SHIGA KOGEN – 15 THINGS TO DO IN WINTER AT JAPAN’S LARGEST SKI RESORT
Known as the ski resort with the highest altitude in Japan at 2307 meters, as well as the largest resort with a total if 450 hectares, Shiga Kogen is a winter sports mecca!
Mesmerized by Shiga Kogen’s massive snowfall and the powdery quality of the white stuff, numerous local skiers and snowboarders visit Shiga Kogen every winter to enjoy what the resort has to offer. Shiga Kogen also offers a range of activities and other attractions which visitors of all ages can enjoy during their stay. Here is our guide to 15 things to do in Shiga Kogen each winter:
1. SKIING & SNOWBOARDING USING AN ALL-MOUNTAIN PASS
Needless to say, skiing and snowboarding are the most popular winter activities in Shiga Kogen. The resort consists of 18 areas, each of them are interconnected by 51 lifts and 4 gondolas. Ski courses and terrain are a mix of levels, catering to all levels; 46% of beginner, 40% intermediate, and 14% advanced.
To begin your winter adventure, we recommend the resort’s Central Area as it is located in the literal middle of Shiga and is connected to the other ski fields that make-up the overall resort. The Ichinose Village ski fields in the central area offer the largest number of hotels and restaurants in Shiga Kogen and is therefore the most convenient location to base yourself. Ichinose also has a good number of beginner slopes along with more challenging slopes for intermediates or advanced skiers/snowboarders.
As Japan’s largest resort, Shiga Kogen is the perfect destination for visitors wanting to arrange a multiday winter sports destination. Our ski and snowboard packages take the hassle out of arranging your visit and include all you need – all-mountain passes for the duration of your stay, accommodation in the resort’s central area, transport from and to JR Nagano Station and lots of other perks – to get the most out of your winter adventure!
2. BACKCOUNTRY SKIING/SNOWBOARDING THROUGH SHIGA’S EPIC POWDER
If you are a more adventurous skier/snowboarder who is eager to hunt for your own fresh powder dumps, the ski areas of Yakebtia and Okushiga Kogen are the best places to seek-out in Shiga Kogen. While the attitude towards backcountry skiing in Japanese ski resorts is generally quite strict, Mt. Yakebitai and Okushiga Kogen take a more flexible approach to lovers of getting off-piste and offer limited zones where you can glide through ungroomed, untouched powder and then remerge on-piste as you emerge from the trees back onto a run.
3. ENJOY THE FAMILY-FRIENDLY ACTIVITY AREA OF ICHINOSE
As winter sports are widely recognized as the activity for families, Shiga Kogen has several family-friendly facilities for visitors. If you are visiting the resort with children or don’t have much experience and looking for a fun and easy activity, Ichinose Diamond Rabbit Park – located in Ichinose Diamond area – is a great option for you!
The activity area is fenced-off and provides you with a various gear including sledges, snow-tubes, snow-striders and unlimited amount of snow to make a snowman or have a snowball fight. Entry is JPY500 per person (as of date of publication) and allows unlimited use of tools inside the activity area.
4. TRY A SNOWDRIVE OR SNOWCOOT
What if you don’t know how to ski or snowboard but still want to glide down the slopes? If you fit within this category, the Ichinose Diamond ski field also has snowdrives and snowscoots to ride. The simplicity of this gear allows you to learn to balance faster than on skis or a snowboard, and once you have your confidence up you can also take them on a nearby ski lift and ride back down.
Snowscoots (pictured above) usually require more practice than a snowdrive, but once you get the hang of controlling the speed, you are ready to take to the lift for further practice scooting down the slope. Snowdrives can be described as a “sit-down skis” that allow you to glide down the slopes while sitting on a ski-board and that you brake by pushing your feet against the slope.
If you would like to take a tour to be taken to Shiga Kogen and experience the snow including snow fun activities, our 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Snow Fun in Shiga Kogen tour operates from December 22nd until March 20th and combines a visit to the Snow Monkey Park, lunch, and afternoon snow fun in Shiga Kogen!
5. EXPERIENCE THE THRILL OF A SNOWMOBILE
Snowmobiling has become one of the most popular and exciting winter activities in Shiga Kogen. Offering visitors a serious thrill, visitors to Shiga can ride a motorized snowmobile through the beautiful winter landscape, at a venue located at the bottom of Mt. Yakebitai.
On a guided snowmobile ride you are taken into the wild mountains and open fields, areas that skiers and snowboarders can’t access nor get in your way. Snowmobiling usually operates from around Christmas onward until the middle of March (depending on the condition of the snow). You can choose to ride either single or tandem depending on your age and preference.
6. GET-OFF THE BEATEN PATH WITH A SNOWSHOEING / SNOW HIKING ADVENTURE
If you would like to explore the resort on your own two feet, why not strap on a pair of snowshoes and go for a hike! Shiga Kogen is registered as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and shoeshowing is a great way to explore the beauty and significance of the surrouding lanscape. Snowshoes allow you to walk on fresh snow without sinking and therefore the best way to explore and absorb the atmosphere of the wild wintry mountains.
You can rent the necessary gear at the base building of Okushiga Kogen. Please note, there are prohibited zones which you cannot enter for safety reasons. Before starting, it’s best to ask the staff at the rental store for recommendations regarding the best and safest places to hike.
7. ENJOY THE 360-DEGREE PANORAMIC VIEW FROM 2000 METERS
Shiga Kogen is the highest ski resort in Japan and most of its mountain peaks are over 2000 meters high. Exploring the resort by skiing and snowboarding, you will encounter and go through a magnificent mountain landscape above the clouds. This is another reason why Shiga Kogen attracts so many skiers!
One of the most spectacular views in Shiga is from the top of Central Area’s Higashidate Gondola Lift. The 200°café right above the gondola station has an open-air balcony where you can enjoy delicious coffee and food while looking out over Shiga’s spectacular mountains.
8. CHALLENGE YOURSELF ON AN OLYMPIC COURSE!
Shiga Kogen was one of the main host venues of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, together with other renowned ski resorts such as Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen. Shiga has also hosted two World Cup alpine skiing events along with slalom and giant slalom. Challenging yourself on one of these ski runs – for those who are up to it! – is one of the most thrilling experiences that you can have while at the resort!
The courses you want to head for a clearly marked “Olympic Course” and hard to miss. The giant slalom course is on the southern hill of the Higashidate gondola station and runs for 1600 meters. Another slalom course is located in the middle of first gondola line of the Yakebitai ski area, with a 650 meter drop down of the expert run. Good luck!
9. TAKE A LESSON AT SHIGA KOGEN’S INTERNATIONAL SKI SCHOOL
The resort’s Shiga Kogen International Ski School offers both group and private lessons for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. The school is based in the Okushiga Kogen base building and lessons are conducted in English and by certified instructors. They also run a rental store with high quality, well-maintained gear for different levels.
During the Christmas and New Year holidays followed by Chinese New Year in February, the school is busy and often fully-booked. So if your mind is already set on booking a lesson at that time, make sure you do so in advance!
10. ENJOY LUNCH ON THE SKI SLOPES
Shiga Kogen has various restaurants throughout the resort offering both Japanese and Western-style lunch menus. The food quality is quite good considering that the restaurants are located in the middle of the mountains. For visitors looking for vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options, Japan can be a tough country as many people aren’t familiar with such diets and restrictions. However, the Restaurant Happy – located in Ichinose Diamond in the central area – caters for such needs with a wide menu – your best bet if you have specific requirements.
11. GET LOOSE & ENJOY THE NIGHTLIFE AT ICHINOSE
Shiga Kogen is not a type of winter resort that is big on nightlife, however Ichinose Village in the central area has recently increased their number of restaurants and bars that open until late night. Ethnic Beer Restaurant Kamoshika, Teppa Room, Sports Bar Snow Bird, etc. are popularly visited by both locals and international skiers, offering a wide variety of food and drink options.
12. EXPERIENCE FINE DINING AT THE REGION’S BEST RESTAURANT – HOTARU-TEI!
Having opened in winter 2018, Hotaru-tei is a Japanese fine dining restaurant that offers a unique culinary experience. Their menu includes everything from popular staples to high-end dining such as sushi, shabu-shabu, tempura, wagyu beef along with vegetarian dishes and many other options.
The restaurant sources ingredients from the coastal fish markets of Niigata, along the Sea of Japan, with vegetables sourced from local markets – meaning the menu is based on fresh, delicious ingredients. Hotaru-tei also offers a free pickup/drop-off service from/to Shiga Kogen area. If you would like to make an advance booking, you can do use through the restaurant website.
13. VISIT THE JIGOKUDANI SNOW MONKEY PARK
Shiga Kogen is the closest ski resort to the world-famous Snow Monkey Park; located approximately 35 minutes from Ichinose Village and 50 minutes from Okushiga Kogen via the public bus. Seeing the Japanese monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring in the snowy mountain is the ultimate Japanese winter experience, and there is no excuse to miss it when being so nearby in Shiga!
To access the park you need to walk along a forest trail – 1.6km/1 mile each way – which in winter will be affected by snow and ice. Make sure you dress appropriately for the conditions including warm clothing and good quality walking shoes/boots. If necessary, rental boots are available in winter at the Snow Monkey Resorts Info & Gift Shop.
14. VISIT THE NEAR-1300 YEAR OLD HOT SPRING VILLAGE OF SHIBU ONSEN
Also nearby Shiga and just down the hill from the monkey park, Shibu Onsen is a small, quaint and ancient village known for the healing properties of its many hot springs. There are many traditional Japanese ‘ryokan’ (inn) and an enormous amount of ‘onsen’ (hot springs) occurring naturally in and around the village. The hot water runs through water pipes that are found throughout the village, imbuing the town with an atmospheric and traditional character.
For anime lovers and most especially for fans of the films of Studio Ghibli, Shibu offers the chance to see and stay at Kanaguya (pictured above), a traditional ‘ryokan’ which claims to the be the inspiration for the spirit-filled bathhouse depicted in the classic film ‘Spirited Away’.
15. COMBINE YOUR VISIT TO SHIGA KOGEN WITH ANY OF NAGANO’S MANY NEARBY RESORTS!
The story of Japan’s winter resorts does not end at Shiga Kogen. Northern Nagano has number of attractive ski resorts with different vibes and styles: Hakuba is the most international ski area in Nagano with lots of western-style lodges and restaurants to choose from; Nozawa Onsen offers the unique cultural experience of another hot spring town combined with amazing powder and a great vibe; and Myoko Kogen has recently become the new must-do destination for powder lovers, with multiple ski resorts found in close proximity.
While public transport between the ski resorts exists, it is restricted by limited services which take time and require multiple transfers – which in the middle of winter is not something you really want to do. So why not take the hassle out of your transfer and the get the most out of your winter adventure in Nagano with a private charter to, from and between any Nagano ski resort!?