Alts Bandai is one of the best of the 22 ski resorts on offer in the Aizu region. You can even ski it FREE if you are 19-24 years old! Yes, the Aizu Region is offering one of the best ski lift deals in World for foreign visitors. Young riders 19 – 24 years old ski for free, while others pay just JPY 3,500 for a day pass. Just show your passport when buying your lift pass to qualify.
Alts Bandai is easy 3 and a half hour direct bus trip from Haneda Airport. It lies in the heart of the beautiful Aizu region filled with lakes, forests, and, of course, mountains. You can cut an hour off that time by getting the shinkansen to Koriyama and bus from the station, or local train to Inawashiro and local bus.
Whichever, off the plane from home you can be surfing great snow at Alts Bandai by lunchtime, which is among the best for convenient access. Mighty Bandai-zan volcano dominates the skyline, and is home to 5 ski areas. You can connect via a short hike over the backside to the north facing powder stash of Nekoma from Alts Bandai. It is skiable on the same pass, and the resorts run a free shuttle bus around which takes an hour or so.
The local cuisine is unique, and our superguide Riki Nakajima had organised a stop to check it out – a whitebait and rice (the famous local rice to be precise) dish the highlight for me. By the time we ate though the morning sunshine was rapidly turning to afternoon snow cloud, and sure enough, by the time we got out of the ski room door at Alts Bandaisan Onsen Hotel, the sun was gone. We got a couple of groomer laps in on the long groomers at Alts Bandai to show everyone what a great all round and family resort this is.
It’s also popular on weekends, and this Sunday there were plenty of young snowboarders enjoying it – most at a very modest level.
When the weather turned ugly most of our crew headed indoors, so I went to check out the tree lines. They were a bit soggy that first afternoon, as most of Alts Bandai faces south and it had been warmed up in the morning. But with snow starting to fall yet again things were sure to look up next day.
They did, in spades, starting with a hard charging morning enjoying 20 -30cm plus fresh snow on the groomers, and in the nicely freshened up treelines with almost no one else around. The weekend boarders had all disappeared, so it was just a few fellow guests out and about as the snow fell steadily all Monday morning.
That went from a few people out to no one else once we got on the free Alts Bandai snow cat. This runs in terrain where they shut the lifts a few years back, so you have a choice of easy blue runs or a bit steeper, making it a great powder novice option to get a feel for consistent pow skiing and the rhythm you need for that without worrying about getting in the way of others.
We just worked on the old adage ‘speed is your friend’ in pow and ripped it. Riki Nakajima is a current Japanese freeride comp competitor, so trying to follow him worked for me.
If everyone is on the pace you get very quick laps, so after our intermediates gave up after lap 2 we did exactly that. Snow fell steadily, it was cold, and we took turns getting the one inside seat for the short cat ride back up.
Like many Japanese cat ski operations the terrain accessed is pretty mellow, but free laps in untracked works for me, mellow or not.
For more variety, Nekoma day only ski area is a short 15 minute hike over the back when the connection is open, or a free shuttle bus ride around which takes an hour or so. Nekoma is on Bandai-Zan’s shady north side, so gets plenty of powder which stays in prime condition. Also owned by the Hoshino Resorts group, Nekoma is skiable on your Alts Bandai pass.
Alts is great for intermediate skiers, and families, with plenty of empty (midweek) long cruising runs.
Alts Bandai resort info and accommodation options
Alts Bandai is a mid size modern resort, with a solid 580m vertical, part of the big Hoshino group who also own Tomamu among others.
The 152 room Bandaisan Onsen Hotel at the base offers excellent ski in/ski out value for money. You could stay cheaper down the road, in Bandai town, or a bit further away in bustling Aizu Wakamatsu city 30 minutes or so drive – depending on traffic, it gets busy round rush hour we discovered going down for an izakaya dinner one night. But why be second on the lifts on a pow day?
There’s not much nightlife, just the sake bar and a few little places in the mini food court at the base building next to the hotel that close early, but you can take a bus or taxi downtown.
Aizu Wakamatsu city boasts plenty of attractions headed by the replica Tsurugajo castle, one of the last samurai bastions. This area is where the Last Samurai movie story is based on, with a monument to the fallen in that 1860s war.
If you want to sample more culture stay at nearby Higashiyama Onsen, featuring plenty of hotels and some exceptional traditional style ryokan, with superb local food.
We stayed a night at the Ashina, a luxury ryokan made from a rebuilt traditional farmhouse. Delicious keiseke (multi course banquet) barbecue food – you sit round the little pit fire as it cooks – was the highlight, including the best tofu dish I have ever eaten, cooked slowly on sticks over the charcoals, sort of like Patagonian lamb. Even ute driving eat-more-beef types would be impressed.
Then the geishas appeared, for a night of traditional entertainment, traditional dance, music, and chat basically – we had never got up close and chatty with a geisha, so that was both fun and very interesting.
The region is still only starting to get on the radar for most international skiers, and there’s so much tradition and culture so close that it offers lots of that, as well as excellent skiing.
Getting to Alts Bandai
Tokyo to Koriyama is from 77 mimnutes shinkansen. There 3 daily buses from Koriyama shinkansen Station 50 minutes.
Or continue on the local train to Inawashiro station and get a taxi or local bus from there – about 20-30 minutes.
Direct airport buses take 31/2 hours from Haneda, you can organise pick ups with Riki Nakajima’s hosted trips to Alts and the Aizu region https://rikijg.com/jp/
Aizu/Fukushima tourist info www.tif.ne.jp/lang/en
Packages www.alljapanski.com www.deeppowdertours.com www.skijapan.com www.japansnowaccommodation.com
Alts Bandai combines easily with a few days at Grandeco.
Alts Bandai Mountain stats
• Summit 1280m, base 700m, max vertical 580m
• 7m plus snowfall
• 29 courses longest 3km; terrain 35% beginner, 45% intermediate, 25% advanced/expert
• 5 parks for all levels
• 8 lifts including 1 gondola & 2 express quads
• Lift pass rates day adult ¥3,500 international Aizu Region special (must show passport); 19-24 years ski FREE on same international deal!