When things go Arai: Japan’s amazing ‘new’ ski spot
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”.
What is Lotte Arai?
There were the rumours.
Running from 1993, Arai like a number of resorts in the bubble period, struggled financially and eventually shut its doors due to bankruptcy a little more than a decade ago.
But the mountain that was once lost has well and truly been found.
Bought by the Korean-Japanese mega conglomerate Lotte, the company spared little expense in overhauling the derelict hotel, refurbing or replacing lifts and putting together a crew that could run a serious mountain.
It re-opened its doors in December 2017.
How do I ride it?
The trail map simply doesn’t do this place any justice. The five lifts don’t give much away but a 931 metre lift-serviced vertical drop hints at least at the great white expanse that lays out before you.
With its location a little closer to the Sea of Japan you can often expect more snow than the other Myoko Resorts – indeed just before I got there a tidy 20cm top up at Madarao was almost four-times that at Lotte Arai. The listed average annual total is 14 metres.
The flipside is undoubtedly in more marginal conditions you might get wetter or perhaps some clear snow at the base which sits at 329m.
Not a problem when I was there though.
Deadly quiet mid-week, myself and Myoko Snowsports‘ Leif Grant seemed to be the first ones on the Sanroku 2nd Lift; the lack of people and no new snow not requiring a mad powder dash.
Instead we warmed up on the imaginatively titled Myoko Long Run Lower before hitting a few more high-speed turns off the Arai Gondola and Kokonashi Lift.
After getting a little chop in the bowl off Zendana it was time for the serious business to begin as we scouted out the boot back to Mt Ohkenashi (1,429m). It’s about a 25-minute hike that even a desk-bound vaper like me could complete.
Then it was paradise found as we dropped into the Ohkenashi Bowl and North Bowl; returing for another lap in FK and East Bowl in mostly fresh lines from shin to knee deep.
Remember, this was three days after a storm under ocean blue skies.
The gist of this joint is steep, powdered and open bowl; quite a bit different to many other Japanese resorts. If that floats your boat you should like it.
I would say be prepared for some closures that may not initially make sense to the naked eye. The south facing lines appear most susceptible to closures (granted, they’ll mostly only be good after a storm anyway).
Given Arai’s background it probably shouldn’t be hugely surprising that the owners have taken a pretty conservative line here but you’d expect things to get looser if there are no problems.
If you want a bit of help riding it the rather brilliant Myoko Snowsports (run by Tom Langtry and his merry band of largely Falls Creek staff) have a base there and offer English-speaking instructors.
Passes are a little more than many Japanese resorts but at less than $A70 a day the complaints should be few from Aussies. Similarly when you are ducking in for lunch a $A15-$20 meal may be more common than a $10-$15 one but the quality of the offerings are also a step up.
And what about that hotel?
It’s a beautiful joint but if you’ve seen The Shining it does kind of feel a bit eerie given the lack of people there.
Cost-wise I was expecting it to be pretty stiff but was quite surprised. I checked the Lotte Arai website and there were rate as low as about $A250 a night for a twin share.
Obviously you can go substantially north of that price depending on what options and how many people you want to house (and who knows whether these are shorter term specials – perhaps check back in March when new rates are slated to go up) but you wouldn’t get anywhere near that price point quality-wise for the dollar on-snow in Australia.
And it is amazing.
There’s everything from a kids’ club, to a climbing wall, a zipline and snowpark and pretty much every modern convenience you’d find in hotel of this nature.
Personally I stayed at the awesome Silver Horn at Akakura and took a day trip in (about 40 minutes drive). There are also daily buses or package deals from Myoko Snowsports to get you there as part of a powder package.
There’ll definitely be those that want to stay at the hotel but to get a mix of resorts and perhaps a first feel for Lotte Arai, the majority of punters will probably travel from one of the other Myoko resorts.
Any way you want to do it – just get there. Before everyone else does
Lotte Arai in a nutshell
For: Powder seekers, bowl riders, those who love more of a big mountain feel
Not for: Cruisers, people who like to party, those who want dirtbag facilities
Tip: Crowds pick-up considerably on the weekends. Get your powder fix midweek if possible.