Tazawako is still unknown to mainstream international ski visitors to Japan. But the World’s best mogul skiers have been coming here for years thanks to the annual World Cup mogul comps. Their latest poster featured Aussie star Britt Cox on the podium again at the 2018 edition, which had happened a few weeks before we arrived in early March.
The moguls course still sat above the base. But we hadn’t travelled up from Sendai – a great city to stopover in between different ski areas – on the little Akita Shinkansen (adapted to run both on shinkansen and normal train tracks) to come and ski bumps!
Tazawako CAT Tour
No problem, our wonder guide and driver from Geto Kogen, Kuge-san, had lined up the Tazawako CAT Tour catski operation for our arrival day.
Somewhere crossing over the ranges on the train from Iwate to Akita Prefectures the clouds had parted. By the time we got from tiny Tazawako station the short 6km up to the ski hill it was a bluebird day. That gave us a great view of Mount Akita-Komagatake, an active stratovolcano rising to 1637m, the highest mountain in the prefecture. The top 400m or so is alpine terrain, tree less either from volcanic activity or just being above the tree line. The alpine terrain is accessible hiking, either from the summit of the Tazawako ski area lifts, at 1186m on the main resort side, or from the top of the CAT Tour ski road.
The cat goes up 8km to the 8th Station of the summer road crossing over the mountain, that is buried under several metres of snow in winter. This is just on the edge of the treeline, and from here it’s possible to skin up to the summit bowls. From there you can ski traverse back across the mountain and drop down to the main resort slopes. That is an option best doable with local guides – there are plenty of hazards and exposed icy sections. Kamagatake gets slammed with weather, and if it socks in and you don’t know the terrain you will be deep in the proverbial.
The bowls rising above where the cat drops you are pretty mellow though, and this sunny day had bought out some happy local skinners hauling up the whole way.
You can pay for guiding on the CAT Tour, or just pay for the cat ride and make your own way down. This is easy enough, as any intermediate skier can simply follow the road itself for a long, scenic cruising run.
We didn’t have time left for hiking, tempting as that looked, and so took the soft, and softer snow option, of dropping back beside the road.
Off both sides there are some sweet gully lines through nicely spaced beech forest, with great snow in the shadier and more sheltered northerly aspects. Too great in fact; soon, despite our best intentions to keep the road close, we got lured into some extra tasty gullies and suddenly found we were a couple of deepish gullies away from the road already.
Apparently you will eventually come out at the hotels around the mountain from the base of the ski area continuing in these. But blindly following gullies is pretty stupid, so we opted to cut back out to the main road trail before we got too far into the gullies.
Unguided the cat ride costs just ¥3500, or guided ¥9500 per person for 2 or more. With more time it would great to take the cat up, then skin/split-board higher to enjoy the amazing views over Lake Tazawa all the way to the Sea of Japan and distant peaks. Doing the cut back over to above the resort and down there would also be a lot of fun.
Tazawako Ski Area
Tazawako Ski Area itself has spectacular lake views, and a nice mix of runs for all levels of cruising from beginner to expert. The base has a big restaurant and hire facility, and is obviously built to cater for a crowd, but there were no liftlines when we swung by midweek in March. It’s popular for race training apart from the strong freestyle element. A decent 608m vertical off the lifts lets you stretch the legs.
Most of the in-bounds trees have been cleared to create wide open courses, but there are a few little shots to explore. Get here early on a pow day and you will definitely get some good lines, especially off the little double chair to the top – Ginrei Lift #3.
Heading further out through the gate here requires filling out a Back Country Area Pass Request Form – which can be done online (see info links opposite) or at the base information centre. Local guides with enough English to get by are available; the terrain is spectacular, but with plenty of dangers, so a local guide who has seen the season evolve and knows the snow pack is the best insurance policy.
The season kicks on into April – we were there mid-March and it was still good, corn snow in April would be a lot of fun too.
Tazawako is very good for beginners too, or families with little kids – there are decent long, uncrowded green runs off both of the quad chairs. Local kid racers were out in force during our visit.
Apart from the Mogul World Cups and occasional van tour groups there are still very few western skiers and boarders here.
How do you get to Tazawako?
Take the Akita shinkansen to Tazawako, which is just under 3 hours from Tokyo, or 29 mins from Morioka for connections; it is only 6km to Tazawako ski area from the shinkansen station in shuttle or taxi.
Driving: 49 km from Morioka-minami I.C.(exit) off Tohoku Expressway (1hr). Route 46 for Akita; right on Route 341 for Lake Tazawa; right onto Route 194, 5km up the plateau.
Or fly to Akita from Haneda or New Chitose & get the Akita Airport Liner pre-book taxi.
Rental cars Nippon Rent-A-Car
Accommodation in Tazawako
This is a year round tourist region with plenty of onsen hotels in the area, including a cluster of them at Tazawako Plateau Hot Spring Resort just 2km from the slopes near the CAT Tour ski start.
But for awesome value ski in/ski out we stayed slopeside at the Tazawako Sports Centre. This is sort of hostel style, with make your own bed private rooms (another guest saw our confusion and showed us how to do it picking your sheets up from the neat stack), super clean share bathrooms, onsen, and simple but hearty meals included. There’s a sports hall with ping pong tables.
Book at www.tazawako-sports.com
Tazawako info and guides
Tohoku Powder Line – Tazawako
Tazawako is the middle stop on this 3 resort classic Japow tour.
For Geto Kogen check our feature here.
For Ani Ski Resort check our feature here.
Tazawako is also easily combined with Shizukuishi just back up the shinkansen line (The Prince Resorts shuttle runs from Morioka station, not Shizukuishi so get off there)
Tazawako ski area location map