Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort Gunma

435

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.

Enjoying powder skiing at Marunuma  Kogen Ski Resort
Less than 5 hours after touching down at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport Owain Price was skiing this at Marunuma Kogen © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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.

Powder skiing at Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort
Nice to be the only people skiing the powder somewhere! © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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.

Riding Lift No 7, Murunuma Kogen Ski Resort's single chairlift
Lift No 7 is worth a few lonely laps © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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.

Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort Trail Map
Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort Trail Map

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.

Arriving at Marunuma Kogen Ski Resort
3 and a half hours after leaving Haneda Airport we pulled up at Marunuma Kogen © Carmen Price

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.

Escalators make it easy to get from car park to the slopes level at Marunuma Kogen
The easy way up from car park level at Marunuma Kogen Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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.

The Center Building has a modern hire facility © Carmen Price

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.

Chalet Marunuma ski in/ski out accommodation at Marunuma Kogen ski resort
Chalet Marunuma © Alistair Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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

www.skijapan.com

www.travelplanski.com.au

https://japanholidays.com.au

The indoor/outdoor onsen at Chalet Marunuma, MArunuma Kogen Ski Resort
The indoor/outdoor onsen at Chalet Marunuma © Carmen Price
Tatami room at Chalet Marunuma
Tatami room at Chalet Marunuma © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

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

The shrine at the top of Marunuma Kogen
Non skiers can ride up to 2000m on the Ropeway to enjoy the views at lunch © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com