Jan 20-Feb 1, 2020
The day after I flew out of Selkirk Lodge I was sitting in a jet plane heading to Japan.
With a group of 15, including my wife and two kids, and a bunch of my favourite long-time clients, we based out of the town of Echigo-Yuzawa. Yuzawa did not disappoint. The Minshuku we stayed in, Densuke, was the real deal — sleeping on futons in a room lined with grass tatami mats, with cozy Kotatsus to warm you to the bones after a chilly day on the slopes. In fact we were the very first western / Caucasian clients the Denuske has ever hosted in over 40 years of operation! The town is filled with fantastic authentic Japanese restaurants: sushi, ramen, izakay, yakatori, tempura, tonkatsu — you name it, there’s a tiny cozy restaurant that serves it. One of the highlights was walking to the train station for a visit to the “Sake Tasting Shop”. With coin-operated sake dispensers, 500 Yen (about $5 USD) will get you 5 shots of the best sake in Japan. In fact, Yuzawa is famous for its rice and sake industries.
But we came for the skiing, didn’t we? The ski hills we visited had amazing skiing and were the epitomy of quirky. Japan actually has the most ski hills by area of any other country in the world — over 350 of them! With the lull in the Japanese economy after the 80s recession, many of them have never quite recovered and consequently are relatively empty of skiers. A bad thing for the ski business, but great for skiers as lineups are short and the powder is plentiful.
One of the quirkiest has to be Tenjindaira. You get there via the local Joetsu Line local train which stops at Doai Station. Doai station has the distinction of being one of the deepest train stations in the world, the northbound line requiring you to walk down (fortunately not up) 486 steps into the bowls of Mount Tanigawanike — a surreal experience to say the least and a highlight of our trip strangely enough. Tenjindaira is famous for its steep off-piste skiing: a kilometer-long ridge of steep trees takes you 450 m down into the valley to reconnect with a gondola station that could have been a set for The Twilight Zone. Tenjindaira is also known for the mountain that looms overhead, Mt. Tanigawanike. We climbed it only to find out later on that it has the reputation for being the “Most Dangerous Mountain in the World”! Actually, the fact that it’s claimed over 800 lives has more to do with its proximity to Tokyo and the dangerously loose rock on the opposite side of the mountain. It is, in fact, a gentle, enjoyable ski peak from the top of the chairlift on the Tenjindaira side!
Jun and I have put together a great itinerary that will bring us to the deepest corners of the Japanese powder belt and Japanese culture, and it’s going to be awesome. Come and join us in 2022!