Winter Activities in Yamanouchi
Running from December to March, Yamanouchi’s winter is long, cold, full of snow and a great time to visit! Yamanouchi is home to Japan’s largest and highest resort of Shiga Kogen, while the nearby, smaller resorts of Kita-Shiga Kogen bunch above their weight!
One of Central Japan’s most popular destinations for skiers and snowboarders, there’s also plenty on offer for those who don’t want to hit the mountain! We recommend the following winter activities in Yamanouchi:
VISIT THE JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK
Fondly referred to as ‘snow monkeys’, winter is the most popular time to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Snow typically begins falling in the park from mid-December onward with January and February being the months with the heaviest falls.
Having said that, in recent years March has brought regular and large dumps of snow, making the final month of winter a great time to visit. Crowd numbers peak in December and January, and by March, while still busy the park can be enjoyed with more space and freedom but hopefully, plenty of snow still on the ground.
Of course, no matter when you visit, witnessing the unique sight of the monkeys going about their lives in a world of snow and soaking in their hot spring is one of Japan’s most remarkable sights.
SKIING & SNOWBOARDING
Nestled within the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Shiga offers an expansive area to explore and conquer – around 80 courses, spread over a huge variety of terrain connected by more than 50 chairlifts and gondolas.
In total, Shiga Kogen offers around 600 hectares of terrain and 80+ km of trails covered by one all-mountain pass. The nearby ski resorts of Kita-Shiga Kogen are notably smaller than their larger neighbor, but what it lacks for size, it makes up in vertical, fun and powder dumps! As the largest resort in Kita-Shiga, Ryuoo Ski Park has only 15 courses but a substantial 1080 metres of vertical (850-1930). Popular with locals and young Tokyo-ites, Ryuoo has a youthful atmosphere and is dominated by snowboarders.
Needless to say, both Shiga and Kita-Shiga offer some of Central Japan’s best skiing and snowboarding. Ski areas offer terrain and trails suitable to all levels, from newbies to advanced. Intermediate skiers and snowboarders will probably get the most out of the resorts of Yamanouchi, which maintain strict policies banning backcountry unless accompanied by a guide.
While such policies are there for the safety of visitors, they often frustrate advanced skiers and snowboarders who want to get off-piste and explore those big dumps of powder. So just make sure to follow the rules, stay on-piste and enjoy Japan’s largest area of interconnected ski fields!
Shiga Kogen was a host venue for events during the 1998 Winter Olympics including mens and womens snowboarding events and womens downhill skiing. As the first Olympic Games to include snowboarding as a medalled-event, Shiga Kogen has a strong connection to the development of snowboarding at a winter sport. Today, visitors can still test themselves at the various Olympic courses spread through the resort.
Olympic courses are well-marked and suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders with the courses in Highashidateyama – used for womens downhill – accessible from the Higashidateyama Ropeway and a great place to start! Just remember, you are sharing the resort with others so go slow and be careful!
SNOW FUN ACTIVITIES & SNOWMOBILING
As Japan’s largest resort, Shiga Kogen has plenty to offer through winter. For families, especially those with younger children, the Maruike Snow Activity Park and Yakebitaiyama Family Snow Park offer fenced-off playgrounds where children and families can use sleds, tubes and other snow gear.
Winter visitors to Shiga can also enjoy snowmobiling in the Yakebitai ski fields. One of the most scenic areas of the resort, Yakebitai is the perfect place to enjoy a single or tandem ride, guided by a certified instructor. Want to enjoy these activities in Shiga in combination with a visit to the monkeys? Check-out our winter tours in Shiga Kogen. Available from December to March each year, a tour is a convenient and fun way to enjoy Shiga Kogen at its winter best!
ENJOY A SOAK IN THE SNOW
Available all year round, there is no better time to enjoy an ‘onsen’ than during the cold months of winter. Many guesthouses have outdoor baths allowing guests to sit outside in the indulgence of the thermal water as snowfalls around them.
Yamanouchi is home to numerous guesthouses with their own hot springs. So why not book, stay and enjoy a hot spring retreat in Yamanouchi this winter!
KANBAYASHI ONSEN SENDAYAKI
Taking place in the first week of February, the ‘Kanbayashi Onsen Sendayaki’ is a small and very local fire festival that sees members of the ‘Mitake-kyo Chusei-kosha’ – a Shinto sect that worships Mount Ontake – move from the lower town of Shibu Onsen up to Kanbayashi Onsen in ceremonial attire.
As they progress through the towns, they ceremoniously cut ‘shimenawa’ ropes in prayer for prosperity and defence from ill fortune. Once in Kanbayashi Onsen, the procession proceeds to Fudo-son Shrine – only a short walk from the trail leading to the Jigokudani Monkey Park – where a series of Shinto rituals take place before the final act, ceremonial fire-walking across burning charcoal as a form of purification.
SPRING SKIING IN SHIGA KOGEN
The altitude and topography of the mountain means that Shiga is blessed with Nagano’s best and most reliable powder snow and stunning natural beauty.
Shiga’s season starts earlier and goes longer with some ski areas opening as early as late-November and staying open until late-April or even into May – long after the other resorts of closed for the season. As such, Shiga offers visitors Nagano’s best spring-skiing and all within easy reach of the onsen villages of Yudanaka, Shibu and Kanbayashi.
SNOW MONKEY BEER LIVE
Snow Monkey Beer Live takes place each March in Shiga Kogen. Over three days, the festival sees craft brewers from all over Japan – and a couple of guest brewers from overseas – ply the crowd with their finest beers, soundtracked by live bands and artists and with great food on offer! Though fairly new to the local calendar of events, Snow Monkey Beer Live has quickly gained popularity and usually sells-out in advance. Taking place in mid-March, the festival heralds the end of winter and start of Shiga Kogen’s spring skiing festival. At a time when most other resorts are closely for the season, Shiga is really coming into its owns with Snow Monkey Beer Live the perfect way to make the most of Japan’s largest ski resort.