Shiga Prefecture is on our doorstep and boasts a wealth of snow-sport facilities that are often over-looked in favour of more well known places further afield. Next time you are tempted into a cheeky weekend – or just a day – in the snow, consider one of Shiga’s seven ski resorts. There is something to satisfy any skier or boarder from beginner to pro – but remember that resorts with more options and longer courses are more popular and therefore can be crowded, especially at the weekend.
1. Biwako Valley
Biwako Valley is the most well known snow-sports resort in Shiga and for good reason. It boasts eight courses varying in length from a short 400m nursery slope to the fun ‘cruising’ 1400m Champions Course. There is one black run here with an average gradient of 17 degrees and reaching 30 degrees at its steepest point. In short, there is enough here for a skier or snowboarder of any level to enjoy a one or two day trip. However, the popularity of Biwako Valley usually results in crowds, especially at the weekend.
Access: 10 min bus journey from Shiga station on the Kosei line. Only 50 mins from Kyoto.
2. Kutsuki Snow Park
Katsuki is the smallest of Shiga’s resorts with three lifts serving two starting points. With a focus on kids and beginners most of the piste is a steady 5 to 15 degrees with a couple of sections for advanced skiers and boarders. The main, and longest course is sweetly named the Romance Course but you will have to discover why for yourself!
Access: There are no public buses serving Katsuki Snow Park. Close to Takashima-shi it is about a 1 hr drive from Kyoto.
3. Hakodateyama Ski Resort
If cross-country skiing is more your thing then Hakodateyama is the Shiga spot for you. A 3.5 kilometre course around the perimeter of the site makes this the biggest resort, in terms of meterage of piste, in the prefecture. The rest of the piste is relatively tame with only a couple of minor sections that have a gradient of over 30 degrees. Again, Hakodate is ideal for beginners and families with children and there is always Hako-chan to cheer you up if you spend most of the day on your bum. Access: A 20 min bus journey from Omiimazu Station on the Kosei line. Buses run every hour.
4. Makino Highland Makino Ski Resort
Primarily aimed at families with children, Makino Highland is not for the hardcore skier or snowboarder. There is a popular summer camping ground here that is used as a base for hiking in the local area and in winter snow-shoe trekking through the cedar forest is the main event for adults. For children there is the Kids’ Park with a great hill for sledging and generally playing in the snow. There is a small ski area that could pass a couple of hours. There is also a large, multi bath onsen on-site for after the fun. Access: 15 min bus journey from Makino Station on the Kosei line.
Ways and means
A full day lift pass will set you back about ¥4,000 at most resorts (¥3,000 for a half-day). Equipment rentals are available from ¥4,500 for a board/skis and boots set (per day) but you can also hire warm hats and gloves or full snow-suits (prices vary). A plastic sledge for the kids can be rented for about ¥500 a day.
5. Kunizakai Kogen Snow Park
Kunizakai Kogen is a family oriented place ideal for beginners and intermediate skiers and boarders. Like Yogo Kogen there is a floodlit section that stays open late but this is small and would only serve to extend your stay for an hour or so into the evening. With three short intermediate courses and a long meandering beginners’ course, Kunizakai is ideal for getting started or a gentle one day trip. It is a little beyond Biwako Valley but is generally much quieter.
Access: 35 mins by bus from Ominakasho station on the Kosei line.
6. Yogo Kogen Resort Yap
The oddly named Yap Resort boasts a floodlit course that remains open until 11pm throughout the season. There is also a well equipped snow park with kickers, boxes, rails and a bowl, which also remains open into the night. There are only four lifts, however, meaning you will probably have tried everything after a couple of hours.
Access: Around 1 hr 45 mins from Kyoto by car. Buses run from Kinomoto and Nagahama stations.
7. Oku Ibuki Ski Resort
Okuibuki is on the border of Shiga and Gifu prefectures and with less total meterage than Biwako Valley, is also generally less crowded. There are nine lifts serving the different pistes which run from 300m to 900m. The ‘New Challenge Course’ is a near cliff drop with an average gradient of 43 degrees and will be enough to get even the seasoned pro giddy. The ‘Snow Park’ includes kickers, boxes and rails but there is no half-pipe.
Access: By public transport you will be tied to a single bus. The bus leaves from Ominagaoka at 8:40 and the return is at 16:15. Around 80 mins from Kyoto by car.
Where to stay?
All of the ski resorts except Makino Highland and Biwako Valley offer on-site accommodation during the ski season. A combination of cabins and a central hotel are common to many with Yogo Kogen being particularly attractive.
Makino Grand Park Hotel offers one night with an dinner and breakfast for under ¥9000 and is conveniently located for access to Kunizakai Kogen and Hakodateyama.
Nagahama is a large city in the north of Shiga with a wealth of accommodation and would make a good base for two or three day trips.
Takashima Onsen and Sugatani Onsen are both conveniently located at the foot of the mountains on Lake Biwa’s western shore but the pick of onsen in that region is Makino Shirotani Onsen with delightful outdoor baths. Closer to Kyoto, the natural onsen waters of Ogoto will soothe aching bodies with Ogoto Agariyanse a large complex with plenty of space if you happen to be travelling in a big group. If you’ve been to either of the resorts in the north of Shiga, try the mineral rich waters of Nagahama Taiko Onsen.
More info: en.biwako-visitors.jp