Minowa and Numajiri in Aizu are a couple of off grid Japan secret stashes you have never heard of. Good! Neither have the pow hungry hordes in Hakuba or other areas already overrun. After nearly 30 years covering skiing in Japan we love nothing more than finding new places where we are still often the only westerners on the hill.
Minowa and Numajiri are two more to add to that list. Aizu itself has gained more popularity in recent seasons, as their big guns of Alts Bandai, Grandeco and Nekoma have justifiably been getting more attention as we have been telling you for a few years now.
The area around mighty Bandai-san is a magic mix of mountains, forests and lakes – most of the lakes created by the massive 1888 eruption that blocked numerous rivers and streams with lava flows and lahars. A huge disaster at the time, that killed 477 people, but it has left the magnificent shape of Mt Bandai today. The peak reaches 1816m.
Mt Adatara is just to the east of Bandai, another active volcano, and almost as high at 1715m. One of Japan’s most potent hot springs bubbles out the side of the mountain to form a steaming hot river, the Io, that makes for an amazing excursion from near the top of Numajiri ski area on the lower slopes of Adatara.
It’s certainly the hottest onsen I have ever got into, indoors or outdoors. The flourescent mud is something else! I didn’t cook myself fortunately, and can vouch for the therapeutic effects the locals at Nakanosawa Onsen brag about: all my aches and pains dissapeared and the hike down was a breeze. The access “track” is actually simply the route of the pipe the villagers installed to channel the water down to their ryokans, and the mix of waist deep snow and melted off bits next to the pipe makes for an interesting hike up. You pass a 40m or so high hot waterfall as you follow the pipe route higging the canyon wall. My local companion Shinji tells me you can get down under that in summer – which would be one amazing hot shower!
Numajiri Ski Area
Numajiri claims to be oldest continously running ski area in Japan, since 1915, and have installed the first ski lift back in 1927. Be that as it may, it has certainly remained a peaceful little backwater. A short winding access road up from Nakanosowa Village brings you to the rustic base area at 850m. It doesn’t get more old school than this.
The trail map/course map for the day is updated with a texta on the poster next to the ticket window. A handful of food stalls and vans are scattered around, plus there’s a small restaurant. The barbecued rice balls with miso paste are a carbo-load steal at ￥300 a stick.
Being a weekend there’s a treat for the kids too – a petting zoo with cute rabbits, goats to feed, and a donkey ride.
Around them a 4 year old shredder is doing laps down his first in-run and riding it out with increasing confidence to the edge of the restaurant deck.
The inevitable ageing detachable quad and 4 pair lifts access a range of cruisy slopes up to a respectable 1,220m. Well, normally they do, today’s run and lift report reflects the effects of the mildest winter in decades. Normally Numajiri averages 6m plus snowfall a season. This late February day not much is open, including the short top pair lift that would access the 20% of ‘advanced’ terrain here, and some short but sweet powder shots. The local jibbers have a park of sorts with a couple of rails, a box and a medium size jump set up on the lower chunk of one of the two runs off the top. They were happily hiking and sessioning it for the couple of hours we were off hiking to the onsen river.
So it’s no secret pow paradise that’s for sure. But it is a cute fun place to bring little kids and cruise around with magnificent views back to Bandai-san. You cant get lost and you won’t get cleaned up by crowds.
To stay, one of the nicest mountain lodges in Japan, Numajiri Kogen Lodge founded by the first woman to climb Everest, Junko Tabei, is right at the base of one of the double chairlifts with its own little ticket office a few metres from the front door.
This boutique lodge offers superb locally inspired Japanese cuisine from award winning chef Toshimitsu Kurosawa, a lounge bar with free wine and whisky, and the same onsen water from the hot river spings, but a tad more easily accessed; some rooms boast private onsen tubs.
Alternatively a range of friendly ryokans are down the road in Nakanosawa village. Don’t miss the cake shop in the village – the Tempura Muzu (lightly battered sweet red bean paste buns, the Japanese donut) are the best aprés snack ever.
Lift passes are cheap anyway. A 5 hour pass at ￥3,700 adults ￥2,700 school kids or over 50s is all you need. Check for deals – Tuesdays and Wednesdays are ladies’ and mens’ days respectively, with full day passes only ￥2,000 then. That is pretty off grid pricing!
With the special Nakanosawa area 3 night/3 ski day package you can ski at Minowa and Numajiri, or also Grandeco and Nekoma which are both only 40 minutes or so drive away.
Nakanosawa Onsen special 3 day ski package deal
There is a special package deal for 3 nights/3 ski days from Sunday – Friday from 5 Jan to 22 March (except holiday dates 12 Jan, 23 Feb & 20 Mar) between including:
- 3 nights accommodation ( 1 dinner and 3 breakfasts included)
- 3 days lift pass valid at Grandeco, Nekoma, Alts Bandai & Numajiri Ski Area
- Return transport from Inawashiro Dai JR station to/from hotel
$AUD 520 pp twin or more share (consumption tax & bath tax included) at
- Hanamiya Ryokan
- Bandai Nishimuraya Ryokan
- Hirasawaya Ryokan
- Shirokiya Ryokan
- Ohsakaya Ryokan
$AUD 695 pp twin or more share at Numajiri Kogen Lodge (consumption & bath tax included)
Book this special package deal with Japan Snow Holidays
Minowa Ski Area
Minowa is only 15 minutes drive from Nakanosawa, tucked in beneath a spur of Mt Adatara. Now this is getting into serious secret stash territory – this is one of those little mountains that ski bigger than they appear from the trail map, with some nice gradients on and off trail to enjoy. The sight of snow monsters at the top, albeit pretty small ones, is a good indication it gets decent snowfall. And that it can get cold. They average 8m snow a season, or 2m more than Numajira.
Plus they have 80% snowmaking coverage on the main slopes, so even in this mild winter they had good cover.
Minowa has allowed at your own risk access to the closer back and sidecountry recently, for some sweet tree lines like off skier’s right above and beside the top double chairlift. The north facing lines here were still offering fresh tracks a couple of days after the last top up fall.
The double and 2 quads, the longer one hooded are the total lifts, so there’s always the chance of crowds if you hit a weekend or event type day. That is more likely early and late season when Minowa may be the only area open for the Fukushima locals. The 1050m base is high for the region.
But midweeks you should mostly be OK. I lost patience with the queue on the double chair to the top (guys, it’s a 2 seater, so if you don’t want to hop on with that person on their own in front then I will ..). Applying that approach I didn’t wait long even on Saturday.
34° is the claimed maximum pitch on the groomers, it felt like more. Maybe that was the Kastle effect, checking out the FX HP96s I was having plenty of fun bombing groomers with lovely local instructor Lisa. The little ski school has some instructors with enough English to get by, and to put your kids in a class if you need to. The top to bottom vertical of 450m is enough to work up some speed on, though the best of that is what you get off the top double lift.
Hitting the area with a local guide who knows the backcountry would be handy. In good weather it’s pretty obvious, but snow-monster making winds and socked in would not be fun and could see you seriously lost in no time. Hitting the closer tree-lines so you know them well enough is a good fall back position, with a buddy or two of course. Setting a run out track and working back inside it for a few laps would take several hours, with more shots to be had off the sides of the runs.
Off the top of the hooded quad there are some nice glades that are fun to get into without much competition. While it’s snowing the more southerly aspect lines stay good too cutting back to the double chair/ET quad side.
Intermediates get a long cruise under the hooded quad, with some windier roads providing up to a 3.2km easy trail down. Minowa would make a decent place to learn to ski too, with good progressive terrain. It boasts similar snow conditions to Grandeco, but while smaller facility and area wise, it’s steeper. With some fresh snow a couple of days here is a lot of fun. Explore a bit and you shouldn’t get bored.
Like Grandeco, Minowa also boasts a sumptous hotel at the base, the Hotel de Premiere Minowa. It’s very sumptous if you stay in the Imperial Suite – we didn’t, but they took us to see it. The ‘standard’ rooms are like suites most places, and the whole building more like some luxury cruise liner than a typical boxy resort hotel. Not too shabby as they say. A couple of nights deluxe ski in/ski out here would be very nice. Daytrippers get good restaurants, free carparking and easy access.
The resort’s official site is here.
Where are Numajiri and Minowa?
Numajiri and Minowa are easily accessed via Koriyama or Fukushima using shinkansen services to either city.
For Numajiri: from Koriyama continue on the Banetsu JR line to Inawashiro. Aizu bus services run from the station, around 30 minutes/15 km drive from Nakanosawa, or get a taxi. Participating ryokan/hotels will include return transport from the station with the 3 day special ski package above. Numajiri Kogen Lodge is ski in/ski out at the base, for others it’s only 2-3km up the road.
You can use a JR East Tohoku Rail Pass to visit the area then continue further north as detailed in our JR Pass itinerary ideas feature.
For Minowa it’s only 33km from Fukushima station, around 1 hour, with bus services available, or 22km from Inawashiro station.
Self driving is easy here on mostly empty roads. Take the Inawashiro Bandai Kogen IC off the Banetsu Expressway to Route 115, it’s 15km to Nakanosawa Onsen and just under 3km more to Numajiri Ski Resort, or 11km more to Minowa.
Route 115 continues past Minowa to Fukushima if starting/finishing there.
An Express Bus service runs from Haneda and Tokyo Station times as below:
8:00 Haneda International Terminal →8:50 Tokyo station Kajiyabashi parking →13:05 Hotel Listel Inawashiro →13:35 Active Resort Ura bandai →13:37 Goshiki Numa Entrance→13:43 Geihinkan Nekoma Rikyu→13:45 Ura Bandai Lake Resort→13:50 Ura Bandai Kogen Station