Downhill ski trip

Saturday January 7, 2023

Bandai area, Fukushima

Difficulty 2 Number of Days 2.5 Fukushima


I am planning a TWMC ski trip for the long 2nd weekend of January (7th to 9th) for 2 nights. The destination has not yet been decided, but will probably be Nagano (perhaps Shigakogen) or Fukushima. We’ll depart from Tsukuba Station by car very early (perhaps 4:30 am) on Saturday 7 January and return Sunday 9 January evening after 3 days of skiing or boarding. Please email me if you might be interested in joining with your name, keitai number, and whether you have a car with snow tires. Once I have a tentative number of participants, I’ll try to book accommodations.

I won’t have an estimate of the cost until I book accommodations, but figure about 5000 yen for gas and tolls, 500 yen TWMC club fee, about 1000 yen for insurance, 15 to 20 thousand yen for accommodations (I’ll try to book including breakfasts and dinner), about 5000 to 6000 yen/day for lift tickets, and money for lunches at the ski resort (many resorts have combined lift ticket/lunch tickets). We might be able to find discount lift tickets for advance purchase. Of course, you’ll need to rent if you don’t have your own ski or board gear.

Since we will have to ride together for many hours in cars and SARS-Cov2 is rampant, only those who are either fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 or have an excuse from a physician are eligible. Masks are optional on the slopes, but will be required in cars, rest stops, and the hotel.

Skiing and boarding are inherently risky activities. TWMC and the organizers take no responsibility for any injuries or illness that might occur. If you want to try skiing or boarding but do not have experience, then please enroll in lessons at the ski resorts; the organizers are not qualified to teach and will not be teaching.

One advantage of skiing Fukushima for this trip rather than the more famous areas in Nagano and Niigata is that we’ll avoid the heavy traffic heading from and to Tokyo for the holiday weekend. We’ll probably ski at a different area in the Urabandai region on each day.

I will book insurance for those who don’t have their own insurance that covers the travel and skiing (about 1000 yen). If you do not have such insurance, then please inform me of your age.

Food is available for sale at the resorts, but you can save money by bringing your own lunchs.

What to bring:
Ski or snowboard equipment
Warm waterproof outerwear
Warm base layers
Warm gloves or mittens
Goggles (visibility is poor during frequent snowfall)
Boots or shoes for walking around (waterproof recommended)
Change of clothes
Onsen kit

Rental gear is available at the resorts and some stores on the way. Please inform me if you plan to rent gear.



TWMC 2023 alpine ski trip (7-9 January) expedition log: day 1.
Dawn was still over two hours away as five intrepid explorers gathered near Tsukuba Station. There to see us off was Rick, unable to join the expedition owing to recent injury. Rick passed the baton (and insurance forms) on to Noboru Nakauchi-san, an experienced skier and a most excellent leader for the expedition. The other members of the party were Chelsea and Shumpei-san; Aaron, visiting from China; and Matt, recently returned from the UK. Thanking him for his meticulous planning and wishing him a speedy recovery, we bid Rick farewell and embarked on the journey to the frozen mountains of Aizu in the Western reaches of Fukushima.

Stopping near our destination to collect rental equipment and discount lift ticket vouchers, we soon after arrived at the resort of Grandeco in good time for the first lifts of the day. With one of the group relatively new to skiing, though an experienced snowboarder, and others not having ventured onto skis since the Heisei Era, the morning was spent learning or relearning the arts of skiing. Nakauchi-san is an excellent teacher and it was not long before all were sliding down the hill with new found or rediscovered confidence. With amazingly clear winter skies, the afternoon allowed us to ski whilst admiring the most amazing vistas of lakes and mountains, including Mount Bandai, our destination for the subsequent days.

After a thoroughly rewarding day, a stop at the local onsen (Urabandai Lake Resort) awaited, and then arrival at our home for the next two days, a chalet in the Akabeko nature village, where a sumptuous array of ingredients had been prepared for us to cook that very evening (Sukiyaki and Shabushabu or thin slices of beef parboiled in hot soup). We also enjoyed beer we had cooled in the very chilly snow outside, which we dubbed ‘snow beer’.

Day 2.
Looking from the windows of our chalet we were greeted with the sight of freshly falling snow. Arriving at our destination for the day, Nekoma, named after a mythical monster cat, we found that, although the snow was excellent, the top of the mountain was shrouded in fog or low cloud. Deprived the stunning views of the day before, we nevertheless had a full morning of skiing, on slopes that, in combination with the weather, provided a little more of a challenge than Grandeco. Our first run of the afternoon was also our last as the cloud closed in over the whole hill, with dangerously low visibility resulting. Each slight improvement in the conditions proved to be a false hope, thus we took the opportunity to pay an early visit to the same onsen as day 1.

Arriving back at the chalet with but half an hour of daylight remaining, we used the time wisely to construct a yukidaruma, in the hopes that it would favour us with good fortune for the weather on our final day.

Day 3.
The first light of the morning again revealed falling snow, however the very low visibility that had plagued us the previous day was largely avoided. The day's destination: Alts Bandai, on the other side of the mountain from Nekoma – indeed it is possible to walk over the mountain from one resort to the other in only 15 minutes on a good day. Alts proved to be a bit of a maze due to its unusual layout and a couple of closed trails, which only added to the fun of exploring. The weather cleared in the afternoon allowing us to finally marvel at the views, with the distant lakes eventually adding their presence to the frozen landscapes.

The day was not to end without some considerable excitement, involving the dramatic rescue of a dropped ski pole by the resort snow patrol, but eventually we had to leave Mount Bandai behind and embark on our journey back to the city of science. We returned the rental gear and enjoyed the onsen at Listel Ski Resort Hotel before getting on the highway. We arrived safety back in Tsukuba about 21:00 after having dinner in Tomobe. All were in agreement that it been a wonderful three days, and a most enjoyable experience. Thoughts on the journey back turned to the adventures that 2023 will bring, and of course to January 2024 and the next expedition to this delightful snow swept region.