Shiga Kogen – 15 Things To Do In Winter At Japan’s Largest Ski Resort
Boasting Japan’s highest chairlifts at 2307 metres and over 600ha of terrain, Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is the highest and largest resort in the country. 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. As Japan’s largest ski resort, Shiga Kogen is made-up of 18 ski areas – almost all of which are interconnected – with courses and terrain suited to all levels. 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.
2 / CHALLENGE YOURSELF ON AN OLYMPIC COURSE!
Shiga Kogen was one of a host venue 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!
3 / SIDECOUNTRY IN YAKEBITAI & OKUSHIGA
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 re-emerge on-piste as you emerge from the trees back onto a run.
4 / STAY & EXPLORE SHIGA ON ‘SKI SAFARI’
As Japan’s largest and highest ski resort, Shiga Kogen offers an unmatched extent of terrain – over 600 hectares! With so much to explore, Shiga really is best experienced on a multi-day visit – an experience many locals refer to as ‘Ski Safari’. Nestled within the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen has been spared the development of other resorts and as such, retains a somewhat wild and raw atmosphere. For this reason, tackling all its courses including the highest chair-lifted ski runs in Japan at 2307 metres is considered a ‘Ski Safari’ – a winter getaway best experienced by staying in Shiga over a multi-day visit.
The resort offers numerous accommodation options, of which we recommend Hotel Grand Phenix Okushiga. Located at the base of one of the resort’s best ski fields, Grand Phenix offers fine-dining, high-end accommodation with ski in/out access. The perfect base from where to enjoy the entire resort. Want to package your stay at Grand Phenix with lift passes, transport and more? We are proud to partner with Grand Phenix throughout the year including ski and snowboard packages each winter!
5 / ENJOY THE FAMILY-FRIENDLY ACTIVITY AREAS OF SHIGA
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, Maruike Snow Activity Park– located in the Maruike ski fields – 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. Further into the resort, the Yakebitaiyama Family Snow Park is located directly outside of Prince Hotel West, offering a similar range of activities for kids, families, or anyone wanting to release their inner-child!
6 / TRY SNOWDRIVES & SNOWCOOTS ON A GUIDED TOUR
Short on-time or just want to have some fun while in Shiga Kogen? Our 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Snow Fun in Shiga Kogen Tour combines a morning visit to the resort with lunch and early afternoon trip to the nearby Jigokudani Monkey Park. At the Maruike Snow Activity Park – as discussed above – guests can enjoy sleds and tubes along with snowdrives and snowscoots (pictured above). Suitable for guests of all ages, the drives and scoots are easy to use and just as much fun for adults as they are adults. Running from December to March and with big discounts available through ‘Go To Travel’, this tour is always one of our most popular each winter!
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. 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 / TAKE A LESSON AT SHIGA KOGEN’S INTERNATIONAL SKI SCHOOL
Operating out of the Okushiga ski fields, Shiga Kogen International Ski School offers both group and private lessons for all levels of skiers and snowboarders by English-speaking, 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!
9 / ENJOY AN ONSEN AFTER A LONG DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN
One of the great joys of skiing and snowboarding in Japan is relaxing in an ‘onsen’ (natural hot spring) after a long day on the mountain. Nagano is blessed with numerous onsen including some of Japan’s most historic hot spring towns. For visitors to Shiga Kogen, Hotel Sunny Shiga has a natural hot spring open 24-hours a day for hotel guests and during the day for pop-in visitors (pictured below). Located directly across from the Takamagahara ski fields, Hotel Sunny Shiga can also be chosen as your accommodation with our ski and snowboard packages.
For guests happy to stay a little further afield, why not book a guesthouse in the hot spring towns of Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen!? All three have direct access to the resort using local bus services – between 20 to 30-minutes away from the Shiga Kogen Yamanoeki (Mountain Station).
All three hot spring towns are located within the Yamanouchi area – also home to Shiga Kogen and the Jigokudani Monkey Park – and boast numerous traditional guesthouses that pride themselves of the comfort and enjoyment of their guests. Trust us, nothing feels better at the end of the day than slipping into a hot spring – it should be high on your list of winter priorities!
10 / HEAD TO SHIGA’S LITTLE BROTHER – KITA-SHIGA KOGEN
The nearby ski resorts of Kita-Shiga Kogen are notably smaller than its 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.
The resort is long, narrow and effectively split into three sections: easy (and often crowded) beginner slopes at the bottom, intermediate courses in the midsection and advanced terrain and often excellent powder at the top.
The resort is dominated by the Skyland Express Ropeway which ascends to the top of the resort at 1770 metres and the Sora Terrace Café – a popular destination in both winter and late-spring to autumn. It is important to note that the ski fields of Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen are not connected, but being located nearby each other, can be incorporated into multi-day stay in the area.
11 / WELCOME THE SPRING-SKI SEASON AT 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 great food also 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.
12 / ENJOY NAGANO’S BEST SPRING-SKIING
Shiga Kogen’s higher elevation and natural topography combine to bless it with Nagano’s most reliable snow conditions and longest season. Often extending into May, Shiga offers the best spring-skiing in Nagano at a time when most other resorts have closed. Take advantage of great late season deals including at Hotel Grand Phenix. Located in the Okushiga ski fields, Grand Phenix is one of the best places to enjoy the late season and Nagano’s best spring-skiing in combination with its ski in/out convenience, European-styling, and fine-dining restaurants.
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 / GO SLOW & EXPLORE YAMANOUCHI – HOME OF THE SNOW MONKEYS
Both Shiga Kogen and the monkey park lie within the wider region of Yamanouchi. Most famous for its epic skiing, snowboarding and adorable monkeys, Yamanouchi is blessed with Nagano’s largest supply of natural thermal water, the area has long been known for its many hot springs supporting multiple ‘onsen’ towns including Yudanaka, Shibu and Kanbayashi. Known as ‘onsen’ in Japanese, natural hot springs have long been sought-out for their claimed recuperative powers and in more recent years, for pure relaxation. Some of Yamanouchi’s hot springs allow use by day-visitors however most retain the tradition of reserving their onsen for the exclusive use of guests.
As such, the best way to enjoy the area’s hot springs is staying at least one night at one of the many guesthouses of Yamanouchi. Known as ‘ryokan’ or ‘minshuku’, most traditional guesthouses in the area will have their own hot spring, with some accommodation offering multiple baths – both indoor and outdoor – along with onsen in your room or private baths that can be booked.
Most serve traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) dinner service, of which, Hotel Senjukaku is perhaps the most famous. Popular with members of the Japanese Royal Family, Senjukaku is within walking distance of the monkey park and easy access of Shiga Kogen.
15 / COMBINE YOUR VISIT TO SHIGA WITH ANY OF NAGANO’S RESORTS!
Home to more than 80 ski resorts, visitors to Nagano in winter are spoiled for choice. While we are big fans of Shiga Kogen, we are just as keen on many of the other fantastic resorts dotted throughout the region. Around an hours drive from Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen is a popular resort with a lively village. Particularly well-suited to snowboarders, the resort has a youthful atmosphere with lots of restaurants and facilities catering to international visitors.
Of course if you want resorts setup for international visitors, then head to Hakuba. Home to multiple great resorts, Hakuba Valley is Nagano’s most popular ski area. Blessed with some great terrain including epic backcountry, Hakuba is popular for many reasons. But be warned, it is popular… you won’t find the quiet runs of Shiga Kogen here!
For more suggestions and information about what’s on offer this winter, see our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page.
BOOK WITH US! ACCOMMODATION & SKI PACKAGES IN SHIGA KOGEN
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are a registered travel agent, tour and charter operator offering a full-suite of winter services including ski/snowboard packages, accommodation, lift passes, private charters and a range of tours including both group and private options covering Shiga Kogen:
SHIGA KOGEN ACCOMMODATION & SKI PACKAGES
As Japan’s largest and highest ski resort, Shiga Kogen is blessed with Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow. Accommodation is dotted across the resort’s expansive 600ha of terrain with the nearby hot spring villages of Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen and Yudanaka Onsen offering a great alternative for visitors wanting to enjoy Japan’s legendary ‘onsen’ culture – PLAN & BOOK IN SHIGA NOW!
JAPAN SKI RESORTS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Did you know that Shiga Kogen is just one of the more than eighty ski resorts in Nagano and more than five hundred in Japan? Needless to say, when you choose Nagano for your winter getaway you are spoiled for choice! Our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page has everything you need to know to start planning your ski and snowboard adventure including: LATEST NEWS & DEALS, THE BEST RESORTS IN NAGANO & JAPAN, FAQs and of course OUR SKI PACKAGES, ACCOMMODATION, TRANSPORT & TOURS.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Locally-based and operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the region’s many ski resorts and other fantastic destinations and activities.
For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination including from/to Nagano Station and any resort in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your schedule.
All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Nagano and Central Japan this winter? Contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!