To celebrate the 100th anniversary of skiing in Niigata, the Prefecture has launched a new character. Destined to become everyone’s favorite European military cartoon figure, Major Theodor von Lerch gave the first-ever systematic skiing lessons back in January 1911, on the slopes of Mt. Kanaya, in Takadamachi, Niigata—now Joetsu City. The Austrian officer was born in Pressburg, Bratislava (the current Slovak capital) and came to Japan to research the nation’s military resources. He then made the obvious career transition to pioneering the new winter leisure industry. Described as a trusting person who is kind to children and a bit of a ladies’ man, Lerch-san is bound to bring mustaches back in fashion during the Niigata ski season.
Founded in 1937 as one of the first European-style ski lodges in Japan, the Akakura Onsen Ski Resort is splayed out majestically on the slopes of Mt. Myoko. The hotel contains 52 western- and Japanese-style rooms offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and glittering Lake Nojiri to the east. Akakura offers a 4km run from 1,500m, plus snowboarding, terrain parks and plenty for all ability levels. Nearby Nagano provides some sightseeing and entertainment possibilities, with biking, hiking and climbing on offer, too. The hotel was recently done up to preserve its antique style updated with all the modern conveniences. 216 Tagiri, Myoko-shi. Tel: 025-587-2503. www.akr-ski.com/english
The origin of skiing in Japan is said to be in Joetsu City. And right there, at the source, is an intimate resort named Cupid Valley, where you can start your love affair with the slopes. The intimate resort might only have five ski lifts, but that belies the sheer quantity of pure skiing you can do there. There are a staggering 550m of vertical descent, enough to satiate the most avid of snow monsters. Cupid Valley’s nine pistes are perfect for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, while there is also some terrain for both beginners and advanced practitioners. Yukidaruma-kogen, Sugawa, Yasuzuka-ku, Joetsu City. Tel: 025-593-2041. www.yukidaruma-kogen.com
Naeba Ski Resort
Another word that often goes with “ski” and “Japan” is “Naeba.” Japan’s largest ski resort can provide you with stimulating ski and board possibilities for days, plus the world’s longest gondola, The Dragondola, which travels a whopping 5.5km from Naeba’s slopes to Kagura Ski Resort’s Tashiro area, providing entry to the rest of Kagura’s runs. When staying in Naeba, you’d be hard pushed to find a better alternative than the 3,000-room Naeba Prince Hotel. The hotel provides easy access to and from the slopes—with lifts in operation 13 hours a day Sunday to Friday, and 14 hours on Saturday. Naturally there are plenty of recreational possibilities aprés-ski, too. 202 Mikuni, Yuzawa Town. Tel: 025-789-2211. www.princehotels.co.jp/ski/naeba-e
Imagine waking up one morning in Tokyo, and sliding down a glorious ski slope by 8am. Sounds crazy—but it’s totally possible with Gala Yuzawa. Situated in Echigo Yuzawa, a town with the dual qualities of copious amounts of snowfall and a shinkansen stop 77 minutes from Tokyo station, the resort is your gateway to skiing in Niigata. You can slalom from 1,181m all the way down to 358m, with all kinds of possibilities for all levels. Last season they opened up their new 2.5km run, which you can ski or board down 573m, with fabulous views of the Uonuma valley to the north as you go. 1039-2 Kayadaira Yuzawa Town. Tel: 025-785-6543. www.galaresort.jp/winter/english
Where there’s good rice and good water, there’s good sake. That’s Niigata, in case you were wondering. For anyone who’s not been to a sake festival, it involves taking your ochokko or small cup around and trying an unlimited quantity of the finest jizake (local sake). There will be 500 varieties provided by 90 brewers, plus a selection of local delicacies to soak up the liquid. The festival takes place March 17-18, from 10am-6pm, and your ticket (¥1,800 adv; ¥2,000 door) will gain you access for both days—if you can handle it. Toki Messe Niigata Convention Center, 6-1 Bandaijima, Chuo-ku, Niigata City. Tel: 025-229-1218. Nearest stn: Niigata, Bandai exit (20 min walk). http://meturl.com/niigatasake