Shiga Kogen offers superb consistent powder snow, a huge variety of terrrain sprawling over 19 inter-connected areas and some great value ski in/ski out options. Yes, it is both cheaper and less crowded here than at more popular Hokkaido and Honshu areas.
The Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel is actually three hotels – built for the Nagano Olympics these were the international athlete’s accommodation, now the West Wing, the Japanese athlete’s accommodation, now the South Wing, and the IOC officials and VIPs accommodation, now the East Wing. No prizes for guessing which offers the most luxurious rooms – IOC officials don’t like to slum it! More on those options below, first let’s go skiing.
Snow Action hit Shiga again late January, timing our arrival nicely with 50cm or so overnight. Then it just kept on dumping, as it does in J-land.
It had been a few years between visits for us, and with the continuing heavy snow fall I soon got a bit lost in the tree runs. Bombing waist deep lines it’s not 100% clear what you can ski or can’t, especially in a snow storm. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it..
So running out from a tree line I found myself at neighbouring Okushiga. Last time I skied here it was on the same pass, but a beep and stuck turnstile had me thinking maybe it wasn’t. Fortunately there was enough ga to squeeze my skiing gut past and scoot to the lift – there was no one else getting on and in the heavy snow no one bothered to come out and check or stop me.
The old gondola cabins on the main lift at Okushiga don’t take fat skis, and they won’t close with skis inside, so you just pop them through the gap and let it close as far it will. To get back to Yakebitaiyama involves another short double chair above the gondola, so I scooted straight through the turnstile there without getting stopped either. The lifties probably get used to it, it’s an easy mistake to make.
Yakebitaiyama itself has plenty of decent terrain, and good lifts, so it’s not a bad idea and saves money to start with a pass for here only. Then kick on after a couple of days with an all area Shiga Pass that includes the bus service – it takes 90 minutes or so by bus from one end to the other.
Shiga Kogen all area skiing
Our roving correspondent Greg Cansdale loves Shiga, and has a few recommendations. Each day in Shiga Kogen you can create your own safari trail in the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park as you ride around the 19 mostly interconnected ski areas that spread over 5 main valleys and more than 600 hectares. The all area pass covers the entire area, providing a massive number of options for exploration.
Have fun getting lost knowing that the resort shuttle service runs constantly, is free with your lift pass, and ensures an easy trip home.
So rather than turn around half way through the day and head back you can continue to ride until your legs are whimpering, then catch the shuttle bus home to a hot inviting onsen.
Intermediate and beginner riders are spoilt, with some of Japan’s best grooming. Shiga hosted the Skiing and Snowboarding GS and the Skiing Slalom events at the 1998 Winter Olympics, not to mention the Downhill, Super G and GS events at the Paralympic Games the same year.
If you find the abundance of riding opportunities exhausting, need a day to recuperate and want an amazing experience, Shiga is only 20 minutes from Yudanaka and the famous Snow Monkeys.
The snow in Shiga is generally drier than at more coastal alpine resorts on Honshu, with an average of over 8m of the light dry powder. With the variety of terrain guaranteed to satisfy, the typical abundance of dry snow, and over 80 kms of piste runs between Mt Yokoteyama and Mt Yakebitaiyama, it’s the largest winter resort in Asia.
There is no real township. However clusters of accommodation and all the necessary amenities can be found at the base areas along the valleys. In typical Japanese style most of the accommodation houses provide delicious in-house dining options, however they are very willing to welcome non-guests into their restaurants.
On mountain amenities are also plentiful, and you soon get to know your favourites, with your daily expedition easily being at risk of becoming more of a food safari than a mountain escapade.
I became addicted to the freshly baked bread at Crumpet Café (Yokoteyama ski area), the apple pie at Restaurant Aspen (Giant ski area), real coffee at Restaurant Green (Sun Valley ski area), the spicy curry at Prince Hotel South (Yakebitaiyama ski area), and the freshly baked pastries at St. Christoph next to the base of the Okushiga Kogen gondola.
Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel choices
Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel is unique, built originally as accommodation for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. They made three separate wings, the West Wing for international athletes, the South Wing for Japanese athletes, and the East Wing for IOC officials and the VIP crowd.
Yes, the IOC officials and VIPs got the deluxe hotel,No prizes for guessing which is the plush up-market one.
The best value budget deal put you in Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel West, which is quirky and fun to stay at. Doing our J-land research trips we get lucky sometimes with amazing 5 star places, but we often enjoy the humbler ones as much or more.
The small rooms at the West wing were designed so the athletes could fit all their stuff, so you get cupboards behind and under the beds. Sure, it’s no palace, but when the skiing is so good all you really need is a bed, and if you get sorted and use the cupboard space they are very functional. It soon became home for us.
There’s a big buffet restaurant, plus another lunch restaurant next door, and onsen hot baths. No bars or nightlife though apart from the bar while the buffet is open.
We met lots of fellow Aussies happily enjoying the West Wing, many of whom got on the same early bird deal last year.
The Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel East offers the most luxurious accommodation, plus a superb restaurant offering French or shabu shabu cuisine. It doesn’t have an onsen though – apparently the local organisers thought the IOC hoi polloi wouldn’t want to share bathing Japanese style! Their loss.
The Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel South features an Izakaya with great value dining and a bit of aprés atmosphere. You can ski over there and get the guest’s free Prince Shuttle back around after an early dinner.
Whichever you choose from a ski point of view everything is right outside the door, perfect for families.
A range of family focused activities, and super convenient learn-to-ski and ski school, will keep the kids happy. The fact they ski free (in Yakebitaiyama) to 12 years is a big saving. Enjoy snowmobiling, snow shoeing, and more.
Prince Resorts have made a big effort over the past few years improving the ambience of the hotels and catering to the ever growing number of international guests.
Shiga Kogen Restaurants and nightlife
With the resort being so spread out, and with the Shiga Kogen area shuttle bus service finishing around 7pm, there is not a lot of nightlife, so you don’t tend to venture far from home in the evening.
Prince Hotels have their own shuttle to Ichinose, and between the different Prince buildings, that goes till 10pm.
You don’t need to go far to discover a burgeoning number of smaller restaurants and bars with great vibes, succulent cuisine and flavour filled beverages opening along the valley that are favoured by the younger locals and the small number of westerners that visit the area.
My favourites in the Ichinose area are the traditional Izakaya in the Hotel Dairoku for tasty yakatori, the authentic Kamoshika Nepalese restaurant with a real tandoor oven at Hotel Japan Shiga, Restaurant 101 in Villa Ichinose serving the best gyoza, and the Teppa Room in Chalet Shiga, a very cool bar serving local brews.
To go upmarket try the French cuisine at Prince Hotel East.
Shiga Kogen Yakebitaiyama
• Summit 2009m, base 1659m, max vertical 450m
• 7.3m plus snowfall
• 14 courses longest 2.5km; terrain 35% beginner, 35% intermediate, 30% advanced/expert
• Good park with express lift for fast laps
• 5 lifts including 2 gondolas, 3 express quads
• Lift pass rates day adult ¥5000 senior ¥4200, child to 12 years FREE
Shiga Kogen All Area Stats
• Summit 2307m, max vertical 963m (notcontinuous)
• 8m plus snowfall
• 81 courses longest 6km; terrain 46% beginner, 40% intermediate, 14% advanced/expert
• Best park is at Yakebitaiyama
• 55 lifts including 1 ropeway, 4 gondolas, 14 quads
• Lift pass rates day adult ¥5,000 senior ¥4200, child (6-13) ¥2500
Where is Shiga Kogen?
Take an Asama or Kagayaki & Hakutaka shinkansen to Nagano (90 – 100mins) from Tokyo; then Nagaden Express bus to resort (@ 80 mins) from Nagano Station East Exit.
More info & Package deals
Check Prince Snow Resorts here
Major Japan snow tour operators like www.deeppowdertours.com offer great earlybird deals and packages
More Prince Resorts ski in/ski out options – for something special combine Shiga Kogen with Manza and do the day tour ski over from the far end of Shiga; the guides will send your bags around while you do the ski trip across between them. Those not up to the ski tour can go round with the guides – which takes a few hours. Book via the links on the Prince Resorts website.