JTB Staff Ski Holiday Story in Appi and Hakkoda
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 could fall/ski into on the edges of the runs.
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.