Nekoma is a north facing powder sweet spot on the quiet, cold, deep backside of mighty Bandai-zan in the heart of the beautiful Aizu Region. Like neighbours (they inter-connect via a 15 minute hike) Alts Bandai on the south side of the mountain, Nekoma is owned by Hoshino Resorts and skiable on an Alts Bandai ticket. If you are not up to the hike, or the access is closed off for avalanche danger as happens quite often, then a free shuttle bus runs around the base of the mountain to link them. This takes an hour or so, and if oyu are lucky gives you the chance to see snow monkeys playing in the trees along the way.
They are very different ski resorts. Alts is busy, modern, with good lifts and ski in ski out hotel accommodation at the base.
Nekoma is quiet, old, with a few double chairs, and just a basic day lodge at the base. Which is great – the quieter Nekoma is the better with snow and terrain, especially nice tree lines, to make the most of it.
When we visited it was very quiet indeed. Our mixed ability level crew weren’t up for the hike over from Alts Bandai, and the continuing snow fall had shut the entry area at Nekoma for avalanche danger anyway. So we bussed it around, after a minor delay while the driver thawed out the ski locker on the side of the bus with a giant kettle of boiling water. Yep, it was bloddy cold!
After the pretty drive down past a couple of little towns aroud the south east side of Mt Bandai then up through a forest full of snow monkeys, we pulled in at the deserted Nekoma base. Hidden away on Bandaisan’s north face, Nekoma is colder, and gets more snow that stays better longer than at Alts and the other resorts on the southern face.
How much more snow Nekoma gets became obvious on our first chairlift ride up a short double chair with a great little rollover line untouched beneath us as we rode up.
“Can we do that?” I asked our host. He nodded, and not for the first or last time on this trip SNOWACTION got first shot at first tracks.
Apart from our little group a handful of local boarders were more intent on the little park than the powder.
It was seriously cold, and after a just couple of runs on the powder-topped groomers with our cruiser skiers they had had enough and went in for an early lunch.
We headed off to find some of Nekoma’s famous tree lines. There are plenty of those, even this day with the top lift shut for avalanche danger, and we got our fill of nicely spaced beech forest lines at a decent pitch.
On the downside, the runs are short, and the lift layout is not the best. On skis you have to skate up ramps to some lifts, and on a board you’ll be clipped out and walking quite a lot.
The camera doesn’t lie, this is what we got on the day, and plenty of it. A few more skiers and riders arrived as the day wore on, but we were still finding fresh lines until the cold finally got the better of us.
Considering 30% or so of the ski area was shut that’s not bad. Even when it’s 100% open the vertical at Nekoma is only 311m. So sure, you wouldn’t spend a week here. But for a day or two it is well worth it.
I would love to get back when the Alts Bandai connection option is open, as on a powder day you could do a few lines in Alts and still head over for more at Nekoma. Or when it’s getting warmer you will likely still find nice powder at Nekoma.
Spring arrives early in this region. On our previous trip in March it was really getting too late already, especially for the south facing areas. Best to go late December to mid-February, though Nekoma will hold up longer.
Bandai-san is home to 6 ski areas loosely ringing the active volcano, and 7 more in the surrounding Aizu area, so there’s plenty of choice.
To stay Alts Bandai and Grandeco are the best by far.
A great way to ski the best of Aizu is with local expert guides like Riki Nakajima.