Skiing in Yuzawa (Niigata)

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Skiing in Yuzawa (Niigata)

Just 160km from Tokyo (one hour by shinkansen bullet train) and you’re in a different world. Mountains, villages without the facilities of the big city and lots of snow.

Most Japanese people work so hard that they can only go skiing for one day. Weekends are most busy of course. I went during the week: no waiting for the lifts, hardly anybody on the slopes. I could not even buy a 4-day lift pass, the maximum number of days available was 2!

There had been so much snow, meters high, and it kept snowing. They keep the roads snow and ice free in these villages by continuously spraying warm water onto the roads. Like an irrigation system. Great for cars, but not for pedestrians. Within 2 minutes my only pair of shoes and socks were soaked.

I stayed in the ‘family room’ at a traditional Inn Kagura house (found via Close to the lifts and slopes, decently priced at about €30 per night (cheaper during the week). Budget skiing in Japan turned out to be minimalism taken to the max. Enjoy this tour of my ‘hotel’ room…

Since I did not have good winter clothes, I checked out most restaurants on the slopes to warm up a little. Some are very modern, others are old huts, with a fireplace and low tables on tatami mats where people even lay down for a nap. Of course you take your shoes off and wear the slippers that are provided everywhere. It was weird to find that every mountain hut offers hair dryers in the women’s bathroom…
Each restaurant also has a ‘dry box’ where your gloves, hat and scarf are dried and warmed up for your next ski session. Great idea for our European ski resorts! The toilets are very clean (as always), have (too) many weird buttons (as always) and the heated seats are even more appreciated than in the city…
The food is Japanese of course. All kinds of ramen and other weird dishes. Mostly they have pictures on display, but it’s always a guess what you get. The first day I got a soba noodle soup for breakfast which contained some kind of fish cake tempura (?) and something that looked like cheese, but tasted like glue. The ‘dessert’ of rice cake mochi with red bean paste made up for that. In general the food is very tasty and generally healthy. I haven’t seen any processed sweets or chocolates being sold in the restaurants on the slopes. Just very good set meals and real food.

You know you are skiing in Japan when the lift attendants bow and thank you every time you get on or off a ski lift. Apart from the attendants (sometimes two per lift!) I did not see many people.

It was snowing so hard that the fresh powder was knee high, even on the slopes! Visibility was really, really bad, but that didn’t really matter. The snow was incredible. Fresh powder. The best I have ever had in 30-40 years of skiing! Since the snow was so good, you can’t really go wrong, even if you don’t see a thing…

The ski area boasts long slopes, well groomed. Even the off-piste routes are indicated. They ask to take your skis off when you cross the boundary, so you don’t leave confusing tracks for people wanting to stay on-piste; very thoughtful. I read this on an English flyer that I treasure. Everything else is written in Japanese only. I don’t understand a thing. ‘Lift closed’ , ‘piste inaccessible’, ‘danger!’ I don’t have a clue what the signs say, so try to only go where I see other people. What an adventure! I feel like a kid in a candy store!!!

My last day was cold but sunny: finally I could see where I was skiing and admire the beauty of the place.

Lost in translation

Kagura house was supposed to have a café, but it was closed (maybe only open during the busier weekends?). The night I arrived I went to sleep without dinner. Was this going to be my second night in a row without food? Mitsumata village has no restaurants. The receptionist who apparently only works during weekends left a nice English note for me “There is a place to have dinner near here”, with a description in Japanese… I could figure out that the place to have dinner should be only 50 meters from the Inn, but where? So I started walking around, but It is impossible to see whether something is a house, a shop, an inn or a restaurant. I desperately started knocking on doors, to ask for a restaurant. Nobody knew where to get food!

The English note about the place to eat, with explanation in Japanese… They have no idea of the concept of not understanding a language… �

Where is this place?!?

I knocked on every door where the lights were on. To no avail.

Even this was not a restaurant, or shop, or inn…

No way to tell what is what…

At one inn a guest explained that everybody books all inclusive packages and eats in their inn. I asked the inn-lady if I could please eat there. Even though all guests had finished and left already, she agreed to make me some food.
To my surprise I received a 7 course dinner, home made by her mom. 2 types of salad, sashimi, miso soup, rice, a hotpot with meat and veggies prepared at my table, some kind of stew and finally chocolates for dessert. Unbelievable good quality.

My improv dinner…

And before I could even think about asking, mom and daughter said; “would you like to have dinner again with us tomorrow?” Yes PLEASE! I asked what time the other guests would eat and they said that there were no guests the next day; they would cook just for me! They even offered to drive me home since it was snowing so hard! (which I politely declined, because I needed the walk after to much food). I felt so warm and happy; belly full of good food and my heart overflowing with love for these kind people. Mitsumata Inn is literally opposite the lifts and bus station (I could not find them on the internet, but you can’t miss it once you are at the Mitsumata lift station).

April 20th, 2017|Japan|