Appi Hachimantai north Japan’s powder paradise

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Appi in Hachimantai is the biggest ski resort in Iwate Prefecture, the powder jewel of the north. With numerous day trip options available to neighbouring areas it’s also the perfect base to ski the whole magnificent and still mostly undiscovered region.

Powder riding at Mt Nishimori Appi Hachimantai
Toru Hotta gets stuck into #hachipow in the gorgeous mt nishimori tree zone © owain price

Appi has always had a lot going for it. The upside-down pudding bowl shaped main mountain offers a steeper top third that mellows out in the mid-section then flattens out in front of the slopeside hotels, providing near perfect progressive terrain. This pudding is topped with regular dumps of #hachipow – snow as light and dry as any in Japan. Up here you are not far south of Hokkaido, and the Siberian Express weather systems deliver superb snow.

If you prefer groomers we have rated it Japan’s best for that. The main runs are immaculately groomed, and some re-groomed through the day. And then again ahead of night skiing, which runs about a third of the way up the mountain.

Appi’s key lifts are fast gondolas and hooded chairs.

Sunset at Appi as night skiing gets underway
Ready for round 2 – night skiing at Appi © Appi Resort

Powder access policy at Appi

New pro-powder policies to officially open up tree zones in recent years have made a big difference to what you are allowed to ski. Gates and an armband system for access are a simple and easy way for them to control these areas.

Nishimori, Appi’s backside second peak served by a single double chair, is our favourite go to on a powder day. This visit we got lucky, with fresh snow overnight turning bluebird in time for first lifts, so I got to drag Toru Hotta out of the office and into what you see here.

Back in the pre-tree zone days it was off limits, officially, but that didn’t stop the 70 year old Ski School boss charging it with us back in 2008.

Dropping into to fresh powder at Appi
Get your armband at the base and get into Appis #hachipow zones © Owain Price

Now just get your free armband at the base and get into it. The best line lures you lower and lower, so you end up having to head all the way to the base on a long green run in order to ride the gondola and get back around to Nishimori.

Which means on balance cutting out high enough to get back to the chair for a lap or two before going the long route is probably the smart play, unless everything is getting smashed – which can happen here sometimes.

Appi has definitely got busier since our last visit. Fortunately for powder fiends, many of the new guests are package groups taking advantage of direct international flights to Morioka, who are still more than happy sticking to the groomed runs, so they are no competition for fresh tracks.

Also there is a lot of terrain to go round. Cruisers get a long 5.5km green run all the way to the hotel base – just over 700m vertical – while heading down the other side to the Sailor Gondola base extends the vertical to 828m. The last bit is pretty flat though, so on that side of the mountain better riders should use the Sailor or Vista quads to minimise the flat section.

On the charge in Appi powder
How good is this? Very! © Owain Price

The Sailor tree zone is longer than the Nishimori zone, much of it at a decent gradient for a good work out through nicely spaced trees. It’s big enough to get some laps in a lot of the time too, the majority of guests heeding the ‘Expert Only’ warning at the entry gate and sticking to the long groomers. It’s a 4km run down to the Sailer gondola, with a couple of those possible in the trees.

The Salomon Snowboard team redeveloped the park set up, which is now claimed as one of the best in Japan.

The increased popularity means it’s busier at the base in the morning rush sometimes, but the overall lift capacity shifts people around very efficiently at Appi.

The ski school is fully international these days, featuring Aussies, Brits and even a couple of girls from Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.

Chill out with spa treatments
From new accommodation to duty free shopping to spa treatments, Appi has been transformed in recent years © Appi Resort

Appi Resort new developments

Good as the skiing is it’s the off mountain changes that are more noticeable. The whole resort is buzzing with new developments and energy, the upside of being busier.

From a long shopping strip complete with an extensive duty free section (rice cookers are a very popular item)  to refurbished rooms and apartment options to spa treatments, Appi has lots more on offer.

That extends to aprés ski, which used to be karaoke or nothing. Now that’s still available, but complemented by izakaya, an upmarket whisky/cocktail bar, the Grand Chariot, that overlooks the indoor pool, and various happy hour venues.

The restaurant choice goes from cheap snacks through to $275 steaks and plenty in between including Chinese (in conjunction with Michelin star partners), French, Korean and various Japanese styles at over a dozen venues. The daytime food court adds more reasonably priced options.

Wash it down with a ¥500 beer or spend more than we usually pay for a whole trip for a vintage Gran Cru from the exceptional Wine Cave selection – thousands of bottles from all over the World.

Enjoying an apres ski beer
With new izakaya, other bars and restaurants Appi has a lot more to do too © Taz Yamada

For a change of pace and cheaper local prices hop on the evening bus service down to Hachimantai City for dinner. It’s only ¥500 each way, about half an hour. If you kick on and miss the bus back a taxi is quite expensive.

We had a big night at Yakitori Jyubei, with our local host showing us some practical origami skills, like how to make a chopstick stand. Failing at that I challenged her to paper planes, then the clincher – origami star knives. She won.

Direct flights from Shanghai mean Appi is only going to get busier and busier, so avoid main local holiday periods. The upside of busier is a far more vibrant resort.

If that’s not your style stay in Hachimantai and day trip. Don’t miss other Hachimantai gems like Shimokura, or Hachimantai cat skiing.

Resort  https://appi-japan.com

Hachimantai info https://trip8.jp

Appi packages www.deeppowdertours.com

www.japanholidays.com.au www.skijapan.com