Everyone knows the major ski resorts in Japan. Niseko, Hakuba, Nozawa, blah blah blah. While these resorts became famous for good reason because they have fantastic snow, accessibility, amenities, village vibes etc, the other reason is just good marketing. These resorts aren’t necessarily better than the tiny ones. Japan has dozens of these hidden gem ski resorts void of powder hungry hordes of tourists and it would be a shame not to at least try one of them on your ski holiday.
Shibu Toge (pronounced Toe-Gay) is, along with next door Yokoteyama, Japan’s highest elevation ski area at 2307 meters. Until this year, they didn’t make snow but that has all changed. Even without fake snow, the season lasted from early December until Golden Week (early May), suggesting that the season will now extend even further.
Spring skiing aside, Shibu Toge has some of the best snow in Japan because it is so d*** cold. While a whiteout windy or snowy day at -10 is admittedly miserable, it is unbelievably beautiful when sunny. For a crowded country, Japan’s mountains seem to extend forever with no sign of human habitation. Sometimes you can even glimpse Mt. Fuji in the distance. And the snow – at least until everybody gets wind of it – is pure, crystal powder that just falls right through your fingers. For someone who wants to experience powder skiing without the hassle of a backcountry tour, this is the place to do it. Even if you’re not a skier, you can ride up the lift to snowshoe or just to enjoy the endless views.
Finally, make sure you check out the Crumpet Cafe at the top of Mt. Yokote. It used to be the location of Japan’s highest Starbucks, but thankfully it is now operated by a local business. There is nothing better than a cappuccino by a warm fireplace while the snow blows outside.
To get there by car, Shiga Kogen is a 4 hour drive from Tokyo, or a 6 hour drive from Osaka. By public transportation, there is a direct bus from Nagano Station to Shiga Kogen. You might have to transfer to get to Yokoteyama but some go direct. Check the schedule here. There are plenty of hotels in the area including the Shiga Palace Hotel and hotels in the Kumanoyu area. Lift tickets in Shiga Kogen are around 5,000 yen a day for an all mountain pass and less for individual ski resorts.