Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Resort is still not so well known – COVID travel restrictions put a dent in its growing popularity – but if you love Japow, especially old growth tree skiing, then it is one of the best. And the good news is it getting even better now that Hoshino Resorts have taken over.
It is so good, in fact, that if I had to choose only one ski lift in Japan to ride for the rest of my skiing days the Tanigawadake gondola would likely be top of my list. It’s a great lift, among the most modern and best in Japan also – a dual cable beast featuring 16 passenger cabins. But the terrain and snow are why I would choose it, not the quality of the lift itself.
Now it’s part of the mighty family-owned Hoshino Resorts Group. Fourth generation CEO Yoshiharu Hoshino is a total ski enthusiast, especially of back country skiing. He realises the potential of the terrain and the snow quality here. He told Snow Action recently that under the previous owners the Tanigawadake ropeway made money through the beautiful spring, summer and autumn seasons, but winter was an afterthought for them. They just didn’t get it.
Not anymore! The company has been working hard to put in a new summer access road, which is essential to updating the infrastructure in the upper bowl above the ropeway. Once that is complete over this summer they can move forward to improve facilities.
They will also re-open the excellent 4km Tajirizawa course back to the base already for the 2023-2024 ski season, so you won’t have to head out the gates to go top-to-bottom.
In the upper bowl above the ropeway three short pair chairlifts also supply virtually the total terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers at Tanigawadake Tenjindaira. It’s a gorgeous little rolling bowl, with a handful of groomed runs and cruisy open powder lines that are perfect for novice powder skiers and riders to get their ‘Japow’ act together on.
The bowl features just under 200m vertical off the longest double chair, on top of the 573m vert you get off the gondola – or a healthy 756m vert without hiking any higher.
The views to the higher alpine ridge lines of Mt Tanigawa above and beyond the ski area boundary are spectacular, and it is out the gates that the real adventures begin. And, of course, the consequent dangers are found. The top altitude is only around the same as the top of the lifts at Hakuba’s Happo-One, 1850m, but it is as impressive as the highest ranges above the lifts in Hakuba, or anywhere in Japan for that matter. You may need a few visits to actually see the views – we did, but the trees are so
The back and side country accessed from Tanigawadake Tenjindeira Ski Resort is quite simply pretty much as good as it gets in Japan. The tree skiing is amazing. They get a lot of snow and it’s usually good quality thanks to the altitude and way the ranges work. In the old growth beech forest the snow collects deep and dry, so you can get your fill and more.
Even several refills in our experience lapping with local expert guides. For the best local guides with great knowledge we highly recommend “Minakami Mike” Harriss and his team at Canyons.jp, a year round outdoor/active tourism company that includes a big international snow sports school in winter with branches at Nozawa, Gala Yuzawa and Minakami.
Minakami is the base town for Tenjindaira and a swag of other nearby areas that are mostly far mellower terrain wise, though not necessarily so – like Okutone, the local’s favourite that’s a great alternative if weather and/or avi danger shuts down Tenji.
When exiting the Tanigawadake Ski Resort area use the designated backcountry gates and pay attention to the safety rules as below:
- Exit the resort through the designated gate
- Remember,there are many hidden and uncontrolled hazards in the backcountry
- Some of the areas immediately outside the resort are closed,and must not be entered
- Entering the backcountry requires special preparation and equipment
- Check the latest mountain and avalanche information before entering the backcountry
- Travel in groups that include experienced people
- Those with limited backcountry experience should always use a guide
- Search and rescue activities may require a large amount of time and money
- In case of an emergency,always immediately call the police at 110.
The forested slopes above the upper Tajirizawa A course back to the base are permanently closed. These slopes are not part of the Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Resort. An avalanche occurring on these slopes could seriously injure riders below on the Tajirizawa A Course. This land is administered by the Tone-Numata Forest Management Office, which has declared this a no-entry zone. However, to ensure the safety of skiers on the course below ski resort staff do enter this area to ensure its safety. They have permission from the Tone-Numata Forest Management Office to implement safety measures. Otherwise, access is prohibited and the resort appreciates your understanding of this situation.
This is no big deal since there are plenty of incredible tree lines to be found out the gates where you can ski/ride the backcountry. Anytime you hit lines amid big old beech trees in Japan it is usually awesome. They are so much easier to ski than tight pine trees, and great for definition on typically socked in and snowing days.
Every trip to Tanigawadake we have scored great powder – including waist deep on our last pre-COVID mission. You can pick lines of varying steepness, the steeper the better when it’s deeper.
Hiking further along and up the ridge to the alpine terrain opens up some serious options with serious consequences. Apparently it has killed more people than any other mountain in Japan, mostly not skiers but summer hikers and climbers getting themselves into trouble in the gnarly terrain that is subject to sudden weather changes.
You really want to be skiing or riding here with someone who has a lot of local knowledge. Despite often being hidden in the clouds the mountain remains an ever-present threat, with an avalanche alley that runs right down a gully to the main backcountry lines run-out below the gondola. A big concrete barrier protects the lift tower where that valley joins the run out valley – a reminder to tuck and truck your way past.
Each lap sees you ski out to the road, walk across it, and skate or walk back past the multi storey car park to the ropeway base station for the next run. The big gondola cabins come around every 3 minutes and the ride takes 15 minutes.
The same ski out to the road applies taking the Tajirizawa groomed trail down if you stay in-bounds.
Now Hoshino Resorts are in charge the winter experience at Tanigawidake Tenjindeira ski resort can only improve, and we look forward to experiencing the changes soon.
Access to Tanigawidake Tenjindeira ski resort is fast and easy
Minakami is easy to get to, as little as 66 minutes from Tokyo on the Joetsu shinkansen to Jomo-kogen and 50 minutes bust ride from there. Or take the JR line to Minakami town and it’s a 25 minute bus ride.
Or if driving, from the Kan-etsu Expressway take Exit #15 for National Route 291 toward Minakami/Tanigawadake, then drive about 14km (about 25 minutes).
Where to Stay in Minakami
There is plenty of accommodation in the Minakami area, just down the road and minutes from Tanigawadake Tenjindaira Ski Resort.
Tenjin Lodge the closest, but Minakami has over 150 hotels and ryokans – many with great onsens. Especially midweeks you can often get great deals too. You can book lots of them on the link here with the latest deals here
As yet there are no local Hoshino Resorts, but there may well be in the future.
Resort website www.tanigawadake-rw.com/tenjindaira/en/
Minakami info (English) http://enjoy-minakami.com/en/
Gunma Prefecture Gunma Tourism site
For guiding and lessons check Canyons.jp