This incredible promotion lets you ski all day for free, in a powder snow paradise just a few hours away from Tokyo Station.
In the winter months, some of Japan’s coldest regions turn into white wonderlands filled with thick layers of soft, dry powder snow. The spectacular conditions lure hordes of skiers and snowboarders from around the world, who travel from Tokyo to popular destinations like Hokkaido and Nagano on trains, buses, and domestic flights, but now there’s a much faster way to get in amongst the powder, with a trip to Fukushima’s Aizu ski region.
▼ The Aizu area is well-connected to Koriyama Station, which is just 80 minutes away from Tokyo Station on the Shinkansen bullet train.
Billing itself as the closest powder snow paradise from Tokyo, Fukushima Prefecture is now promoting its world-class runs in Aizu and South Aizu with an amazing new offer that lets foreign visitors between the ages of 19 and 24 ski for free. If you’re outside of the required age range for the free one-day lift pass, there’s another promotional campaign available to foreign tourists of any age: a day pass that costs just 2,000 yen (US$17).
▼ To receive the discount, simply show your passport to ticket-office staff at any of the 22 resorts in the Aizu and South Aizu regions.
In order to check out the powder conditions first-hand, Fukushima Prefecture and the Tokyo Convention & Visitor’s Bureau invited us to take a look at Grandeco, one of the most popular ski resorts in the region. Located approximately 260 kilometers (162 miles) north of Tokyo, the resort is part of the Bandai-Asahi National Park, which includes Mt Bandai, one of the country’s most famous volcanoes. The area here boasts an impressively long ski season, which starts in late November and goes all the way to early May.
There are a variety of runs here for skiers of all levels to enjoy, including a 3,500-metre (2.2-mile) trail for beginners and kids, as well as mogul and slalom runs for snowboarders and more advanced skiers.
Grandeco is the only ski resort in Japan that solely uses hooded highspeed quads, which keep visitors sheltered from the cold environment as they ride up the mountain in freezing conditions.
In addition to the comfortable quads, which take visitors up to the course peak of 1,590 metres, there’s also one gondola lift, which takes people from the base height of 1,010 metres to 1,390 metres up the mountain.
▼ A maximum of six people can fit in each of the compact gondolas.
The short journey up the mountain gives visitors a spectacular view of the resort and its surrounding areas. The scenery is equally beautiful in summer and spring, when the mountains come alive with fresh green leaves, and in autumn, guests can enjoy the unusual sight of fall foliage combined with snow, thanks to the region’s early annual snowfall.
Despite the excellent facilities and high-quality conditions, the Aizu ski region has remained a well-kept secret enjoyed mostly by local Japanese visitors, which means you don’t have to contend with crowds on the slopes. A day in the snow here makes you feel like you’re in your very own private paradise!
Once the gondola delivers you at its peak point, you can choose to venture further up to explore some more advanced or intermediate runs, or set out on a variety of gentler slopes down the mountain.
▼ First-time snowboarders take a lesson on one of the beginner runs.
In addition to the eight runs down from the summit, the resort offers a range of activities like snowshoe tours and cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing is a fun and easy way to get a feel for the depth and quality of the snow, and here the conditions are just as good as any you would find in more far-flung destinations from Tokyo.
▼ Walking through knee-deep powder is a fun way to work out!
The snow here is so light and dry it makes it almost impossible to create snowballs to pelt at your friends. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though, as one of the best things you can do is dive into the powder and enjoy the relaxing sensation as the deep snow hugs your body.
After working up an appetite on the slopes, hungry powder hounds can warm up and refuel at the Buna Buna pizza restaurant, conveniently located at the gondola stop near the top of the mountain.
A large cross-section of snow-lovers takes a break for lunch here, from young snowboarders to groups of seniors, who aren’t afraid of taking an occasional fall in the soft powder snow.
Back down the mountain, the resort also has a large, roped-off area for beginners and kids to have fun in the snow.
Called “Deco Land”, this area is divided into two sections, with those learning to ski using the gentle slope on the left, and those on sleds keeping to the right. Entry to the area costs 600 yen for a half-day ticket or 1,000 yen for a full-day pass.
▼ Adults and children can race each other down the slope on a range of sleds which includes basic plastic varieties and fancy racers with steering wheels.
▼ The moving walkway, or travelator, is an awesome way for young children and beginners to get to the top of the slope safely.
For guests wanting to stay overnight, the Urabandai Grandeco Tokyu Hotel right next to the resort offers a large number of twin and family rooms, an indoor and outdoor onsen hot spring, a swimming pool, Japanese and Western-style restaurants, and a beautiful view of the snow from the lobby lounge.
▼ Guests also have their own private locker to store their ski gear.
▼ Out the back of the ski-in-ski-out hotel is a path that connects up to the resort’s ski runs.
A short walk from the back entrance of the hotel takes you to the resort’s Snow Adventure Park.
Here, guests can ride on snowmobiles for 1,500-2,000 yen, and there’s also the chance to try snow rafting for 1,000 yen, where guests get pulled around a course on an inflatable raft attached to a snow mobile.
▼ The raft slides smoothly along the snow, giving guests a thrill as it swings around corners and flies over dips.
After a day of outdoor activities, it’s nice to kick back in one of the resort’s beautifully spacious rooms, which include pull-out sofa beds for extra guests and balconies with expansive views of the snow.
▼ The dining room serves up some delicious French fare for dinner, along with a variety of beverages which includes some delicious local sake.
And when you wake up in the morning, the breakfast buffet is ready to fill your belly filled with a huge range of delicious foods, including toasted breads and danishes, bacon and eggs, cereal, and an enticing make-your-own pancake service.
Whether you choose to visit for a day or stay overnight, Grandeco is a fantastic place for a snow holiday. Incredibly close to Tokyo, all the time saved on travelling lets you have even more time experiencing Japan’s world-renowned powder conditions, and when you can score a lift pass for less than 20 bucks, or even better, for free, there’s no better reason to grab a group of friends and head out to the region.
For more information on the special deal for foreign tourists, which runs until 31 March, check out the I Play Fukushima website, and to find out more about the Grandeco ski resort and accommodation, be sure to visit their official site here. With a ski resort as impressive as this, and free shuttle buses ready to take you to other resorts around the mountain, it won’t be long before the crowds start coming to Aizu, so make sure you get there before everyone else discovers Japan’s well-kept secret snow destination!
Insert image: I Play Fukushima