By Cathy Cawood
The lovely cities in Kansai rarely get an abundance of snow in winter, if at all. To find a white wonderland, we need to go high up to the mountains. The thing is, not every mountain has snow, and some of the ski resorts closest to the city need to make their own artificial snow in December in order to get the business running. What do you do then, if you want to go skiing on natural snow?
Some people tell me about this fabled ski resort named Hakodateyama. They have a website and even a mascot, but only in Japanese. When Japanese people and people that are familiar about Japanese Geography hear about Hakodateyama, their mind transports them to a certain mountain in Hokkaido, so when I told them I am going to Hakodateyama from Osaka looking for snow, they all exclaim, "Wow, so far!" Believe me, it's not that far. From Osaka, you need two hours, more or less. This is actually one of Osaka and Kyoto city's closest ski resorts, making it possible to go there and return in a day.
Not many guides tell you how to get there, and when we use Google Maps, typing "Hakodateyama Ski Resort", and not plain "Hakodateyama", it can't even give an direction on how to go there by public transport. Luckily, we can! The place is beautiful and worth the effort to get there.
To go there, first go to JR Omiimazu station (Google say Omi-imazu but Hyperdia say Omiimazu). I recommend buying a one day Kansai Pass for 2300 Yen in JR West station. When you get there, you will be greeted by a snow-clad houses and parks. Just outside of the station, there is a bus stop. Whilst I was waiting, I noticed there are two types of buses: JR and local Bus. Go with the local bus, the schedule is on the bus stop and the cost is 230 Yen for one ride. The JR Bus goes to a totally different location and cost ten times as much so don't board the wrong one.
Before you arrive at the foot of the mountain, there is before you an unending scenery of fields filled up by snow. Some houses can be seen far away and they are huddled together. They look a bit more traditional than we used to seeing, just like the machiya in traditional Kyoto. The bus trip goes for a long time and have a circling route, but you will eventually be brought near the destination. The locals know what a tourist looks like and where their destination is, so don't worry about missing it. Some elderly folks tried to communicate and tell me about my stop.
You will know when you arrive. There are several stands, souvenir shops, vending machine, parking lot, and the most obvious of all is the Gondola right before you. The ticket for the Gondola is ¥1,850 for the return trip for adult on weekday. You can also buy the ski lift ticket here, and a warning that you can't use a credit card up there. Ski and snowboard rental for adult one day is ¥4,500. To learn how to ski another ¥4,500. You can also rent other equipment like jackets and goggles. You can check more here
Outside the Gondola a world of pure white snow will greet you. There are a restaurant, a rental place, and a toilet, as well as the ski lift. It tends to be crowded once they open and the course is more for beginners, but it's good enough for a ski day trip. The food was good, not too overpriced, and they have an English menu, too. A big curry rice is ¥900. If you only play with snow it's okay as well, but keep in mind that the snow is not groomed in some areas, so it is easy to disappear into a tall snowy pile. On the lower slopes, you can see Biwako lake, a stunning and calming panorama on a clear day.
The souvenir shop stocks a limited number of useful items, from ski equipment, soft toys and snacks. I particularly like the chocolate filled mochi or sweet rice dumplings for ¥230 per box with the mascot on the cover.
Enjoy little Hakodateyama in Shiga!
To go there, first go to JR Omiimazu station. From there, take a local bus for 230 Yen. It takes about 20 minutes.
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