We sat down with Andrew Lea of SnowJapan.com for a little Q&A and to get his thoughts on the snow and slopes. Here’s what he had to say…
Why did you start SnowJapan?
Since I arrived in Japan I thought that with so many great ski areas, it was a real shame that there wasn’t any information available in English. So during my fourth year as an AET I put together a printed guide called “Ski Niigata”.
The booklet was a 64 page guide to the resorts in the Yuzawa and Myoko areas of Niigata prefecture that I had been to. It consisted of some general information about the ski resorts in the area, some travel information and a page with a review of each of the ski resorts in the region.
That guide was distributed to more than 200 AETs and other foreigners living in Niigata at that time.
The response was very positive and it was reprinted the year after, with the Niigata Prefectural Office helping with distribution.
I didn’t know at the time, but I suppose that was the first step.
What information do you provide? What else can be found on the site besides information?
While there is a lot of information on the site that is always being added to, there is also a very active and friendly community that has grown up over the last 6 or 7 years. The main focus of that community is our Forums: http://www.snowjapanforums.com, but also with things like the Photo section and Resort Reviews etc. The Forums are a generally very friendly and welcoming place with lots of people based in Japan and overseas. If people ask a question, someone usually gets back within minutes with an answer.
What is considered the best place in Japan for professional skiers, boarders, or other sports?
Since I started the site in 1999, Niseko in Hokkaido has always got a lot of focus especially from overseas due to it’s excellent snow conditions. However, other places offer steeper terrain though, for example, places like Hakuba in Nagano which is also not gaining a lot of attention from overseas. Having said that official ski and snowboarding events take place in various resorts throughout the country each season.
Same question..but for beginners?
I think just about anywhere! Beginners are very well catered for at ski resorts in Japan with most resorts having at least a few beginner runs. With over 500 resorts up and down the country, the choice really is enormous.
As a visitor what else is there that you shouldn’t miss when visiting the towns that have winter sports? Is there anything or place of note that might be unusual?
My personal recommendations would be onsen hot springs which you can often find near resorts.
I am also fond of those Snow Monkeys near Shiga Kogen in Nagano – which also happens to be one of my favorite ski resorts – and they are well worth a visit.
What’s considered the best onsen/winter sports resort?
That’s a difficult question to answer as it will depend on your needs. Like I said there are many good resorts in Japan and for most people lots of them would be a great day out. In terms of fame and size, places like Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu in Hokkaido, the towns of Yuzawa and Myoko in Niigata, Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen in Nagano. But the list goes on…..! My personal recommendation would be to try out different places rather than just stay at one place for a longer time as there is just so much variety out there.
My favorites are Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen (both in Nagano), Yamagata Zao Onsen (Yamagata) and Maiko (Niigata).
What should anyone bring with them is there a check list for say skiing or boarding?
Wrap up well and look forward to having a lot of fun! If at all possible keep an eye on the weather forecasts. (We offer detailed weekly snow and weather forecasts for most resorts on our site). Especially for beginners, weather and snow conditions can make a lasting impression! Bring a camera too. It might also be worth keeping in mind that often Japanese resorts have stricter policies concerning backcountry and off-piste skiing than many overseas resorts.
What the best deal for getting out of Tokyo to the mountains?
Yuzawa in Niigata is probably the easiest place to get to from Tokyo – just 80 minutes or so direct on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Some bus tour companies as well as JR offer some special day-trip deals, and being so close a day trip really is possible. That isn’t the only choice though with resorts in Nagano, Gunma, Niigata, Tochigi and more all possible day trips. If you have a few days then you could choose from many many resorts.
What would you share with our readers about SnowJapan?
One thing we would like people using our site to know is that we are independent – meaning that we’re not trying to promote any one area and we do not offer tours or own hotels etc. The concept is to introduce Japanese winter sports to our readership, and we are always trying to add more information and introduce places throughout Japan – not just the most popular places, but less well-known ones as well. It’s also important that people can trust our daily reporting – so for example if the snow conditions are bad, we will say that rather than leave it out (or even worse say something other than the truth!) We simply wish to give an unbiased and fair account of ‘Japan winter sports’. I believe that to be one of the strengths of the site and the reason why such an active and friendly community has built up around it over the last 8 years. We’ll continue developing and growing the site and hope to welcome more regular members in the coming months and years.
I’d also encourage people who have never skied or snowboarded to give it a go. Not many other countries can offer such ease of access to the mountains, so if you are in Japan it’s a perfect opportunity to take it up. Enjoy the winter!