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Tohoku Ski Resorts: Bandai, Zao Onsen & Appi Kogen

Tohoku Ski Resorts: Bandai, Zao Onsen & Appi Kogen

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Of Japan’s major ski regions, Tohoku is the least well-known and least frequented by international visitors. But for those who do make it, the resorts of Tohoku offer some excellent skiing and snowboarding and unique experiences vistas typified by the ‘Snow Monsters’ of Zao Onsen. On this page you will find the following information:

Tohoku Ski Resorts: The Stats & Facts

How to Get to the Resorts

Japan Ski Resorts: Everything You Need to Know

When planning your visit to any of the Tohoku resorts it’s important to note their distance from starting points such as Tokyo. Of the three resorts listed below, Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai is the nearest – 290KM to the northeast of the capital – while Zao Onsen Ski Resorts and Appi Kogen Ski Resort are 375KM and 585KM to the north of Tokyo, respectively. Not only do the resorts lie notably further from Tokyo than the resorts of Nagano and Niigata, but they also lie at significant distance to each other. Basically, before booking your trip you need to do some planning.

While it takes a little time to reach the resorts, it’s easy to do so using the Tohoku Shinkansen (‘Bullet Train’) line running to and from Tokyo Station. Services run frequently throughout the day and given the speed of the service, dramatically reduces the travel time to each resort. For more information about the best way to reach each of them, see ‘How to Get to the Resorts’ below.

TOHOKU SKI RESORTS: THE STATS & FACTS


Of all of Japan’s ski areas including Nagano, Niigata and Hakuba, it’s likely that the one you haven’t heard of is Tohoku. Located to the northeast of Tokyo, Tohoku is an expansive area with lots of little resorts and a couple of bigger ones which are slowing building strong reputations. On this page we will discuss:

Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai / Zao Onsen Ski Resort / Appi Kogen Ski Resort

When considering a winter getaway to Tohoku, it’s important to recognise that the region consists of multiple prefectures including Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Akita, Iwate and Aomori with the three resorts discussed below located at significant distance of each other. This contrasts to Nagano, Niigata and Hokkaido which are prefectures to themselves all of which offer clusters of resorts in relatively close proximity. But if you have the time and energy to head to the resorts of Tohoku, you’ll find far fewer international visitors at any of them, allowing for a very ‘Japanese’ resort experience.

HOSHINO RESORTS ALTS BANDAI, FUKUSHIMA

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Operated by the Hoshino Resorts group – the same company operating the glitzy Hoshino Resorts Tomamu in Hokkaido – Bandai is a small to medium-sized resort designed to cater to a high-end market, especially those based in Tokyo. Located in Fukushima Prefecture, Alts Bandai doesn’t receive the legendary dumps of powder that many resorts in Japan are blessed with and has a relatively short season. For that reason, it’s important to set your expectations before booking a trip to Bandai. Designed to give visitors a full resort experience including high-end accommodation and all-inclusive ski packages, Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai is a decent resort but one best-suited to beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders looking for a convenient resort within relatively easy reach of Tokyo – but best to avoid weekends and holidays when the resort can be very crowded.

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Operating Dates & Times

Dependent on snow conditions, the resort is typically open from the second-half of December until the end of March with lifts operating from 08:30 to 16:00. Night-skiing is available from 17:00 to 21:00 on Saturdays between late-December and early-March.

Ski Runs

Bandai is a small to medium-sized resort – around 120 hectares – offering 22 ski runs serviced by 1 gondola and 7 chairlifts. Located between 580 to 1280 metres above sea level, the resort offers a decent (by Japanese standards) 700 metres of vertical however the steepest pitch only hits 29°. The official breakdown lists trails as: Beginner 35% / Intermediate 40% / Advanced 25%. The longest run is 3KM.

Highlights

The resort ascends the flanks of three small mountains – Mount Bandai, Mount Nekomagadake and Mount Umaya – reaching a maximum elevation of only 1280 metres*. It’s low elevation and inland location mean that Bandai doesn’t receive the powder of resorts in Nagano, Niigata and Hokkaido and with backcountry being prohibited, advanced skiers and boarders are likely to find little joy at the resort. With that said, Bandai boasts four terrain parks so if jumps and hits are your thing, then it’s worth a visit. Best-suited to beginners to lower-intermediate skier and boarders and families, the mellow terrain and wide lower runs are ideal for learning-on and building-up your confidence. But in reality, there are better options in Nagano and Niigata, all of which are located closer to Tokyo than Bandai.

*Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai is one of several resorts on Mount Bandai including Hoshino Resorts Nekoma Ski Resorts, Urabandai Ski Resort, Inawashiro Ski Resort and Grandeco Snow Resort. Inawashiro is the only other resort of decent size however for international visitors, this resort – Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai – is definitely the best option.

Tickets & Passes

Day passes for Bandai cost: Adults (18+): JPY4900/ JHS & HS Students (13-17): JPY3700 / ES-aged children (6-12): JPY2300 / Infants (0-5): Free / Seniors (60+): JPY4500.A range of other tickets are also available including half-day and night-skiing.

Rental & Ski School

The resort offers excellent rental including high quality ski and snowboards, stocking mostly Atomic and Burton. Ski and snowboard lessons are also available with group lessons only provided in Japanese however private lessons can be booked in English. Rental and lessons can be arranged at the main resort hotel, Bandaisan Onsen Hotel – see below for details.

Kids & Families

Bandai is a good resort for families including those with young children. On the mountain, there are two kids parks in which families can enjoy using sleds, rafts and other snow gear. Admission to both parks is free. An indoor playroom and childcare facilities for kids aged 8 months to 6 years are also available (daycare is likely to only be staffed by Japanese-speakers).

Accommodation & Village Info

Accommodation options at or near the resort are limited, with the large Bandaisan Onsen Hotel being the most convenient option. Offering ski in/out convenience, the hotel is located at the base of the resort and offers guests high-end rooms, restaurants and facilities including an ‘onsen’ (natural hot spring) and indoor swimming pool. A variety of Western-style rooms are available with restaurants serving both Japanese and international cuisine. The hotel has English-speaking staff, making it a good option for international visitors. Away from the hotel there are a number of small guesthouses and lodges providing accommodation in nearby villages however they lack the convenience of direct access to the resort. For more information and accommodation listings, see our ‘Bandai Ski Resort Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Bandai

Distance to Tokyo Station: 290KM / 3.5 to 4.5 hours. Nearest major station is Koriyama Station: 55KM / 1 to 1.5 hours from the resort.

To reach the resort from Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Koriyama Station – 75 to 95 minutes – and then switch to a shuttle bus service from the station to Alts Bandai – another 90 minutes. For more information, see ‘How to get to the Resorts’ below.


ZAO ONSEN SKI RESORT, YAMAGATA

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Zao Onsen is a medium to large-sized ski resort, offering a decent mix of terrain and serviced by a hot spring village. Best known for the snow-wrapped trees at its summit, Zao attracts mostly Japanese, Chinese and Korean skiers and snowboarders and to date, hasn’t found big popularity with Westerners. The resort offers around 300 hectares of terrain and a decent 880 metres of vertical. Best suited to beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, newbies will enjoy the resort’s long, mellow runs while intermediate and advanced riders can find some fun by heading into the trees and off-piste (but be discrete about it). While the ‘snow monsters’ are the top of the resort offer a unique and beautiful landscape in which to ride, it’s worth noting that the striking trees are the product of regular wild weather which you won’t see in the promotional photos and bluebird days are somewhat rare in the middle of winter. But wild weather equals empty ski runs so even that can have its positives…

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Operating Dates & Times

Dependent on snow conditions, the resort is typically open from early-December until the end of April or even into May, with lifts operating from 08:30 to 17:00. Night-skiing is available from 17:00 to 21:00 in the Uwanodai and Yokoura areas of the resorts however exact dates of operation vary.

Ski Runs

Zao Onsen is a relatively large resort – by Japanese standards – offering 305 hectares of terrain, accessible via 25 ski runs and serviced by 2 ropeways, 1 gondola and 31 chairlifts. Sitting between 880 to 1661 metres above sea level, the resort offers a decent 780 metres of vertical with the steepest pitch hitting standards) 700 metres of vertical with the steepest pitch hitting 38°. The official breakdown lists trails as: Beginner 40% / Intermediate 40% / Advanced 20%. The longest run is an impressive 9 to 10KM long, making it one of the longest in Japan.

Highlights

Without doubt the most famous feature of Zao Onsen is its towering ‘juhyo’ or ‘snow ghosts / monsters’; the snow and ice entombed trees populating the very top of the resort. Formed by constant blasts of cold air, ice and snow originating in Siberia, the snow monsters are reason enough for many people to make the journey to Zao Onsen. You are free to ride between the trees as you begin your descent down long ski runs, the longest of which stretches 9 to 10km making it one of the longest in Japan. On-piste the action is pretty mellow, best-suited to beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. While backcountry is technically off-limits but not policed all that well, so if you’re discrete and avoid going under operating lifts, then you should be able to enjoy some powder all to yourself. Much like Nozawa Onsen in Nagano, the traditional hot spring village connected to the resort creates an authentic feeling atmosphere. At its busiest on weekends and holidays, Zao is mostly empty of weekdays making it an enticing option for anyone wanting a true ‘Japanese’ ski experience. 

Tickets & Passes

Day passes for Zao cost: Adults (18+): JPY5500/ JHS & HS Students (13-17): JPY4800 / ES-aged children (6-12): JPY2800 / Infants (0-5): Free / Seniors (60+): JPY4800.A range of other tickets are also available including half-day and night-skiing.

Rental & Ski School

When it comes to rental and lesson, Zao is quite lacking in comparison to many other resorts. Independent rental stores are spread around the resort and village however most outlets supply dated gear with limited to no services in English. Located inside the Zao Base Centre Jupia, Zao Ski Rental is one exception to this, supplying decent gear and staffed by some English-speakers. Some guesthouses also provide in-house rental. While a convenient option the quality and prices really do vary so if getting your hands to some decent equipment is important to you, make sure to ask in advance. Ski and snowboards schools exist in Zao however only provide groups lessons in Japanese. Zao Ski School and Zao Heim Ski School provide private lessons in English. Both are located at the base of the Uwanodai ski area.

Kids & Families

The resort isn’t well-suited to families with young children. There are few dedicated facilities for families and no daycare. If you choosing a resort that is family-friendly is a priority for you, both Hoshino Resorts Alt Bandai or Appi Kogen are better options.

Accommodation & Village Info

Zao Onsen is, as the name suggests, traditionally a hot spring area with the village offering lots of guesthouses with in-house hot springs. Many are family-run and while you’ll likely struggle to find many guesthouses catering specifically to international visitors, you’re almost guaranteed to receive a warm welcome anywhere you choose to book. There are no large hotels in the village, a fact which has allowed Zao Onsen to retain its traditional appearance while the lack of foreign visitors, means that the entire resort still feels very ‘Japanese’. Like all the resorts of Tohoku, don’t expect much nightlife. For more information and accommodation listings, see our ‘Zao Onsen Ski Resort Area’ hotel page.

Getting to Zao Onsen

Distance to Tokyo Station: 375KM / 4 to 5 hours. Nearest major station is Yamagata Station: 18KM / 40 minutes.

To reach the resort from Tokyo, take the Yamagata Shinkansen to Yamagata Station – 145 to 175 minutes (depending on which service you choose). Once at Yamagata, shuttle buses or taxis will take you onto the resort – another 40 minutes. For more information, see ‘How to get to the Resorts’ below.


APPI KOGEN SKI RESORT, IWATE

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Located at significant distance from Tokyo, Appi Kogen Ski Resort is arguably the best in Tohoku but that distance has so far limited its appeal to international visitors. Those who do make it, tend to love it as they discover a good-sized resort with good infrastructure and facilities catering well to English and Chinese-speakers. With a reputation for beautifully-groomed runs, Appi also offers some nice tree zones where you can find some excellent powder. All-in-all, Appi offers something for everyone.

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Operating Dates & Times

Dependent on snow conditions, the resort typically enjoys a long season from late-November until into May, with lifts operating from 08:30 to 15:40. Night-skiing is available from 16:00 to 20:00 on most Saturdays during the season. The resort’s day-pass includes night-skiing.

Ski Runs

Appi Kogen is slightly smaller than Zao Onsen, offering 292 hectares of terrain accessible via 21 ski runs and serviced by 1 gondola and 10 chairlifts. The resort is another low one, located between 694 to 1304 metres and offering 620 metres of vertical. The steepest pitch in the resort hits 34°. The official breakdown lists trails as: Beginner 30% / Intermediate 40% / Advanced 30%. The longest run is 5.5km.

Highlights

Offering just under 300 hectares of terrain, Appi Kogen is slightly smaller than Zao Onsen but with a better infrastructure of lifts to move around the resort. Added to this, Appi is better setup to cater to English-speakers and generally enjoys better weather than Zao, making it a good option for anyone wanting to enjoy a very good resort with all the facilities and services you could need. On the mountain, Appi doesn’t have any super long runs – the longest is 5.5km – however its courses have an average length longer than most resorts in Japan. The runs are beautifully groomed allowing skiers and snowboarders to hit some good speeds, while there’s good powder hidden away just off the courses. All-in-all, Appi Kogen doesn’t yet attract the crowds of Westerner’s you’ll find in Nagano and Hokkaido, but those who make it there tend to love it and tell their friends. Expect Appi to grow in popularity in coming years.

Tickets & Passes

Day passes for Appi cost: Adults (18+): JPY5300/ JHS & HS Students (13-17): JPY3200 / ES-aged children (6-12): JPY2800 / Infants (0-5): Free / Seniors (60+): JPY3800.A range of other tickets are also available including half-day, multi-day and night-skiing-only.

Rental & Ski School

Salomon Station offers high quality rental gear that can be booked online in advance of your arrival in Appi. It has three outlets in Appi Plaza, ANA Crowne Plaza and ANA Holiday Inn Resort open from 08:15 (or 07:45 on Sundays) until the close of the lifts. Ski and snowboard lessons are also available in English and can be arranged directly through the resort’s hotels and guesthouses.

Kids & Families

Appi Kogen offers a good range of facilities for families with children including a kids-only ski area, Appi Snow Play Land in which families can enjoy sledding, tubbing and more, along with childcare and other features that will make it appeal.

Accommodation & Village Info

Unlike Zao Onsen, Appi doesn’t have a village connected to the resort but instead offers large hotel accommodation in form of Hotel Appi Grand. Located at the base of the resort, the hotel offers ski in/out convenience and variety of rooms, featuring Western amenities. There are multiple restaurants, a couple of bars a hot spring, swimming pool, a day spa and full-suite of services. Hotel Appi Grand is staffed by English and Chinese -speakers making it a convenient option for international visitors wanting to package their entire ski trip and have support while there. Other large hotels include Holiday Resort Inn and ANA Crowne Plaza*. Away from the hotels, there is a village around one kilometre from the resort where you’ll find small lodges but little in the way of dining and nightlife. For more information and accommodation listings, see our ‘Appi Kogen Ski Resort Area’ hotel page.

*It’s worth noting that the presence of large hotels makes the resort popular with large tour groups. If that’s something you want to avoid, best to consider another resort or at least look for accommodation at a smaller lodge or guesthouse.

Getting to Appi Kogen

Distance to Tokyo Station: 585KM / 4 to 5 hours. Nearest major station is Morioka Station: 45KM / 45 to 60 minutes.

To reach the resort from Tokyo, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Morioka Station – 130 to 200 minutes (depending on which service you choose). Once at Morioka, buses or taxis will take you onto the resort – another 45 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, you can switch to the local JR Hanawa Line and head to Appi-Kogen Station – a 60-minute journey. From there, infrequent shuttle buses will run you to the resort. For more information, see ‘How to get to the Resorts’ directly below.

HOW TO GET TO THE RESORTS


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Most international visitors heading to the ski resorts of Tohoku will do so by starting their journey from Tokyo. While all three lie at some distance from the capital, the journey to each is relatively straight-forward thanks to Japan’s fantastic train network. Our ‘How to Get to the Tohoku Ski Resorts’ page has everything you need to know about getting their by train or the option of driving yourself.

JAPAN SKI RESORTS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW


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Did you know that the resorts of Tohoku are just some of the hundreds spread throughout 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.