The new Lotte Arai Resort lifts the bar for deluxe ski in/ski out powder access in Japan. It’s a superb place to stay, with two luxury hotel options at the base – which we highly recommend to all who can afford it. For those on tighter budgets it’s an easy day trip from nearby Myoko. Either way you get amazing quantities of snow, even more than Myoko, and massive in-bounds controlled back and side country powder zones.
In fact no other major resort in Japan has such a high percentage of freeride terrain.
Yes, you can nail fat pow lines like these all day at Lotte Arai Resort, so Marketing Manager Yasuda Tomoyuki and I did just that!
Reloads are easy, the Arai gondola is one of the best ski lifts in J-land, with big stand-up-take-your-gear-inside cabins that make loading a breeze even with the fattest skis or boards.
The long gondola runs in two stages, and lapping the top section up to Zendana Station and the express quad above that is where better skiers and riders inevitably spend most of their day.
Back lower down skiers left from the quad are a couple of intermediate marked runs that often get fresh snow on top of the overnight grooming, ideal to get your powder act together on.
Between them is the ‘Happy Place’ free riding zone, and more faster and longer fresh lines back under the chair. If visibility is bad these are good to get orientated on, and put fast laps in as you quickly find your way and spot still untracked sections for next run.
But if Arai’s ‘Elevator to Heaven’ hike gate from the top of the quad to the Mt Okhenashi ridgeline is open then don’t wait too long to scoot up there.
From the summit, where the skier in green jacket picture above was taken, lots more rolling powder options open up. You only climb 150m vertical, at a gentle gradient, but that allows nearly 900m vertical back to the gondola mid-station, or 1100m all the way to the base.
The upper mountain looks like it’s above treeline alpine bowls, but the trees are actually just buried for most of the season Yasuda explained. Arai gets an insane amount of snow, even more than neighbouring Myoko, being closer to the coast. The Okenashi/Kokenashi ridgeline is the first big obstacle those Siberian Express winds hit as they blow in laden with moisture sucked up over the Sea of Japan just 20km away.
The shots show you exactly how it is – lots of big open charging lines, not steep but with enough consistent gradient to open the throttle. Weaving between the tops of buried trees and rolling off gully walls adds to the fun. Lapping it gets pretty addictive, especially when no one else is – if the day trippers don’t lob over it’s all yours staying at the base.
This whole region is quite a long way south, on a similar latitude to southern California and North Africa, so the southerly aspects can crust up and sog out between dumps, but the northerly aspects usually stay deep and dry.
For a bit steeper runs down make the longer Kokenashi summit hike, which also works as the next option to hit as closer lines get tracked. While the resort generally was pretty quiet in its debut season the word soon spread to Myoko and further afield, and plenty of day trippers show up to get their share.
Fortunately there is still plenty to go round, and they are working on opening more terrain in the future. Management are on board, kicking things along with a Freeride World Tour Qualifying Event last March. We took a look at the terrain for it, not difficult, but the southerly aspect meant crusty snow conditions. The FWT groms can have that, north facing rollers with dry snow are more my style.
The little cliff zone below the gondola top station is one area Yasuda is keen to open up, and more terrain around that side of the mountain. Which would be great, but the main shortage at Lotte Arai is a larger variety of groomed runs. Apart from the two intermediate trails at the top most of the rest are essentially wide roads. The best blue run is the one off the Sanroku double chair that is also open for night skiing, giving just under 400m of night vertical if you don’t get your fill in daylight.
Beginners have a perfect starter area at the base, but there’s no advanced groomed terrain. It snows so much grooming gets covered anyway.
If the upper bowls are closed the lower mountain freeride zones are shorter but steeper in places, with tighter trees and plenty of drop offs. Get these with enough snow to fill in the previous day’s tracks and they are well worth a look. We found knee deep 2 days after the last dump.
For a quick refuel the Big Sky Restaurant at Zendana Station is good value, from ¥1,000 for ramen, and saves heading down to the gondola base. It’s also amazing how quickly the snow fills in while you’re having lunch. It had been raining at the bottom turning to wet snow half way up in the morning on my second day, but by lunchtime it was puking and while I rested the legs for an hour or so another 10cm fell. I met a Japanese boarder on his first trip to Arai and showed him around as the local expert bombing the lines under the upper quad.
We didn’t get the best conditions, arriving a couple of days after the last big fall and only getting the start of the next big system, but it convinced me that the excitement I felt just driving past last year, when it was still closed, was fully justified – this place is something special.
Non-ski outdoor activities include a spectacular zipline ride across the main valley between Zendana Station and the Sanroku 2nd lift, and big tubing slope at the base complete with a long covered carpet ride.
The indoor sports complex has bouldering, all ages climbing walls, plus a big square trampoline set up and more for the kids.
Aprés ski is pretty non-existent so far, apart from the hotel lounge bars, so day trippers can head home to Myoko’s funky main strip for that, but you can have an onsen in the Arai hotel complex first.
Lotte Arai Resort Accommodation options
Day trips to Arai are fun, but if you can afford pampering and want to truly unwind staying at the superb base hotels is a rewarding experience, never mind giving you the best access to the powder.
The original owner was a scion of the Sony family, who spared no expense importing an upmarket European resort villa design which works well, apart from the minor detail that the colonnaded walkways just get buried under metres of snow here.
The Lotte group have doubled down on the original investment to present a true luxury ski in/ski out experience.
Choose from Superior rooms in the Arai building, or the Deluxe rooms and Suites in the Lodge Club Nest buildings. The Arai has a more relaxed decor and casual feel, while the Club Lodge Nest has a sophisticated club style.
There’s a large indoor pool and onsen at the Arai, which is open to day visitors.
The impressive Spa Manna facility at Club Lodge Nest has a pool, onsen and gym.
Don’t miss the Library Cafe in the Lodge Club. It hosts a changing selection of amazing limited edition books from the famous Tsutaya bookstore in Tokyo. From architecture to fashion, rock history to natural history, there are books worth hundreds of dollars you can peruse at leisure, with lots of titles in English.
Dining options at Lotte Arai Resort
For a snack or light meal the Regina Bakery at the Arai has magnificent pastries and great coffee; their take out branch beside the gondola is perfect to grab a quick caffeine and sugar fix heading up.
The western buffet restaurant there is reasonably priced with a good selection for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but for something special try Arcobaleno for Italian with a big Japanese influence, or the Hokobune Bettei Japanese restaurant serving local Myoko sakes and local cuisine kaiseki menus. Arcobaleno’s lunch special menus run from ¥2,500 for 5 delectable courses.
The lounge bar at Arai is the best aprés option with a big fireplace.
Bar Ruri and the karaoke bar in the Lodge Club are the evening options for sampling sakes, whiskies or cocktails.
On the mountain the big food court at Zendana Station has plenty of variety and very reasonable rates, or there is a smaller one at the base of the gondola.
Lotte Arai Resort for families
It’s an easy place to bring kids with a great indoor activity centre, a child minding centre for little ones, snowplay outside the hotels, tubing and free rides on the bottom lifts for those having beginner lessons.
Lotte Arai Resort snow sports school and rental options
The friendly and popular crew from Myoko Snow Sports run English language lessons and programs on demand, including powder guiding.
The Salomon Station rental has lots of new gear, for adults and kids, plus there’s a good range of big powder skis and boards.
Lotte Arai Resort mountain statistics
How high is Arai? Summit of lifts 1289m +150m hike
What’s the vertical drop at Arai? The base is 329m, for 951m vertical drop off the lifts, 1101m if you hike the ridgeline.
What’s the average snowfall at Arai? 15m plus snowfall, not measured accurately – it’s closer to coast than Myoko so gets even more snow.
What’s the terrain mix at Arai? 11 courses (25% easy, 45% intermediate, 35% advanced) plus 10 avi-controlled freeride areas. Longest course is 5.2km
What are the lifts at Arai? 5 lifts including 1 gondola & 2 quads
How much are lift passe at Arai? Day adult ¥6000, child ¥4800, Jnr ¥3800
Where is Lotte Arai Resort
Lotte Arai Resort is in southern Niigata Prefecture, only 20km from the Sea of Japan. It is one of the easiest major resorts to get to from Tokyo, only 112 minutes on the Hokuriku shinkansen to Joetsu Myoko & a free guest shuttle or taxi the 20 minutes/15km up to the resort from there – for example, we flew down from Hokkaido to Tokyo Haneda on a late morning flight and arrived to a magnificent sunset.
Self driving it’s 7km from the Arai Smart Interchange on the Joshinetsu Expressway.
For Lotte Arai Resort accommodation bookings and packages
check these Japan experts
Or the resort site here
For Niigata Prefecture information go their English language info site here
Lotte Arai Resort location map