Kandatsu Kogen, or Kandatsu Highlands, is by no means the largest of Niigata’s Yuzawa area resorts, but it’s a good bet on powder days. Tucked up in a mostly north-westerly aspect bowl just behind and above Yuzawa town, it tends to catch and hold snow better than other bigger, sunnier areas nearby like Gala Yuzawa and Iwappara.
This is especially true late season. Although it gets slammed with snow in winter, Yuzawa generally is quite low altitude, so spring can come early and suddenly here.
We arrived in mid-March, fully expecting spring snow. But snow-forecast.com said they might get a bit of fresh snow overnight, so we headed to Kandatsu first thing ever hopeful.
It did snow overnight. There was boot deep on the upper mountain. Unfortunately some big spring cracks had opened up in the snow pack on the main steep run off the top lift though, so we weren’t allowed at it.
The friendly Mountain Manager saw my disappointment and came up with a Plan B. Kandatsu have a lift and whole zone they only open for weekends and holidays, so it was closed this day. But thanks to the manager in no time we were scooting up there on the back of skidoos. Local ski model/guide, Makoto Kondo, showed us the way.
Makoto turned out to be a very funny guy, and a charging skier. We had fun bombing the ridgeline skier’s right from the top. It had boot/shin deep fresh snow, not super dry, but as the only people skiing it all day we could hardly complain. Besides, we were heading home to Australia the next day and the forecast was warm temperaturs for next morning, our final ski option, so this was our last Japow fix of the season.
The ridgeline trail is a nice long intermediate level cruise all the way back to the base. Or you can dive off it taking a direct route with short but steeper off-piste faces and a tree run area. This was already getting stodgy in places because it turns back south, but we smashed through regardless. A winding forest run-out trail takes you all the way back to the bottom. Best avoided by snowboarders, it flattens out.
Kandatsu Kogen has a big base building that looks like a gondola/ropeway terminus but isn’t – you first need to ride one of the triple pair lifts to get up from here to the main bowl. Up in the bowl 3 fast quads (including the weekend only one) and another double chair access all the main runs.
There are fun lines for all levels here, with good northerly aspect steeper ones up to over 40° that would be great without the spring cracks in them. The easy runs through the middle are good for beginners and families with small kids. Midweek it was deserted.
Makoto and I got chatting on the lift. It turned out he had won our sometime Photo Editor Tony ‘Harro’ Harrington’s legendary Heli Challenge event in Wanaka back in 1999. So we zapped Harro a quick Whatsapp to say hello off the lift – he was in Jackson Hole. Forget 6 degrees of separation, in skiing it’s 2 or 3, and running into old friends or friends of friends in scattered snowy places is one of the best things about it.
Despite the fairly average conditions we enjoyed Kandatsu a lot. On a more normal mid-winter day you will enjoy it a lot more. You’ll certainly enjoy the great value ¥4,000 lift pass – if you start at 8am through to 16:30. Pay ¥4,600 to start at 7am – which would be worth it on a powder day and presumably on busy weekends.
Kandatsu Kogen does get popular. Their “Nighta” night skiing is a feature, and can run till the wee hours sometimes.
Where is Kandatsu Kogen?
It is just 4km up the road from Echigo Yuzawa station and Yuzawa town. Free shuttle buses run from the station, or grab a taxi, it’s only JPY 1500.
Echigo Yuzawa is a 70 minute shinkansen ride from Tokyo.
Or Kandatsu Kogen / Highlands is just 2.5km kilometres from the Yuzawa interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway if arriving by road.
For Niigata Prefecture info head to http://enjoyniigata.com/en/
For local Yuzawa info www.e-yuzawa.gr.jp
For Yuzawa accommodation deals