Standing on the top of Ciao Ontake Ski Resort at 2190m looking out at the peak marked range of the Japanese Alps takes your breath away. Turn and look to the main peak of Mt. Ontake standing 3067m and your breath is gone. Mt. Ontake is one the highest mountains in Japan and a volcano but don't worry, it hasn't been active since 1980. Line up your skis or get on your board and get ready for some the best powder on Honshu. If Hokkaido has the best skiing in Japan, it is because of its powder. On Honshu the snow tends to be wet and after a while, you may trade in your skis for skates. Ontake's altitude puts it inline with many powder covered peaks in Hokkaido allowing it to often have soft deep wonderful powder. It should be noted though that htey do make snow at the beginning and end of the year but mostly, the snow is natural.
Compared to its resorts in neighboring Nagano neighbors and Oku Mino on the other side of Gifu, Ciao is relatively small with only three long courses and two short courses. I like to warm up on the East course which is aimed mostly for beginners but can become very crowded. If you are an experienced skier or boarder, try to avoid this hill, there will be many newbies which can turn it from a nice easy slope into a slalom. The far west course has a great 34º grade and contains moguls for the more experienced skier and boarder. The center course is just right for the regular user.
There are three lifts and a gondola. The first lift takes you to the middle of the east course where you can ski across the east course to the second lift. The third lift takes skiers to the top of the top course which is good for skiers in training. While the gondola, which goes up the center of the resort, takes you to the very top. The view of the mountain ranges in their pure raw beauty is breathtaking and a creates fantastic topics of conversations with the strangers you ride with. Once at the top, you can grab a bite at the small cafe or just hit the slopes.
At the base is the Central House which houses the ski school, ski rental facilities, first-aid and restaurants. Ski, board and snow equipment rental ranges from ¥2000 to ¥4000. There are two places to eat; Grande the main restaurant and Carino a bakery cafe. Grande serves not only the standard fare for a Japanese cafeteriabut also local dishes like Hida steaks and Hida curry which is to die for. Though the dominant access is via Kiso Fukushima (Nagano) on the JR Chuo line, there are few places to stay around there. So if you want to take advantage of Ciao's fantastic skiing and view, then return via Takayama where there are many hotel choices, restaurants and tourist destinations to visit. Ciao is a short ninety minute train ride from Nagoya and great outdoor break when visiting Japan in winter. When we go skiing, we go Ciao!