By Nikki McMullan
When the bitter Japanese winter hits, it is tempting to slip under the kotatsu and, stocked up with enough mochi, green tea and copies of “The Daily Yomiuri” to see us through till mid-March, hit ‘hibernation’ on the body clock. For those of you swaying towards a spot of just such indulgent isolation, a little word of warning – the fierce weather does nothing to dissuade either the NHK man or the Jehovah’s Witnesses from their regular calls so sooner or later you will be dragged begrudgingly from your seasonal slumber.
With that in mind, why not make the best of the cold weather and hit the slopes instead? Hiroshima has a plethora of snow-parks, many of which are within easy reach of the city by public bus. But which to choose? Wide Island View solicited the advice of one of Japan’s top snowboarders to find out where best to head for a good day’s adrenalin-pumping downhill action:
Takashi Yamada has high standards when it comes to looking for a snow-park. Originally from Gifu, Takashi now lives in Hiroshima and, as one of the top 50 snowboarders in Japan (he came second in the West Japan short turn event last year and hopes to be placed in the top 20 in the national championships this March in Hokkaido), he knows good snow: ‘Hiroshima may not have the best snow in Japan but the artificial snow machines that have been introduced over the last few years have made a big difference,’ he says. ‘The best snow-park in the area is Mizuho Highland which is just across the border in Shimane. There are regular buses from Hiroshima city, runs for all levels, and usually very good conditions. As such, it is also the most expensive resort in the area – a day pass will set you back 5,500yen and an afternoon 4,200yen. Afternoon skiing begins at noon so it is a good option for anyone averse to unnecessary early rises.
For something a little less pricey, Takashi suggests Pine Ridge Resorts (frequently referred to by its old name, Geihoku Kokusai). At 4,300yen a day (or 4,800yen for an afternoon plus nighter ticket) and just two hours by bus from the city centre, it’s a good alternative.
For beginners looking for simple runs and simple prices, try Osa. The ‘pay per hour’ pricing system means you can shell out as little as 3,500yen for 4 hours or, should you discover a natural aptitude for the sport, 5,000yen for 10 hours.
If you’re looking for lessons, expect to pay around 4,000yen for a two hour lesson. Instructors will rarely speak English (although Takashi – who works at Osa – speaks very good English) but they are used to having foreigners in their classes and are, he assures me, master gesturers.
Equipment hire will cost 3,500- 4,500yen for a day. You can also hire clothes for about the same price. People whose proportions differ greatly from those of the typical Japanese person are advised to call ahead to enquire about sizes because many parks will unfortunately not carry large gaijin sizes.
Some travel agents offer excellent package deals which include transport, lift pass, equipment hire and lunch. Many resorts also offer group discounts so bringing a few friends along can cut costs. The other way to reduce expenditure is to arrive around lunch time and buy a lift pass from someone who is leaving. Many families will head home around this time and will sell you their day pass for less than you’ll pay at the gate.
Takashi estimates that, especially with the introduction of faux snow machines, we will be able to ski and snowboard in Hiroshima until mid March if not beyond. Start now and who knows? By the end of the season you could be cutting up the slopes with the best of them.