Stayed in Japan? Surviving If Not Thriving

Our piece on the plight of western ski lodge owners waiting to get back to Japan struck a chord with many, including those who stayed in Japan throughout. We caught up with some of those for how it was from within..

“There are plenty of places open and still making it work. Time to maybe support the people that stayed behind and tell the positive stories maybe” was a comment from long term (since 2005) Hakuba resident and business owner Nick Kowai.

Indeed it is! Surviving if not thriving sums up some of their situations.

We chased Nick (who we featured back in 2010, early in the Hakuba boom) for an update.

Flying high over Hakuba in the covid ski season of 2021
Flying high in the 2021 season © Nick Kowai /

“We actually don’t accept bookings from overseas at the moment. If people book from overseas we just cancel the booking, for example if through” says Kowia. “Our lodge is not open. We have quite a few rental cottages that we run, it is our main business now. I think rental units like this are probably the way forward. The Lodge still works for certain demographics but we were too busy last season to even consider opening a lodge. Last year we did 70 to 90 nights in every unit. Of course rates were lower to fit the japanese and expat budgets. This seasons sales are strong for early season as well at normal rates.”

So for his Hakuba Powder Lodging business it was down on a normal year, but by no means a disaster.

“It was quiet but weekends were packed” says Kowai. “Of course covid made the lift lines worse, but the parking on weekends was insane.”

“My friend runs a japan guide business and they made the same money as previously. Because many expat reataurants were closed the places left open could still make enough to survive” he adds.

If you were a tradie with building skills you would be cashing it now as everyone gets ready for re-opening.

“You cant get a carpenter to do anything right now they are so busy. Any tourist that stayed with a handy man skill is swinging a hammer.”

We asked if he made the most of the good snow last winter.

“The snow was great December through March 1st, after that it didn’t snow much. I mostly skied bc, but weekday sking was great for sure. “

“People that are here are happy but the hotel business is rough. The ski schools have taken a huge hit.”

“High overhead businesses are in trouble but the government has given loans that can be deferred for 3 years. So most people are hanging in there.”

“There are positives in Japan. We were never locked down. Our summer rentals were great and our kids were always at school or online for 2 weeks or a week at a time if things went bad.”

We hope for everyone there and all those planning to go back as soon as we can that it goes well.

weekend lift queue at Hakuba 2021 ski season
Weekend line up 2021 season © Nick Kowai /

Over at much smaller Madarao it was a quiet summer for Peter Hillman from Action Snow Sports and the Drop Off Bar there. But he adapted, and is gearing up for a bigger winter with several new options for clients.

“There is a bit of pent up excitement in the wind judging by the number of email inquiries I’ve been getting, so we’re getting set up for the Aussies coming back and hopefully that happens” he reports.

“I ran the bar through summer under the green season name of ‘Cafe Panini’ for a bit of a change, focusing on delicious Panini, and it did pretty good. Autumn hmmm, not so good and very slow, so I decided to close through the week and just do Friday nights. A few people come but it’s a waste of time.”

“I’m preparing now for opening the Drop Off Bar nightly from the 16th December. We introduced pizza also on the green season menu and both that and panini went off, so you will see these on the new winter menu which will add to our favourites, Thai curries and pasta dishes, which are always a sell out.”

“I have a new Japanese chef who ran his own restaurant for many years in Tokyo. His specialties were Spanish and Thai, so he and I will be alternating the chefing!”

“Ski School is open for bookings already. I have a small quiver of great instructors and some of those are Japanese/English speakers, so really happy with that.”

“We are also have a great connection with a ski and snowboard race hill just over in Kiji and its only 30 minutes away. So watch out for kids and adults race clinics.”

For health reasons Harro’s Snowsports in Furano will not be opening this coming season – our best wishes go out to David ‘Harro’ Harrison and family – so Hillman and Nora Buckley from Chalet Madarao will be offering some awesome rental skis, including plenty of Kastles and DPS, which they have driven down from Furano ahead of the season. So no more need to take your own.

Some boots are available too, but most international arrivals will bring their own. Over the years we have done some great trips on great skis like the BMX 105 and FX 96 – getting them delivered to wherever we ski first in Japan then using Black Cat delivery to send them back to Harros.

So while there’s no cause for celebrations yet, things are looking more positive for those who stayed on to run their Japan snow businesses through covid. Surely they can’t get worse! Bring on opening and support them if you get back up there..

ski rentals Madarao
Top quality ski rental now available in Madarao © Action Snow Sports