Lotte Arai, Japan’s flash new resort is still for powder poachers
The initial word about a new resort area in the Myoko Kogen region of Honshu, Japan wasn’t exactly that enticing.
Firstly, Lotte Arai, or Arai as it was formerly known, was actually a fully functioning resort up until its closure in 2006.
Secondly while refurbished hotels (the centrepiece of the ski area) get some people going, as a bit of dirtbag at heart I often find the sell on these things about as enticing as watching snowboard PGS.
But in the days leading up to my visit, any mention of Lotte Arai to those who’d been there was generally met with a knowing nod and simple acknowledgement I can best sum up as: “this place is the goods”.
There’s not much need to duck ropes in Madarao. Why? Because unlike a lot of Japanese resorts there simply aren’t that many.
In skiing as in life, you tend to look for quality over quantity as the years roll by.
While the Chamonixs, Revelstokes and Whistlers of this world have their lengthy charms there’s a lot to be said for the small, uncrowded ski hills that pack plenty more in their size suggests.
- I’ve been to a few good ‘uns over the years such as Whitewater in British Columbia and Moiwa in Hokkaido.
Now I’m happy to add another little fire cracker to the list: Madarao.
Some say it’s the powder.
Some say it’s the culture and food.
Some say it’s the ease of access when coming from down under.
But if you want to know how Japan really sticks a dagger into the side of most other countries’ ski resorts, this frame from the Nozawa Onsen ticket office sums it up.
It’s on snow. It’s a minute walk to a ski run. It’s only one bedroom but set-up to sleep six people. It has two bathrooms. It looks neat and tidy.
It’s up for sale at $A42,000.
So what’s the catch?
Michael Sharwood had the last ski run of his life all worked out: a run down the Blackcomb Glacier on his 80th birthday.
Like many of the best laid plans it didn’t eventuate as what seemed to be the most innocuous of falls ended his skiing days three years short in January this year.
But Michael doesn’t want your sympathy. He’s skied 110 resorts over 52 years. He’s travelled the world. He’s made life long friends. He conceived (well, conceived of!) his only daughter on a chairlift in Aspen.
This is his story. And a thank you to the sport he loves so much.
Spring was smiled upon in Mammoth and seen as an opportunity to actually get out of the house …
The countdown to the season’s end in the northern hemisphere is on.
Some places have a month left, some even two. There’s even one that has four months left. That’s right, FOUR months!
So where to go? Some places have definitely fared better than others but there really is something for everyone to see out the spring.
The numbers coming out of Mammoth Mountain just blow my mind. They’ve had 520 inches of snow at 9000 feet and the current base at the peak is almost 30 feet or around 9 metre of snow. Bearing in mind it is still early in March so it is unlikely to have even peaked yet. Another number I like there is 4 – July 4 that is. That is now the earliest closing date for one of California’s finest.It’s a big mountain (3500 acres) with big terrain and while there’s not the 101 alternative activities here like a number of other US resorts if you’re coming for the riding (there’s also great park and ‘pipe facilities) you won’t miss out.
Mammoth … signs are, ahem, good for a terrific spring.
Best all-round region
Take your pick of any of the Tahoe resorts to be honest as they are all copping it in what will go down as a season of legend (the best in 22 years). If I was looking at a destination region this spring the area would certainly be it. If you’re an Epic Pass holder you could do a lot worse than the Heavenly-Northstar-Kirkwood triumvirate, with the former two extending their seasons until April 23 (Kirkwood remains at April 16). Heavenly ticks the family box (and has amazing views), Northstar does solid groomers and has a great park while Kirkwood has some ball-tearing terrain. Elsewhere Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows is the next big pick having had 600″ + of snow and a season that’ll run well into May. There’s a grab bag of other little resorts worth a visit such at Mt Rose on the Nevada side, Sierra at Tahoe and Sugar Bowl.
Heavenly: The views go ok.
Best big mountain
“The relentless, active winter will continue for the forseable future …” So said the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but a day or so ago of areas such as Jackson Hole which have now tipped 500″ and are looking at a 600″ season. Jackson is putting some numbers on Colorado and even Utah in 2016/2017 and you are hardly going to getting a better spring to sample its undeniable wares. Slated close seems to be April 9 but you’d have to think there’s still a chance to extend given the conditions. And what of Jackson? Super terrain (you need to cross off Corbett’s Colouir from your bucket list, don’t you), sensational snow and while sometimes criticised for lift queues and rider traffic, expect it to thin out in spring. Get there.
Whistler is always the obvious candidate in BC, and its solid season (300″+), great facilities and closing date (Blackcomb is May 22) keep it on the list. But for mine if you want to get away from the madding crowds, it might pay to get into the interior to get your stoke on. With a base approaching 10 metres it should end up being an above average season here – and this my friends is a well above average mountain. With the biggest vert in North America 1713m (5620ft) , some serious touring terrain and a slated closing date of April 16 it is worth your consideration. Within three hours drive of another classic and later opening spring destination in Lake Louise, (closing: May 7) this would make a great late-season big mountain combo too.
Revelstoke: Big mountain, big spring ahead.
Japan can be a tricky one in spring. Places like Nozawa Onsen in Honshu have had a great season (around a four metre base currently) and should stand up until April. But things can soften very quickly on the main island at this time so it’s advised not to leave it too late. On balance I would probably look to Hokkaido and specifically Furano. There’s been some nice top-ups in March (around 50cm so far) and given its location east of Niseko, will tend to keep the snow longer. Closing date is usually around May 8 and they should see that out this season. Big vertical (they run downhills here) , interesting terrain and touring options, solid facilities and it’s still very Japanese (unlike Niseko). Prices should be very friendly for accomodation etc at this time of year too.
While not quite a winter of discontent in Europe it has been a mixed bag at best. Early storms. Wet storms. Extended dry spells. It’s been one of those seasons where it has been best to go when it’s on and avoid extensive forward planning. That said if you find yourself on the continent over the next few weeks it will pay to be high. Amsterdam aside that makes one of your better bets Val Thorens. At the pointy end in the French Alps , it’s the last of the Three Valleys areas to close (May 1) and it enjoyed a very handy top up of about 70cm over the last week. Temperatures have been cold recently and the base is almost tipping three metres in the high alpine so it should remain one of your more reliable options.
Val Thorens: Looks passable at night.
If you are checking this out from Australia and are thinking about a US trip during the April school holidays, Air New Zealand seems to be doing some pretty good deals via Auckland at the moment. As is always the case most flights skyrocket during the holiday period but if you can stomach the extra travel time you could be saving yourself $A2000+ for a family of four. Return to LA looks to be in the $A1200 zone per person up against the $1750+ I’ve seen elsewhere.
If you are hiring a car the need for a 4WD should have lessened too which will save you $$$. Stay tuned for a rant sometime about the bullshit games US car hire companies play with 4WDs …