Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort is still largely unknown to western visitors, one of the powder secrets of the unspoilt Katashina Village area in Gunma Prefecture.
The Mt Nikko-Shirane Ropeway at Marunuma Kogen whisks you up to 2000m, which is high by Japanese ski resort standards. That’s 170m higher than the top of the lifts in the Hakuba Valley for example. The base village here at 1390m is higher than the summit at many popular Nagano and Niigata areas.
That means the Marunuma area is blessed with quality dry snow and a long season, from late November through to early May. Mt Nikko-Shiransen is the highest peak in the region at 2,578m.
It also means very few rain events, which can affect lower areas, and a more consistent snowpack.
Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort ski runs and terrain
The ropeway is a modern gondola lift that runs top-to-bottom the whole of Marunuma Kogen’s decent 610m vertical.
There is plenty of good intermediate terrain on cruising groomed runs up to 4km long, and some nice powder shots on steeper Shirane and Silver Course trails they don’t groom.
Take a detour on the little single chairlift – No 7 Lift – to access some of the best of these off the side of the Gold Course.
Officially the trees are a no go zone, but we found some nice powder shots along the edges of the steeper runs that no one had touched after arriving late morning straight off an overnight flight to Haneda. In places the pine forest is too thick to enter anyway.
Marunuma Kogen has an innovative approach to freeride and park. Local rider Kyosuke Miyakazi knows the fall lines and terrain so he has sculpted natural features into the park set up like logs and side walls apart from the usual jumps, boxes and rails. Our Niseko based photographer and boarder Alister Buckingham had plenty of fun testing them out.
There’s a green run all the way from the top.
It’s a relaxed place for learners and families with little kids – weekends presumably get busier with locals and Tokyo visitors but we enjoyed the mountain pretty much to ourselves.
Obviously from the map there’s not a big variety for better skiers and riders but a day or two here plus time at nearby Oze Iwakura allows 3 or 4 nights in the Katashina region. Lapping the same zones for fresh tracks is still possible here – we did – unlike at most better known Japanese areas already on western visitor radars where you get one shot in if you’re quick and then move one if you can.
On some big snowfall days they do also open up an old terrain area, the Grand Course, for a limited number of guests at an extra charge. We didn’t get to sample it, but the terrain looked tasty and well worth it if it happens when you are here.
Lift passes are a reasonable ¥4,200 low season, ¥4,900 high season with some great value hourly option tickets too & lunch voucher combinations.
Where is Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort ?
Gunma is closer to Tokyo than other major ski resort regions, under 3 hours by road with a daily Katashina Snow Express Bus from Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal to Katashina Village from December 22 to March 31. It departs at 7:15 and returns at 16:00 so day return trips are possible if you only have just one spare day in Tokyo.
Shuttles go from Katashina Village the 20 minutes or so up to Marunuma Kogen, or the other resorts in the area.
If self-driving to Marunuma Kogen take the Numata Exit off the Kan-etsu Freeway on to Route 120 to Katashina. This winds up into the highlands past a string of villages and beautiful forests.
If it reminds you of Europe you are not alone; the section past Katashina Village to Marunuma is called the “Japan Romantic Road”, renowned as having the scenery most reminiscent of alpine Germany and a favourite for the Japanese Romantic School of poets to include in their works.
Restaurants, ski and snowboard shops, and accommodation options dot the sides of the roads into and past Katashina. In summer the route continues on over to Nikko in neighbouring Tochigi Prefecture, but heavy snowfalls block the pass in winter.
That makes it a dead end, off the beaten track alternative that very few western skiers have discovered. Before reaching Marunuma Kogen you enter the Nikko National Park.
Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort facilities
But it’s a thriving area, catering well to a local market including families.
The Kids Park at the base has tubing and sledding, with a carpet lift for access to these and beginner skiing beside. Access is a flat ¥700 daily.
The modern Marunuma Kogen Centre Station at the base features escalator access up from the carpark level, a good quality rental, restaurant and the fully equipped Zazen natural onsen where you can relax after skiing on day trips. Change rooms are available.
Three more restaurants are higher up the mountain, including the friendly Restaurant Shirane at the top of the gondola.
Marunuma Kogen accommodation options
You can stay ski in/ski out at Chalet Marunuma a bit above the base. Japanese style rooms and packages with breakfast and dinner and lift pass are available, from ¥13,000 per adult.
There’s a nice indoor/outdoor onsen there too.
Alternatively a range of good value pensions and ryokans are nearby heading down the road back to Katashina. Midweeks space is easy to find.
more at http://www.marunuma.jp/2017w/en
Leading Japan snow tour operators who will have programs to the Katashina area for 2019-2020 season include
Marunuma Kogen & Katashina Village more info
Useful links include:
Ski Resort http://www.marunuma.jp/2017w/en
Katashina Village Katashina Village Tourism site
Gunma PrefectureGunma Tourism site