Back To Japan? Ski Lodge Owners Wait And Hope

Many western ski lodge owners in Japan are still in limbo, waiting and hoping to open up for the 2021-2022 season that is fast approaching.

From Niseko to Nozawa, Madarao to Myoko, via Hakuba, we checked in with owners of popular lodges for an update on how they are coping, and their thoughts on re-opening.

Many were caught by travel bans and could not even travel to their own properties, missing last winter entirely.

With Australia – or at least NSW and Victoria – allowing outbound international travel again from November things are looking up. But no one expects the big decision on re-opening Japan to tourists to be taken before their elections on 31st October.

Slowlife roof 2021 season © Slowlife Petit Hotel

Last season in Niseko was the bees knees for powder: just like old times, the most snow for several years and the least competition for it. Lucky locals cashed in.

“It cost us over 10k in snow clearing that normally gets done for free by guys I let sleep in the dungeon”

says Chad Johnston, from popular Hirafu lodge Slowlife Petit Hotel.

“We also got 50k of damage to the top roof, but the insurance covered it.”

He is in limbo now.

“I will be waiting till Japan opens boarders before I go back. At least ours are open with no quarantine from November so we can leave.”

Mine host: Chad at the Slowlife bar in normal times © Slowlife

In Hakuba Black Pine Lodge co-owner Gary Grant is hopeful of at least a delayed start.

“I’m planning on going when we can (and can get back again). Plans are to be there for January/February onwards. Not sure Australia can get it’s act together for earlier.”

“We are watching anxiously to see how quickly Australia can ramp up its opening and flights to overseas and the pricing for these. We are also watching closely to what the Japanese will do after the upcoming elections.”

“There has to be a no quarantine arrangement to encourage the travel and it’s going to be interesting to see if they also follow the big US resorts in vaccination requirements etc.”

“We are looking forward and are preparing for a limited opening this coming season. With snow already on the peaks excitement is mounting.”

Check the Black Pine website and socials for updates and bookings when these open.

Black Pine Lodge Hakuba
On the shuttle bus route in Hakuba, Black Pine has been a favourite for many years © Black Pine Lodge

Chalet Madarao owner Nora Buckley returned to Australia just before quarantine in March 2020, and been unable to get back since. She was fortunate being able to get some help from other ex-pat business owners who stayed on in Japan rather than leave and not be able to get back.

Peter Hillman, who runs Madarao’s Action Snow Sports ski school and guiding plus the Drop Off Bar in the village was able to help her out with minor dramas like turning the water off before winter and helping a ex staff member who got stuck in Japan return to Australia.

“We basically just returned to our day jobs here as Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys so we weren’t suffering like other owners who have just lost all their income and still had the ongoing costs there” says Buckley.

She is not optimistic about getting the Madarao lodge and its twin Chalet Myoko back and running for the 2021-2022 winter due to the ongoing uncertainty.

“I can run Chalet Myoko pretty much be myself, but Chalet Madarao is nearly twice the size, we need to have staff in place and until we get the green light to return quarantine free to Japan that will be likely too hard for this winter. We’ll see, a decision would have to come soon to change that.”

Non-permanent resident ex-pats face visa issues too: if their visas have expired since covid started they have to sort that as well.

Chalet Madarao

In nearby Nozawa the super snow season was a quiet one for Mark Baumann’s Nozawa Snow Holidays and associated lodges, who have been the go to option for decades there. No other expats in the area come close to his in-depth knowledge and local experience and network.

“We could have gone back last season but after almost 30 years of endless winters decided to have a summer. The first one for our kids!” he says.

“Our lodges stay open year round and continued to do so. It was pretty quiet, but regular Japanese hikers and bikers and skiers, and expat skiers in winter kept things going.”

The family are heading back soon.

“We are all good to get in and will head back in about 6 weeks. We are getting quite a few enquiries from Aussies already, but it’s a tricky one as borders are still closed for tourists. The election in Japan is on at the end of this month, so lets hope once that settles some decisions are made.”

If it takes a bit longer for Japan to open up remember spring is a great time to visit Nozawa. Like this from mid-March earlier in the year.

March 18, 2021 at Nozawa © Nozawa Snow Holidays