun can you ski for $40 a day without any lift lines, follow your day on the slopes with the best ramen and sushi in the world, and then soak in a geothermal spring with a view of the volcano that’s heating your water. This past January, my friends and I spent a week skiing seven of the resorts near Mount Myoko, where up to 650 inches of snow fall between December and February. It was an unusually dry season, but we had no trouble finding knee-deep powder.
Arriving at the mountain village of Akakura Onsen via a shuttle from Tokyo, we “smack straight into winter.” At the Morino Lodge, guests in bathrobes stroll to and from the mineral baths while we fuel up on pancakes, watching flurries fall. For the rest of the day, we bound around between interconnected resorts, “feasting” on new snow. Many of the lifts in the area have a throwback air, but we happily accept the outdated infrastructure as the price of enjoying so much great backcountry terrain. Every night, we try a different family-run restaurant in town, and each meal is “a restorative adventure,” soothing and surprising us with udon noodles in black squid ink or kimchi ramen or “buttery” cuts of fish delivered by a smiling matron.
Local guides at the Akakura Kanko resort lead us to a “delightfully steep” pitch down a north-facing ridge, and we return to the resort by surfing through beech trees on a “feathery quilt” of powder. The next day, we drive to a one-lift resort and “spend the morning bounding through 1,600-verticalfoot laps of shin-deep powder, fresh turns on every run.” Fewer than 10 other skiers are on the mountain, and it’s only a short hike to “one of the best views in Japan”: an array of peaks, valleys, and ridges culminating in Mount Myoko, a smoking volcano. On the drive back to our lodge, we happen upon a group of snow monkeys when we stop for a photo. “Two, three, and suddenly dozens skitter up and down trees, cautiously checking us out before darting off.” At Morino Lodge (morinolodge.com), doubles start at $155.