Geto Kogen mountain boss Sadahide Sugawara says this absolute gem of a place is Japan’s ‘King of Snow’. And in a very slow start to Japow season in 2019-2020 that’s truer than ever!
Why? Because Geto Kogen often gets more snow than anywhere in Honshu. To prove it he took me for for a few laps on the gondola into their tree powder zones before they opened for the public.
Sold! All hail Geto Kogen King of Snow I reckon.. story & pictures Owain Price
In fact we loved Geto Kogen so much, and the attitude of Hide and his team, that he was a no brainer for Snow Action’s 2017 Japan Ski Boss of the Year. Not just because we got on the gondola first! That was the bonus. Hide has been on the case opening up Geto’s sensational tree run courses for a few years now, and he is a hands on boss. For example, the staff bus driver was sick that day, so guess who was driving the last bus down, the boss. That’s personal service and commitment, and the rest of the staff obviously appreciated him on the drive back down through the almost inevitable blizzard. Does it ever stop snowing at Geto Kogen?
Not while we were in the ‘hood! It started snowing as we rode up from Kitakami shinkansen station, just a short 22 minute hop down the line from Morioka, after a morning skiing at Shizukuishi. It didn’t stop for long overnight, and snowed all next day.
Hide has a theory on that, apparently the ranges are narrower here than pretty much anywhere along the mountainous spine of Honshu. So instead of getting spread over multiple ranges the snow fall gets concentrated at Geto Kogen into an almost constant wintery assault.
Which would explain the construction, the base lodge looks like an Antarctic or moon base type structure, built to withstand the worst Mrs Nature decides to throw at it.
Geto Kogen is not high, topping out at just 1064m. Geto Kogen is not huge, with a modest 424m vertical. But it sure delivers on the snow front, offering pow day after pow day in winter.
A big day in Iwate
Geto’s free bus from Kitakami station to the resort goes past the Semi Onsen entrance, so after a short 150m walk through a blanket of fresh snow I joined fellow guests waiting for the bus. These were all Aussies, some of whom had read about it in SNOWACTION last year. Sorry, you can’t keep something as good as Geto hidden – there were also Canadians from Red Mountain there on a group tour.
The new snow outside was ankle deep at best, but as we got further into the mountains and wound up over a hydro dam the walls of snow beside the road piled up, and the trees were soon thick with fresh stuff.
I was glad to be on a bus, not self-driving like my plumber mate Trev Hendy from Gerringong, who was also staying at Semi Onsen. There’s the committed powder chaser, and those who should be committed. Trev is both boarder and skier, so he was lugging 2 snowboards and a heavy AT rig set of fat skis, 60kg or so of luggage. Mad. Make up your mind son! No wonder he was self-driving, but there is no need – Geto’s free bus, or Semi Onsen’s shuttle service, take the stress out of dealing with so much snow.
When we arrived, hopping off the free bus from Semi Onsen Ryokan a few kilometres down the road and best place to stay in the area, it was dumping and the wind was howling. That meant the gondola to the top was shut, and limited lifts open at the resort, just the short lower double chairs accessing easy runs. Most of the crew either did those, or sat around drinking coffee. But they don’t muck around at Geto Kogen.
Blitzed regularly by such full on weather conditions they are used to them, and well versed in getting accurate weather data to predict how much they can open on any given day. Today the forecast was for the wind to drop in a couple of hours, so the groomers were working to set the trails off the top gondola. Hide informed me they would likely open it to the public around lunchtime, after they finished grooming the courses off it, with the wind forecast to ease off.
Then he said, “But we can go up now while they do that.”
After consulting with patrol, Hide came back and told me to gear up – we were good to go to get on the gondola on a private mission, while the runs were being prepared for public use.
Most days I like my job, today was one of those where I just love it. It doesn’t get better than repeat first shots at a ridiculous amount of snow. The well designed powder courses at Geto Kogen cover a range from easy, with open glades, to steeper and tighter. Most of the 424m vertical available in some of them before you need to run out to the bottom.
Each course has the get out lines marked with green and red ribbons on the trees – stay right of green, left of red (remember all the arrows are red, they point the right way). Don’t go past those or you’ll be in for a long wade out or worse. The only disadvantage of being first for the day was we had to make the cut lines out. Since I am taller with more ski volume underfoot than Hide I ended up doing most of the hard-yards stepping when necessary to set those. When it is all open you have to watch out for people bombing the cutout tracks at speed, especially boarders, who don’t want to get stuck like christmas beetles if they stop on the last flat bit.
Somewhere near the top on one lap I stopped below a tree to get a shot of Hide coming over a roller and whoosh, a slab of light snow up to around my waist let go and slid 20 metres down into the gully. I was thankful I was on skis, not a board, as tipping over into it you would not be getting out in a hurry, or ever, if you didn’t have ski buddies close by. They do some avi control and checking in the courses Hide explained, but you’ve got to be alert to conditions. Seemingly tiny little slough-offs can bury someone in a couple of metres with this much snow. Ski with a friend, and always buddy up in the tree zones.
Geto Kogen facilities
Hide made a great ski buddy; even after the gondola opened for the by now desperate-to-get-at-it punters we kept finding clean lines. One large guided group, some of whom we had met over dinner the previous night, were standing around at the top of an area when we scooted past with a wave. That’s the problem with being in guided groups, the larger it is the more it slows down, and you often miss out. One friend who is as on the pace as you are is all you need here, and the Boss was my ski friend for the day.
Finally at 3pm he had to go back to the office, and I was pretty well stuffed. It was cold – it had stayed socked in and snowing on and off all day – so I hauled in too, and went for a road test of Geto’s facilities.
The Camp 88 lodge is next to a great indoor/outdoor onsen, has a cheap restaurant, vending machines, big lockers, and boasts a chill room with big lie flat lounges looking out of floor-to-ceiling windows. Grabbing a beer from the machine I chilled here after my onsen while waiting for last bus time to roll around. Hide was driving that, which is mainly the staff bus, as the regular driver had called in sick. It’s less than an hour to Kitakami, where you can stay in cheap hotels and sample the small city life on a budget.
It was dark by the time he dropped me off at the Semi Onsen entrance. Snow still fell gently as I walked up the road to the welcoming lights. Silent night snow falls never lose their magic. I was tired but stoked, my powder mission accomplished – 22 nights in Japan, 17 days skied, 10 resorts visited, 3 cat ski operations sampled, numerous lines skinned up. Nearly all of those days I got some powder, it was knee deep or better on at least 12 days, and just too many all-time moments to remember.
I arrived in time for the included Japanese dinner, featuring local cuisine, then kicked back with several rehydrating ales to discuss the day. My perfect day had been a bit more frustrating for Trev and the rest of the Aussies, who had to wait until lunchtime to get started. But they all got in enough to be equally buggered. Can’t ask for more than that.
How do you get to Geto Kogen
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Kitakami, 2.5 hrs from Tokyo, then free 50 minute shuttle bus to resort. If you miss the free buses a taxi is around ¥8,000. Buses run from the station 7.40, 9.10 & 15.40 weekdays, plus a 10.40 service weekends. Heading south, Kitakami is 17 minutes past Morioka by shinkansen. Or for self drive to Geto Kogen Kitakami is only 17km off the Akita freeway.
You can also fly ANA to Hanamaki (HNA) regional airport from New Chitose or Osaka
Geto Kogen accommodation options
Right at the base of Geto Kogen Geto Camp88 is only ¥5,900 a night midweek for a bunk. It has to be the best on snow backpacker accommodation in Japan.
Irihata is the closest accommodation otherwise – it is a great value Japanese style Ryokan 10 minutes drive down the road beside the river below a big dam wall. Enjoy comfortable tatami rooms, spotless share facilities and onsen, and Japanese style breakfasts and dinners – the friendly chef didn’t mind me heating up my cold poached egg. They run a free shuttle service to resort at set times.
Semi Onsen Ryokan is a delightful traditional Japanese style Ryokan with a range of standard to deluxe tatami rooms, some complete with private onsen, and an inclusive Japanese menu or casual dining. From ¥12,000 pp with dinner & breakfast & shuttle the 15-20 minutes to the resort.
Or stay in Kitakami town with hotels from ¥4,500 per night and ride the free daily Geto Kogen bus from the station – that works out about $USD 75 / $AUD 100 a day with lift pass!
Check the deals belowBooking.com
Geto Kogen resort combinations
It’s super easy to combine with Shizukuishi &/or Appi using rail passes & buses, and not miss a day skiing. Or try the ‘Tohoku Powder Line’ linking Geto with still little known Ani & Tazawako Ski Resorts via JR Rail routes.
It’s also a good next stop up the line from skiing the Aizu region at resorts like Alts Bandai and Grandeco.
Geto Kogen Mountain Stats
• Summit 1064m, base 640m, max vertical 42
• 15m plus snowfall, not measured accurately at top
• 15 courses and 4 tree run areas, longest 2.1km; terrain 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 40% advanced/expert
• Nice park with some big booters
• 5 lifts including 2 gondolas & 1 quad
• Lift pass rates Geto Kogen 2017 Day ad ¥4600, snr/stud ¥3700, kids ¥1000/¥2600