We have been telling you how good Geto Kogen (aka “Japan’s King of Snow”) is for a few years. The good news it’s getting even better even as it gets busier. Snow Action’s Dave Windsor got an exclusive ski preview of their next planned side-country powder terrain expansion with mountain boss Sadahide Sugawara in February.
Geto Kogen is still a secret to many, but famous among those who know it for offering some of the best tree skiing in Japan. The tree runs are all on the trail map, in-bounds and readily accessible. That combines with some of the most consistent and regular snow in all of Honshu.
For their next big improvement Geto are looking to expand their offering into their abundant side country. I was fortunate enough to have a spicy taste of it following Geto’s innovative boss Hide.
Darting off skiers right from the imaginatively named ‘A1’ trail into the adjacent beech forest we skied for a good half hour in quiet serenity down some ridges into gullies through shin to knee deep virgin snow. For now it is well and truly out of bounds, but Geto plan to open the new terrain soon for guided adventures.
It’s the sort of well thought out, pro-active powder access approach that has made areas like Geto, Madarao Tangram and Kamui winners with the international market over much larger and better resourced areas that still don’t properly open their off-piste terrain.
In the meantime you don’t have to wait to access pow laden terrain – it already has an abundant amount of off-piste and tree skiing.
Plus there are 14km of groomed & ungroomed trails – until of course mother nature ungrooms all of them – to suit all levels.
Sitting in a bowl, Geto not only receives bucket loads from above, it also benefits from heaps of wind-blown from the surrounding area.
Of the 14 marked trails 6 black and blues are ungroomed. In addition, five huge gladed areas beckon – Shooter, Summit, Beech, Stream and the diminutive Rabbit.
I follow Hide at break neck speed down Shooter 1.
“Keep your speed up” he advises, “lots of deep snow slow you down.”
That’s the understatement of the year. Uniquely positioned in a relatively narrow section of the Northern Japanese Alps Geto enjoys heavy, and heavily concentrated falls. There are less ranges for the snow to be spread out over is Hide’s explanation, and it’s a valid one – Geto regularly tops the Japanese snow depth charts.
Shooter 1, 2, 3 & 4 are fun, fun, fun & fun. Steep and deep, with lots of trees to ski around, gullies to shoot down and ridges to slide off – some virtually vertical, it makes for a hugely satisfying and tiring day.
Interestingly a lot of people stick to the marked trails, which suits me perfectly as I selfishly drive my Fatypus M5s through the goods with plenty of waist and the occasional chest deep turn.
“We spend time every summer in the forest with the chainsaw” Hide explains, “making it safe for winter.”
The lumberjack effort and planning is evident as we do lap after lap finding fresh new lines through the trees each time, followed by a quick shuttle to the top on the 1.7km long No 1 Gondola or 1.2km long No 2 Gondola.
The innovation doesn’t end with the proposed side country access.
“We’re creating a snowmobile field in 2019” says Hide. The course is on the new trail map below, and runs out over a bunch of comically buried summer road signs.
How do you get to Geto Kogen
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Kitakami, 2.5 hrs from Tokyo, then the free 50 minute shuttle bus to resort. If you miss the free buses a taxi is around ¥8,000 or ¥12,000 for a jumbo taxi. Buses run from the station 7.40, 9.10 & 15.40 weekdays, plus a 10.40 service weekends.
Heading south, Kitakami is 17 minutes past Morioka by shinkansen – come down to there from Hokkaido.
Or for self drive to Geto Kogen Kitakami is only 17km off the Akita freeway.
You can also fly ANA to Hanamaki (HNA) regional airport from New Chitose or Osaka.
Geto Kogen accommodation options
Right at the base of Geto Kogen Geto Camp88 is only ¥5,900 a night midweek for a bunk. It has to be the best on snow backpacker accommodation in Japan.
See our feature on Geto Life from Matt Creighton who spent the whole season there last winter.
Irihata Onsen is the closest accommodation otherwise and an excellent option for people not wishing to share in backpacker style. This great value Japanese style Ryokan is just 10 minutes drive down the road from Geto, beside a river below a big dam wall. Enjoy comfortable tatami rooms, spotless share facilities and onsen, and delicious Japanese style breakfasts and dinners – the friendly chef didn’t even mind me heating up my cold poached egg. They run a free shuttle service to resort at set times.
They have no English language site, simplest to book it is contact www.japansnowaccommodation.com who can also book you into Semi Onsen or Geto Camp88 backpacker.
5 minutes further down the road is Semi Onsen Ryokan, a delightful traditional Japanese style Ryokan with a range of standard to deluxe tatami rooms, some complete with private onsen, and an inclusive Japanese menu or casual dining. From ¥12,000 pp with dinner & breakfast & shuttle the 15-20 minutes to the resort.
Semi Onsen Ryokan
Or just stay in Kitakami town with hotels from ¥4,500 per night and ride the free daily Geto Kogen bus from the station – that works out about $USD 75 / $AUD 100 a day with lift pass! There are several hotels at the station or in town, and good restaurants and gastropubs and shopping for great value nightlife.
Geto Kogen resort combinations
It’s super easy to combine with nearby Iwate resorts Shizukuishi &/or Appi using rail passes & buses, and not miss a day skiing.
Or try the ‘Tohoku Powder Line’ into Akita Prefecture, which easily links Geto with still little known Ani Ski Resort & Tazawako Ski Resorts via JR Rail routes or self drive.
It’s also a good next stop up the line from skiing the Aizu region at resorts like Alts Bandai and Grandeco.
Geto Kogen Mountain Statistics
• Summit 1064m, base 640m, max vertical 420m
• 15m plus snowfall, not measured accurately at top
• 15 courses and 4 tree run areas, longest 2.1km; terrain 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% advanced/expert
• Nice park with some big booters
• 5 lifts including 2 gondolas & 1 quad
• Lift pass rates Geto Kogen 2017 Day ad ¥4600, snr/stud ¥3700, kids ¥1000/¥2600