Shizukuishi is Japan’s Prince of Powder. So much snow, so few people! And great ski in/ski out value from the Shizukuishi Prince Resort Hotel. If you are looking for new Japowder options it’s a great addition to any trip heading north in Honshu. Shizukuishi combines easily with Appi, Geto Kogen, or Hakkoda for example using a JREast Rail Pass. Ride the Tohoku shinkansen to Morioka – just 140 minutes – then hop on the Shizukuishi Resort shuttle bus, that is free for guests. Or come down from Hokkaido on the shinkansen from Hakodate – it’s only 2 hours to Morioka. How amazing are Japanese trains?
Prince Hotels have some great ski resorts in Japan. That includes the big famous ones like Naeba and Furano, and the Nagano Olympic’s venue of Shiga Kogen. But Shizukuishi ranks right up there with the best of them. Shizukuishi is an almost secret stash resort, where you can still lap fresh snow off the lifts in the trees up the top. They get Iwate Prefecture’s specialty, north Honshu ‘Aspirin Powder’, made famous by nearby Appi.
All that with ski in/ski out convenience. Works for us!
We made the short 73 minute (yep, exactly 73 minutes, that’s Japanese trains for you) trip down from Aomori to Morioka on the Hayabusa shinkansen, Japan’s fastest traiin – it reaches 328kph! Then we hopped on the free Prince Hotels resort bus up to Shizukuishi. You travel through fertile farmland and little rural towns before climbing gently into the heavily forested ranges dominated by Mt Iwate.
Shizukuishi is another single hotel resort, that has been off the radar pretty much since the 1993 FIS World Alpine Championships, which left it with a legacy of a full Downhill Course that’s now accessed only by snowcat several days a week as a special Sunrise Cat Ski Tour. More on that later.
After a quick buffet lunch pizza I was keen to get out there as snow was falling steadily, as it had been since we arrived at Morioka station. At the small ropeway (tram for our American readers) next to the hotel I sat and waited, the only skier at the tram on a powder day. Can’t think of anywhere else that has ever happened to me.
No one else got on, just me heading up to discover where Shizu was best. Actually that’s partly because the ropeway is not really a ski back to lift, without a long detour down the Panoramic Course back past the hotel. It connects to a double chair, from which you can access the far side hooded quad, or ride another double chair to the summit of lifts at 1126m.
Old lift towers head higher up, and long retired lift infrastructure is scattered aroud, the actual lift served area at Shizukuishi has shrunk maybe 30% or so since the boom years. Which turns out to be a bonus when you go explore it, as I found next day.
The first afternoon I cruised around finding a bit of stickier powder untracked on the edges of runs. Tempted up top I almost got caught in a gully just 20 metres off the traverse trail to the groomed course, after ducking into trees thinking I could see the line. Ooops, dumb mistake, even in such an apparently visble area. After getting out of that I kept to the main runs, which were virtually deserted.
In fact I didn’t share a lift with anyone all afternoon, it’s that quiet.
Shizukuishi Prince has a great heritage listed indoor/outdoor onsen, Takakura Onsen. It’s complete with a carp pool just outside. After a recovery session soak it was time for the included buffet dinner. This is typically generous, with a big selection of Japanese, Chinese, and western dishes to choose from. Even piles of crabs legs, yum! Over dinner we met a handful of fellow Aussies, several of whom had got onto Shizukuishi from reading our feature on it last year.
Their verdict? We didn’t lie! They were happy and looking forward to tomorrow, with more and drier snow the overnight forecast.
Like clockwork, the forecast delivered exactly that. So with local talent Mikoto Mikawa as my guide we didn’t waste any time heading up to the top lift.
Even on this fresh powder morning the tram was still only half full, with 20 or so people, and we were among the first to reach the top double chair. The trees looked perfect as we rode up it, but hey, with no one around there was time for a couple of laps on the open top sections of the main runs.
A few of those and it was time to hit the pretty perfectly spaced trees, looking out for features Mikoto could air off. That kept us occupied for several more laps, and still no one else appeared to share them with us.
We were supposed to skin up to the old Shizukuishi summit after lunch, but as Mikoto had forgotten his skins we didn’t go far. I felt sorry for him wading up the track I set. We did get high enough to get a good taste for the old courses, where straggly, scrubby regrowth doesn’t get too much in the way of nice clean powder lines, that no one had touched all day. You don’t even have to hike for these, just detour skier’s right from the Giant Slalom Course.
Shizukuishi dining and hotel experience
We went back down to catch up with Mrs SA, who had been cruising the groomer outside the hotel, for a late lunch, and still found untouched snow right above the base.
First stop was another visit to the awesome Shizukuishi Takakura Onsen indoor/outdoor hot spring.
A great day like this called for celebration, so I overcame my inner thrifty Welshman genes and lashed out on the ¥1,000 per person upgrade from the included package buffet dinner to Shizukuishi’s Kobushi French restaurant. It was one of the best meals we have eaten in Japan.
The overall value at Shizukuishi is fantastic, and for couples, groups of friends, or families, it’s another must try it option. Kids to 12 ski free, as at all Prince areas. Young adult party animals won’t like the non-existent nightlife, but the usual fallback of a few beers or wines after meals works for those saving their strength for another pow session next day.
For me that meant the Shizukuishi Sunrise Cat Ski Tour to the old FIS Downhill Course, which is actually on the next mountain over. Rusting snowmaking machines dot the sides of the run, the old gondola base looks little worse than many that still function, yet it’s all idle and abandoned now. But the run is maintained and regrowth kept down, so you get a nice clean shot. It’s surprisingly cruisy, with boot to knee deep powder all the way to just above the finish line, so we got into a nice bouncy rhythm. Any intermediate skier could do it, so don’t let the Downhill Course bit scare you off.
Then after breakfast I headed out with Mrs SA for some morning cruising before our next train ride south that afternoon. For the first time in 3 ski days at Shizukuishi we met a crowd – lots of local school kids were on the tram and making a long queue on the double chair above it. But their teacher happily waved us to go past them. Above that it was back to normal, almost nobody on either the runs or the lifts.
Japan just keeps on surprising us with experiences like this. Resorts like Shizukuishi are super easy to add to an itinerary, either self drive or rail pass accessed. Clip a few of these northern Honshu areas together for 3 – 4 nights each and you get a really varied experience, without the crowds. A few Aussies are finding them, but we met no Europeans. Yet.
The surrounding area is pretty wild, even by Japanese standards, with 40 volcanoes in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. There are geothermal geysers and mud baths as well as great onsen to visit. Overall it adds up to make one of Japan’s best smaller resort options.
Getting to Shizukuishi
From Tokyo take Tohoku shinkansen to Morioka 140 mins, then Prince bus to resort 50 mins, free with accommodation booking if booked more than a day in advance; or take the Akita shinkansen to Shizukuishi, 160 minutes & 20 minutes bus or taxi to the resort.
From the north Aomori to Morioka is 73 minutes by Hyabusa shinkansen, or just under 2 hours from Hakodate in Hokkaido.
Or fly into Sendai Airport, 17 minutes train to Sendai, 45 mins shinkansen to Morioka & bus as above.
Shizukuishi Resort Prince Hotels
If you are traveling on a super tight budget you could stay down in Shizukuishi town and taxi or self-drive up and down, but for most people the convenience and great value at the Prince makes it the best option.
Shizukuishi Mountain stats
Top of lifts 1126m
Courses 11 (40% beginner/40% intermediate/40% expert)
Plus you can easily access old run areas
Just 22 minutes down the shinkansen line from Morioka, hop off at Kitakami and check out Geto KogenAppi.