I took the bullet train north to go skiing in the Tohoku region. I remembered someone telling me
that the ‘northern people’ are incredibly kind. And this proved correct as a local women gave me a
cake and an apple for my journey just in case the train got stuck in heavy snow. From the train we
drove north to the ski fields. I was stunned at the amount of snow on the streets. In some places it
came up to the car windows and we were still miles away from the fields.
First stop was Hakkoda where the snow was amazing. It was so soft and there was plenty of it. The
runs I skied off the double chair were great – tree-lined with plenty of snow, quite a contrast to
skiing on a bare mountain. It was magical but you need to be mindful of the tree wells that you
When we headed over to the Ropeway, I rode up and down on the Gondola and left the skiing to the
experts, which you need to be to ski back down. Visibility this day was not good and finding your
way down looked difficult. While we were at the top, our Romanian guide (yes, Romanian) pointed
out a sign that was about 1.5-2m high, he said in a few weeks the sign would be completely covered
by snow. That’s a lot of snow! He spoke excellent English, and can video your runs so you can bring
home some great memories.
Skiing off piste is not recommended, but with so much powder about, you don’t need to. It’s
recommended that you ski with a guide until you know the runs well– especially on the Ropeway.
They know the mountain and where the dangers are. Even the locals don’t ski the Ropeway when
the snow gets too deep. The season runs from the beginning of December to early May. Being there
late December, which is considered early season, we were treated to some really good snow.
We had lunch at the bottom café for Y1000. Hot, tasty and good value. There is another café at the
Gondola station serving the same quality food. Both cafes have miniature clotheslines over heaters
where you hang up your hat and gloves so they warm up and dry over the heaters while you eat.
There is accommodation on the mountain, Hakkoda sansou, and ski rental equipment is available on
the mountain but it may pay you to book ahead.
Hakkoda is for the Powderhounds. My only disappointment was that I was not a better skier. There
were few people early season, tasty hot food, great guides and lots and lots of soft powder.
A second day we spent at “Appi Kogen” aka Happy Appi ! I was looking forward to the Yamaboto
run at 5.5km long. But being early in the season, only 3 runs were open. That was ok as they were
more suited to my level of intermediate ability.
The rental shop had all new Salomon gear and is ski-in/ski-out right onto the snow ! I stayed in the
Appi Tower in a Semi Suite. Facilities in the Tower included separate onsen, gym, squash court,
swimming pool, beauty salon, massage therapist and souvenir shop. There are 5 restaurants and I
can recommend the Kaiseki course at the Japanese restaurant. It included sea urchin, bamboo
shoot, delicious beef that you get to cook on a hot plate, locally made ice cream and the most
amazing seafood platter delivered inside a football sized ice igloo! A stunning meal.
They offer shuttles into the city a couple of nights a week so you can try other restaurants. This
resort has everything you need.
The snow here at Appi was just as impressive. I was told due to the weather coming from the north
it makes the powder light and dry. It was just lovely to ski on. The runs wide and tree-lined, skiing
here was a pleasure and again just so different having trees around you instead of a bare mountain.
And being early in the season I was struck at how few people were there to enjoy the snow
conditions. One run was so wide towards the bottom I just weaved from side to side, soft snow, no
crowds, it was just marvellous.
If you have a spare day off from skiing book into Morino akari for a night. Keio-san, our hostess, was
absolutely fantastic and made my stay one I will not forget. She took us on a snow trek around her
local area, then we had a ride in an ex-Antarctic caterpillar, and snowmobile! Visited the Kokeshi
Museum where they make the wooden hand painted dolls. Over dinner that evening we were
treated to the most amazing food and made our own sushi while being entertained by a local
musician playing a Japanese 3 string guitar. We ended the night having much fun learning origami.
It was an awesome stay.
My last night was at Hotel Aomori. I highly recommend it. The breakfast was a mixture of Japanese
and some Western. If you need some souvenirs the gift shop is well worth the visit. The prior
evening we had dinner at a local restaurant. The food was delicious, so many dishes I had never tried
before including chicken gizzard!
Before flying out of Tokyo I went to the Hamarikyu Gardens. If you get there, you must go into the
Tea House on the middle of the lake. My companion told me the Shogun’s wife would serve tea to
visitors. The flowers around the room would reflect the season, as would the pictures on the walls
and the sweet they serve. This tradition is still carried on today. The Shogun’s wife would have given
you a napkin and if you held it up to the light you could see and smell the flower of the season.
A wonderful traditional ending to my second visit to Japan.