When it comes to skiing and snowboarding, people regularly refer to “powder snow” and will do anything to find it! Powder is the most coveted type of snow when you want to bomb down a mountain with the white stuff kicking-up in your face! It makes skiing and snowboarding a totally different experience and one of the main reasons snow sports enthusiasts travel to Japan from abroad.
Around the world there is huge variation in the quantity and quality of snow, meaning that ski resorts are far from being created equal. Among Japanese resorts, Shiga Kogen is renowned for the quality and reliability of its powder. It is one of the main reasons Shiga was selected as one of the host venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics. This was the reason for the area to be elected as the center of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
As the map below shows, Shiga Kogen is surrounded by some of Japan’s tallest mountain ranges. Being enclosed by high peaks from all sides, the region is protected from the warm southern winds, meaning that temperatures remain colder for longer in Shiga Kogen, and protecting the existing snow from melting and remaining on the ground for longer.
Protected from the warmer southern weather pattern, Shiga is exposed to strong winds coming-off the Sea of Japan. These winds originate far to the north and are far colder than those coming from the Pacific Ocean to the south. Because of this, the snowfall in Shiga is colder and drier than most other areas, and widely regarded as the best powder in Nagano.
Shiga Kogen is not only blessed by its topography but also altitudes of 2000 metres (including Japan’s highest chair-lifted ski, Yokoteyama, at 2307 metres). In comparison, the summit of Hokkaido’s famous Niseko is around 1300 metres while the nearby Hakuba Valley has a maximum (chair-lifted) elevation of approximately 1800 metres. Shiga on the other hand includes vertical between approximately 1500 to 2300 metres. This elevation brings snow the resort earlier than others and guarantees a longer season.
It’s something that locals have known for years and one of Japan’s best kept secrets.
Shiga Highlands are easily accessible using the Nagaden Dentetsu (Nagaden) train line followed by a local bus from JR Yudanaka Station or a direct express bus from JR Nagano Station.
For further information please refer to our earlier article explaining how to make the journey to Shiga Kogen by public transport.