So you want to be a snowboarder?? Part 2 – Slopes and Passes

Hopefully you’ve read the first article and now you know what you’re looking for gear-wise.  The next question is where can I go to SHRED some POW?  Luckily for you, you live in Fukushima-ken and a cornucopia of ski resorts exists here.  I haven’t been to them all, but I’m kind of a one trick pony that likes what I like and I branch out very little from the bigger resorts.  I’ve heard good and bad things about every hill out there and I’ll try to walk you through what I know.  There are tons of hills everywhere and you’ll have to do a little bit of exploring on your own if you want to experience them all.  I’m just gonna try to sell a couple to you.

A note on season passes before I begin.  I would recommend that everyone get one.  And if you know for sure you’ll be boarding, buy it early.  The earlier you buy, the cheaper it is.  Each month the pass goes up 5000 yen, starting in October.  A season pass will force you to go if you’re just starting and are the type of the person that needs to be pushed in order to stick with something new.  Most passes cost roughly the same as going 10-12 times.  That’s essentially 5-6 weekends.  The season runs from late November to mid-March.  If you’re going to go more than 5 weekends (I’ll have been 5 weekends by mid-January), then get a season pass (read: An ALTS season pass, unless you live in the Miz, more on that below)

The major area for ski resorts is around Mt. Bandai (near Inawashiro).  There are 2 areas around Bandai; Bandai-kogen and Ura-bandai.  Bandaikogen is the south western side of Mt. Bandai (more sun, shorter season) and Ura-bandai is the north eastern side of Mt. Bandai (more shade, longer season).  There are other resorts outside of that area, but for the most part, everyone spends their time in these areas.  As well, Minami-Aizu is a sweet place for smaller resorts but is a bit difficult to get to because of the sheer amount of snow they get.

I’m going to start with what I tell everyone every year.  And I will spend the bulk of my time on this following resort, as I think it’s the best for everyone from beginners (Alex Whitters) to pros (read: Ian Chen).

bam, smaller-1
pictured above: a view from the slopes (Nango)

ALTS Bandai アルツ磐梯 – Located in Bandai-kogen, ALTS is the biggest resort in Fukushima-ken and plays host to the Asian Open Snowboarding Championships.  I’ve had a season pass here every year (43,000 yen in September) and they offer double passes to ALTS and Nekoma (see below) for 49,000 yen if you get it in September.  ALTS has a ton of runs ranging from easy as pie to holy mother of god!   The snow can sometimes be lacking and last year was probably the worst year for lifts closing and snow.  But on good days, ALTS is totally worth it, although it does get really busy at times.  If you’re planning on doing tree runs, I’d be careful, because they police the trees more than most places and you’ll lose your day pass or your season pass (after 2 infractions).  For those of you that live in the Aizu area, they have night boarding on weeknights making ALTS the perfect place for an after school adventure to the slopes.  They have a few different restaurants set up all over the resort.  Go to Rider’s out the back for a little bit of foreign food.  ALTS about 45 min from Wakamatsu proper and a free shuttle bus runs from Koriyama to ALTS and back.  But only a few times a day.  I believe another shuttle runs from Inwashiro Station.  As well, there is a cheap onsen hostel (communal sleeping room) that is really nice and only costs 2500 a night.  It’s about a minute drive from the parking lot at ALTS.  The onsen there is amazing with indoor and outdoor baths and it is open all night for those people who have difficulty sleeping in a room full of people.  In the morning they kick you out at 8am, which is perfect to be the first person on the slopes.  If you’re looking for love, I’ll be there every Saturday and on some Fridays as soon as the season starts.  If you do get a season pass, don’t pay for parking, free parking is included with your season pass.  Every year there’s someone who spends half the season forking out 1000 yen to park even though they have a pass, don’t be this guy.  To get a season pass, get your JTE of choice and go to the link below.  You’re gonna need Japanese help.  I’ve done this 3 times and still need help with it, because it gets a bit complicated.  You can pay for a season pass by bank transfer (furikomi) or on your credit card.  There is a mail in option, where you send the receipt of your furikomi and the completed form directly to ALTS, as well as, on online sign up option, where you are still required to furikomi money.  For those of you that live in Wakamatsu, grab a sempai and head to Curious-ism, your local boarding shop.   You can pay and sign up there.  The guy there is pretty nice and he’ll try his best to walk you through the sign up sheet in English.  They also have some pretty rocking stickers to toss on your board.  But be weary of the gigantic grenade stickers, unless you wanna be just like me.

English Site –  Japanese Site –  Season pass page (Japanese)

Nekoma 裏磐梯猫魔 – Nekoma is the little sister to ALTS Bandai and is located in Ura-Bandai.  Nekoma is a great resort but I wouldn’t recommend this place to beginners, at least not right off the bat.  Nekoma has a season that is about a month longer than ALTS because of it’s placement in Ura-Bandai.  The hills are more difficult and there are very few bunny hills.  Because of this there are far less people and less newbs to get in your way.  There are plenty of tree runs that seem to be fair game and the main park is comparable to the one at ALTS.  As well there are a few other areas that have boxes and jumps that you can mess around on.  The lifts are a bit slower and there are fewer runs comparative to ALTS.  But the joint pass between ALTS and Nekoma for 6000 yen more than a straight up ALTS pass is the best bet for more serious boarders that are looking to mix it up a bit.  As well, on those days where ALTS is just out of the control with people, Nekoma is a 45 min drive away.  But keep in mind it is a smaller resort and doesn’t offer as many amenities as ALTS does.

Japanese site –  ALTS and Nekoma 3D map and tour (in Japanese)
Now that I’ve done a run through what I consider to be the top two main places to board in the ken, I’ll make a run at some of the smaller resorts and try to make it short and sweet.  If you are buying a pass, get an ALTS or ALTS/Nekoma pass, honestly, if you want to keep your options open and jump from place to place, then save your money.  Keep in mind that a day pass ranges between 4000 and 5000 yen at most places.

Snow Paradise Inawashiro/Inawashiro Ski Jo 猪苗代スキ場 – This is the home of the infamous FuJET Inawashiro Ski Day!  Think costumes and boxer run.  This resort is right in the heart of Inawashiro and hosted the International Ski Championships last year.  Some decent hills and an ok park that’s never too busy.   If you don’t board all year, you’ll be here for the Ski Day as it’s a “come-one-come-all and at least give snowboarding a shot” type of day.

English Website

Nango – a small little hill in Minami Aizu in the town of….NANGO.  This hill is a park boarder’s wet dream.  The entire resort is a park.  They have 4 half pipes, as well as, parks for beginners, intermediate and advanced boarders.  IT IS SICK AS HELL!!!!  At least once you have to go into the Miz.  I’d recommend mid-march as the roads are decent by then and the boarding is ALWAYS AMAZING!!!!!!!  If you know a Miz person, keep in touch with them so you can use their place to crash at after a day or two of boarding at Nango.  Quick note for Miz (Minami Aizu) people:  You guys as Miz employees can get a sweet deal for lift passes.  I think it’s around 20,000 yen for a season pass to like 5 different hills.  Hit up a sempai (Moffat, if you can call him a sempai).  If I lived in the Miz no one would ever see me between the months of November and April because I’d spend everyday riding the POW POW!!!!

So as to not make this real long, I’m gonna stop there.  There are a ton of other resorts, Gran Deco is a decent one in Ura-bandai, Minowa is about 30 min outside of Fukushima city.  Adatara is in Nihonmatsu.  And Zao and Yonezawa are just a short foray into Yamagata-ken.  I have outlined my 4 favourite places above though and strongly recommend checking them out.

All the places that I’ve mentioned above I’ve put in this MAP so you can see where they are in relation to you.  Even if you live on the coast, it’s still totally do-able to hit up the slopes for the weekend, ask Sarah, Gillam, Yasmin, Andy or Nas and they’ll tell you.

Coming up…

How to approach learning and teaching/Boarding tips in general.

If any of the sempais want to throw down on what’s been said above or bring attention ot any of the other hills in the area, feel free.  As well, feel free to ask any questions below.

Once again, I’ll leave you with what everyone wants out of a snowboard video…BAILS!