Grandeco was day 11 of our month long Japowder mission, and just when you think it can’t get any better, it did! We arrived to more fresh Aizu region snow – from knee to thigh deep off the sides of the main runs, to waist deep plus up among the snow ghosts off the back of the peak. To top it off the sun came out for our mighty morning session at Grandeco, with just me and Riki Nakajima taking full advantage for the first few laps.
The all round value is simply amazing – like ¥55,530 for 3 nights midweek in prime January powder time, with breakfasts, dinners and a 4 day ski pass.
Getting excited was an understatement as Riki and I drove up the valley past ice fishing tents on frozen Lake Onogawa below. Fresh snow was piled deep on the pines, and glimpses of 1982m Mt Nishi-Daiten appeared tantalisingly out of the clouds and mist during the beautiful trip up through Bandai Asahi National Park.
Grandeco is the jewel in the Aizu crown, tucked further into the ranges and reaching a little higher than other great areas there like Alts Bandai and Nekoma. The lifts rise to 1590m on Nishi-Daiten’s flank, and the hike up area to the summit is hugely worth it as we found after lunch.
The main resort slopes average over 10m of snow a season, and hold it well.
Riki is one of Japan’s top freeride skiers, a current competitor on their freeride circuit, and the perfect ski guide who specialises in back and side country trips to less known areas, right through to May. With great English skills, a very funny personality, unbeatable local knowledge, and huge ski talent, he’s the perfect example of the new breed of Japanese skiers getting into showing us foreigners the best of their country. Sure, there are any number of foreign companies doing that, but you won’t beat a local for true local knowledge – see our feature for more on cool true locals to ride with up there.
We didn’t muck around on arrival, jumping straight on the gondola and over to the skier’s left upper hooded quad. A handful of skiers had been down the middle of the groomer, topped with 20cm or so since they groomed it, but the sides were all ours to be first into, weaving in and out and a bit further into the pines as we lapped it – knee to thigh deep dry snow and the sun came out!
After a solid session here we switched to the longer skier’s right hooded quad to find more of the same, and a beautiful long gladed course with trees protected by ski patrol mattresses dotting the course so you can weave around them. National Park regulations mean they can’t go in and clear the trees entirely, quite different from most places in Japan.
The upper mountain has some easy grade black runs and blue runs, most of the lower mountain is cruisy green runs, so Grandeco a perfect family and all rounder mountain with the bonus of superb powder lines that don’t get crowded.
Good as the lift-accessed terrain is I couldn’t wait to get the skins on and have a shot at adding 1,000’ to the vertical equation by hiking Mt Nishi-Daiten.
So we scooted down for a quick lunch at the base day lodge, giving Riki the opportunity to impress the local school kid groups by nailing every single park feature as he went past them.
Then we were back up, for the afternoon bonus, sampling the easily accessed Grandeco backcountry powder. Looking at the over knee deep skin track another group had already set we were not fazed to be second – that was serious trail breaking.
We caught up to them after 40 minutes, not far below the summit, where the trees thin out and the snow ghost forest begins – not huge ghosts, but nicely spaced. Of course snow ghost formation only happens with enough snow and cold conditions to make them form and remain, so its a sure sign anywhere a place gets great snow.
Just as we emerged into the ghosts hiking up the sun disappeared for good, and visibility dropped to next to nothing as we got to the summit.
The best and deepest line off Nishi-Daiten is the treeless back bowl north face, and it was only just visible. The snow was deep, it was cold, and with visibility so low the full shot at it plus skin out looked too hard we planned to drop in, do the top third, and cut out to the ridgeline.
Good plan, poor execution – I dropped first, the snow was well over my waist, and by the time my head popped out of the pow cloud spray I could see I had gone too far. Bugger! Just regaining about 30 vertical metres took me over half an hour in the deep, light snow in the bowl. Still, while it lasted it was my deepest line of the trip so far.
Back on the frontside we bombed down through the trees to the top lift in no time. It’s not super steep, but it is super fun, and relatively easy to do. It’s also easy to get off course, so go with someone who knows the way, and of course with your avi gear.
The Urubandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel
After all that, especially my lost boy excursion in the back bowl, there was only one thing to do, scoot down to the sumptuous Urubandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel and hop in their indoor/outdoor onsen. An onsen plus massage chair session and obligatory vending machine tall tinnie is the perfect Japow recovery session.
Tokyu group are one of Japan’s leading leisure brands, known for up market quality, and the 5 Star Grandeco Resort deluxe ski in/ski out hotel at the base of Grandeco is a 4 seasons escape amid the wild forests, peaks and lakes that provides an idyllic retreat from busy urban lifestyles under 3 hours from Tokyo. Choose from a range of spacious rooms, including family 2 & 3 room options, and enjoy the indoor pool, indoor/outdoor onsen, and choice of quality Japanese, French style and Teppanyaki restaurants.
To get this quality of hotel opening out to a great mountain that gets slammed with quality snow is a winning combination. It works for families, couples, cruisy skiers and more adventurous powder chasers alike, and the deals they have are unbeatable.
Getting to Grandeco
By train to Grandeco it’s 77 minutes on the Tohoku shinkansen to Koriyama, then 100 mins bus from there, or change to JR line to Inawashiro, 42 mins, & it’s a 35 minute shuttle bus from there. Use a JR East Tohoku or JR East – South Hokkaido Pass to access Grandeco.
By car to Grandeco use the Inawashiro Bandai Kogen exit off the Ban-Etsu expresssway, and Route 115 to 459, 35 mins from the exit. You can often see snow monkeys in the trees on the way up.
Grandeco Mountain stats and info
• Summit 1590m, base 1010m, max vertical 580m off lifts plus hike to peak at 1982m to make it 972m total
• 10m plus snowfall
• 8 courses longest 4km; terrain 40% beginner, 45% intermediate, 15% advanced/expert
• 5 lifts including 1 gondola & 4 hooded express quads
• Lift pass rates day adult ¥4700, senior ¥4100, child ¥3500
Grandeco ski and accommodation packages
For Urabandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel packages go here
Great backcountry guiding to discover Grandeco & the Aizu region
With Riki Nakajima, aka Riki Japow Guide, he has great package trips to the best of Aizu including Grandeco and knows both the skiing and the area backwards – local knowledge you can’t beat.