All posts by Snowriders Australia

Mt Buller joins Mountain Collective

Mt Buller and The Mountain Collective are delighted to announce Australia’s most accessible alpine resort as the newest member of the Mountain Collective in 2019/20. The Mountain Collective is an alliance of some of the best skiing and riding destinations on the planet.

Boasting Victoria’s largest lifting network and just 3 hours from Melbourne, Mt Buller joins the popular Mountain Collective pass which includes NSW neighbours Thredbo, Coronet Peak – The Remarkables and Mt Hutt across the Tasman in New Zealand, Niseko United in Japan, Chamonix in France (Global Affiliate) and top shelf resorts across North America including Alta, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Mammoth, Revelstoke, Snowbird, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Sugarbush, and Taos.

To celebrate the Mt Buller announcement Mountain Collective has issued a limited number of Mountain Collective passes priced at A$449 (Australian dollars) matching the US dollar sticker price, giving a discount of around $200 for Australians and New Zealanders who snap up the introductory offer.

Mountain Collective passholders enjoy two days riding – with no blackout dates – at all Mountain Collective destinations totalling 37 days at the world’s best resorts on the 2019/20 Collective pass. In addition, Mountain Collective passholders can top up with additional days at 50% off single day pass prices in each destination. Early purchasers also receive one bonus day at the destination of their choice for a limited time, with two additional days at Chamonix Mont Blanc, France.

“Joining the Mountain Collective is exciting for Mt Buller” explains Laurie Blampied, General Manager, Buller Ski Lifts. “It puts us in excellent company alongside some of the best ski destinations on the planet, including our friends at Thredbo.”

“The Mountain Collective offers great value for Australian skiers and boarders seeking diverse snow experiences in bucket-list destinations. We extend a warm welcome to all Mountain Collective passholders, and particularly northern hemisphere folk seeking an endless winter and a unique Australian alpine adventure” he added.

“We are excited to bring Mt Buller into the Mountain Collective family effective this 2019 southern snow season,” says Christian Knapp, Chief Marketing Officer, Aspen Skiing Company. “With this addition, along with Thredbo and our partners in New Zealand, Australian skiers have an opportunity to experience the best resorts in the Southern Hemisphere at a tremendous value. Throw in a trip to Japan or North America and the possibilities are endless.”

Mt Buller’s 2019 season pass holders will also benefit from the new Mountain Collective membership with 50% discounts on single day passes at all Mountain Collective resorts in 2019/20.

The Mountain Collective Pass gives skiers and boarders access to 17 destinations, more than 52,858 acres of terrain, 2,459 trails and 383 lifts at some of the most acclaimed mountains in the world.

The exclusive passes for Australian and New Zealanders are only available online at https://tmcaustralia.ltibooking.com/ This special offer is available for a limited time until sold out.

The 2019/20 Mountain Collective Pass benefits:

• 34 days at 17 iconic snow destinations. Plus an additional day at a resort of your choice for a limited time only.

• 2 days at Alta, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Coronet Peak/The Remarkables/Mt Hutt (New Zealand), Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Mammoth Mountain, Niseko United (Japan), Revelstoke, Snowbird, Sugarbush, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Taos, and Thredbo and Mt Buller (Australia)

• Access to 50% off any additional day passes at full member resorts. Unlimited with no blackout periods.

• 2 days at each Global Affiliate resort including Chamonix (France)

• Access to Mountain Collective Kids Pass for $99USD ($142 AUD). Kids must be 12 and under at the time the pass is purchased.

Visit www.MountainCollective.com or call 02 6459 4151 in Australia for more information. *Price and availability of bonus day subject to change while supplies last. Mountain Collective global affiliate benefits are valid only at then current Mountain Collective Global Affiliates. Global Affiliates are subject to change each ski season.

Climate change breakthrough: scientists predict global cooling, not global warming

In a dramatic rebuttal of the latest IPCC findings, a group of leading climate change scientist from Australia, Italy, Japan, Germany and the Netherlands, will today announce the earth is entering a significant period of cooling, and not warming as previously believed.  

The paper published in the prestigious journal, Royal Proceedings of Climatology, suggests the changes are being driven by a newly discovered reversal in the Planet’s oceanographic currents.

Major Australian currents, which may reverse if predictions hold true

“The findings change everything we previously believed”, said Dr Cowes Phartaloti, first author and Professor at the University of Cinciatti, Italy “at first we cannot believe the data and needa (sic) to check it several times; but mumma-mia, we found the currents were definitely reversing”, he added further.  

Professor Green-Housen of the Inter-planetary Panel of Climate Change, said both he and his colleagues were watching developments closely. “Obviously this is a right pain in our butts, and if true could represent a significant new paradigm in planetary climatology, and worryingly, even a new ice age! – not to mention what will happen to my funding”, he remarked.

Dr Green-Housen was reluctant to be photographed but supplied this life-like pottery caricature of himself on his favourite coffee mug

“The reversal of the Australia’s west coast current, also known as the Leeuwin Current, will result in stronger and more frequent cold fronts from the southwest, resulting in at least an 80% increase in snowfalls across Victoria, New South Wales and New Zealand’s southern Island, adding perhaps 2 to 3 metres to annual snow accumulations, which presently average just under 2 m”, said Dr Cory Olis, of the Ministry of Weathernstuff.

He added further, “the changes should also see a massive extension in the northerly penetration of snow falls, which in some instances may extend as far as the Gold Coast. Queenslanders wont know what hit ’em!”

Drivers on the Gold Coast were struck pink by the unexpected snow falls

When contacted for comment Ms Sally Tovail, of the Australian Snowsports Institute was exuberant stating “we are obviously very excited by these findings, and if Mr Olis’ predictions are correct, it could see a return to the bumper seasons of ’56, ’64 and ’81, which dumped over 3 m of snow on resorts like Hotham and Perisher.  “Based on these findings, Australia will become the next now skiing mecca, and possibly even a winter Olympic venue”, she added further.

Tokyo Disney: a must visit as part of your Japanese snow holiday

For avid skiers and snowboarders, a trip to Tokyo is often nothing more than a convenient, yet interesting stop-over point while en-route to the Japanese snow fields. 

But for the young at heart, a visit to Tokyo presents a great opportunity to visit many of its other attractions, including the most famous theme park of all, DISNEYLAND.  At just over 10 hours from Sydney and 15 hours from Perth, Tokyo Disneyland is a lot closer than its sister resort in Anaheim California (the birthplace of Disneyland). 

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The architecture and attention to detail was amazing

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At 51 hectares and with 43 attractions, Disneyland Tokyo is enormous. Don’t try and do it in anything less than a day, as you’ll just leave disappointed.  For me, the most striking feature (and therefore my strongest memory) was the attention to detail.  Everything is immaculate – from the gardens, to the paint on the walls, to the architecture (wow, the architecture just amazing).  On top of all that, the rides, parades, the attractions and the sheer fun of it all were just a bonus. 

In the centre of the park stands a statue of Disney’s creator, Walt Disney. In the words of Walt, Disneyland is a ‘happy place – a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure and feel better because of it’. While staring at his statue, I couldn’t help but think he’d be enormously proud of his creation, which is now lovingly maintained by his disciplined (and very well trained) staff. 

If you’re thinking of taking your family to Tokyo Disney this year, either prior to or on the back of your ski trip, do it – you won’t be disappointed.  Below is a review compiled by my better half, Rachael, who as a second time visitor (first time Anaheim) and mother, can offer a unique perspective.

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The kids looovved the spinning cups

When I was a child I was fortunate enough to visit the birthplace of Disneyland, in Anaheim California.  I’d always dreamt of taking my children, aged 6 and 8 to Disneyland, but at 20 hours from Perth a trip to California seemed…well, seemed a ‘long way’.  So, imagine my joy when I found out we were going to Tokyo and realised it presented an opportunity to visit  Disneyland. 

Before visiting Tokyo’s version, I was a little concerned it might be an inferior, or a ‘B’ grade cousin to its counterpart in California.  However, upon visiting I discovered that nothing could be further from the truth.  Tokyo Disneyland is a near duplicate of Anaheim: the rides are the same, the parades are the same, the buildings are the same, as is nearly everything else. It is, however, just that little bit ‘quirkier’ given it is staffed by Japanese, whom bring a friendly, colourful and excitable personality to the attractions (check out this video for instance!).

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Tokyo Disney consists of two resorts, Disneyland and DisneySea.  You really need two days to explore them both and because we only had a day before we flew out, we chose to visit Disneyland, the original of the franchise.   Tokyo Disneyland is just a short 25-30 minute train ride from Tokyo station to Maihama, an area just to the west of Tokyo on the shores of Tokyo bay.

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Tokyo Disneyland is just 25 min by train from the Tokyo station

We set out early in the morning from our hotel in Shinagawa and caught a connecting train to Tokyo central.  Tokyo station is enormous. We actually underestimated our total travel time because we didn’t take into account the 20 minute walk across Tokyo train station to the platform for the connecting train to Tokyo Disneyland. Otherwise the journey from Tokyo to Maihama is literally 25min from platform to platform.  Navigating the stations was straightforward as the signs have English translations (a big bonus).

Exiting the Maihama Station at Tokyo Disneyland there was a huge sign that showed us that DisneySea was to the left and Disneyland  to the right. Crossing the walk bridge we could see the official Disney themed hotels, the Disneyland Bus (with Mickey Mouse windows) and the Disneyland Monorail (which takes guests from the hotels to the parks).

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The Disney monorail
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The Disney bus

On entering Disneyland I was delighted to see all the familiar Disney icons – characters, architecture, rides, gift-shops and landscaping. A Disney theme park is really an enormous stage where a “show” is presented everyday in each of the themed lands. Because of this, the staff are called ‘cast members’ Cast members are incredibly well trained and disciplined, right down to the way they wave at guests (fingers apart, just like Mickey – only with five fingers per hand), the way they wear their hair, and even to the length of their finger nails.

I found myself marveling at the design of Cinderella’s castle with multiple turrets and the lopsided engineering of the buildings in ‘Toontown’. Disney has gone to a huge amount of trouble (and no doubt expense) to create a proper fantasy world.  The rail is also impressive, and the fact they have gone for real steam trains (when they could have used electric) is further proof of their commitment to the dream.

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Toontown

A visit to Disneyland of course is not complete without  visit to the iconic rides, from Space Mountain (of the 70’s), to the spinning cups, to the roller coasters.  The rides are very popular and even with the fast pass (see below), the queues are long and upon first glance can be daunting.  However, one thing Disney does really well is queue management.  The lines move fast…really fast.  From a shuffle to (I swear) a brisk walk.  Be warned, though, once you enter the queue there is also no easy way out, so if like us you’ve got kids in tow, and especially if they just finished a large lemonade, make sure you take them to the toilet before entering the queue. We found out the hard way what happens when you don’t 🙂

Some of the rides are more appropriate for kids than others. While both children loved Big Thunder Mountain, the Inspector Gadget Go-Coaster, the Spinning Cups and the Jungle Cruise, our 6 year old found Space Mountain a bit scary. We particularly loved Big Thunder Mountain and it was such a pleasure whooping and laughing with along with the kids as we bolted around the tracks, ducking and weaving as we entered caves and flew over bumps and rollers.

As a family we agreed that our favourite rides were the Western River Railway; Jungle Cruise; Big Thunder Mountain; Space Mountain (a high-speed rollercoaster in the dark); Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse; Chip and Dales Treehouse; Inspector Gadgets Go Coaster; Alice’s Tea Party (Spinning Teacups) and Cinderella’s castle (the attention to detail in the castle is amazing).

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The Western River Railway with real steam trains
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The Jungle Cruise
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Big Thunder Mountain
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The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House
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The Go-Coaster

A great tip for avoiding the queues is to grab yourself a “Fast Pass”. The pass gets you access to the express line of the more popular rides.  But you can only access one quick pass at a time.  Printed on the quick pass is the time you are eligible to book the next quick pass.  This obviously helps with crowd flow, and in my experience is something Disney does very well.

We ate lunch and dinner at two of the large themed eateries, where the kids and dad indulged in the American hotdog plate and later than night, Space Port Pizza.  I found the food was quite processed at most of the eating places but of course the kids loved it. This was a bit of a theme across the resort actually: heavily processed American inspired foods, hotdogs, fries, pizzas, popcorn.  I understand its all part of the experience, but if you are not into that kind of stuff, then I suggest you take something relatively healthy along with you. Also take plenty of water as the size of the park means lots of walking and thirsty children.

One of the eating highlights was the popcorn.  Each of the different ‘lands’ across the Park had a different popcorn cart. Each cart had a different theme and the most unusual one (that was baffling for me to get my head around) was curry flavour. Hard to imagine it as enjoyable. My favourite was the caramel popcorn found in  “Toontown”

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Popcorn flavours

By the time we walked out of the Park at the end of the day we were all very tired and it was getting cold so we decided to catch a taxi back to hotel instead of the train. Considering our overtired kids, this was a great decision.  In all, we had a great time. And as a once in a lifetime experience, the entry price (Y7,400 per adult, Y6,400 for children 12-17 and Y4,800 for children 4-11) was truly worth it. I know the kids had a great time as did my husband, even when he had to carry the children the last kilometer to the taxi after they were too exhausted to walk. 

One other tip is take lots of warm clothing.  If like us you visited toward the end of winter, the weather during the day was nice (maybe +15 degrees), but when the sun went down it became very cold, very quickly. 

If you have any comments of questions please feel free to post below.

5 ways to keep your children warm and dry on the slopes this year

If taking your kids to the snow for the first time this year, memorise this simple formula: warm kids = happy kids = happy parents.

For Australians, a visit to the snow for the first time can be daunting at the best, terrifying on average. Throw in a rugrat or two, and the concept for some becomes overwhelming, almost untenable.  That’s where we come in – we’ve done it a few times now; we know what works, and what doesn’t.  We also know it’s totally worth it.

And….contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your kids warm and comfortable in the snow. Intrigued. We knew you would be.  Here’s a few simple tricks and tips.

Warm heads are happy heads

And that means beanies for snow play and helmets when skiing or snow boarding.  Beanies are easy. They’re readily available and inexpensive, and let’s face it, granny would probably jump at the chance to knit a few for you.  Children’s helmets are compulsory in most resorts these days (or should be at least), and luckily they’re readily available through most hire outlets. A good fit is more important that style.  Helmets are very warm, and as an added bonus the kids don’t mid wearing them – I think they actually like the idea (my 6 and 8 years think they look hardcore in helmets).

The only other consideration is to ensure your child’s helmet is compatible with their googles. Nothing like having a huge ‘gaper gap’ between the helmet and the googles to encourage a  frostbite or sunburnt fore-head.  Truth be told, my kids wear adult googles which seem to fit perfectly with many hire helmets (no gap).  Nothing wrong with oversized lenses, as long as you can adjust the strap to fit. They wear their goggles big these days anyway.

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Layering is king

Kids get hot and sweaty before you’ve even left the drying room! (as do parents). Having layers so that they can unzip a jacket without the risk of hypothermia is kinda important, because they will unzip – even in a blizzard (trust me). My kids typically wear a thermal base layer under an insulated, highly water resistant jacket. When we’ve skied in Japan they wear an additional microfiber mid layer over the base layer. Mid-layers need not be expensive either; mid layers can pretty much consist of anything; old skivvies, jumpers, cheap fleece material (available from Target or K Mart).

Having said that we swear by high quality merino fibre base layers; they’re warm even when wet, and they breath like you not even wearing anything.  They are also super comfortable. Our kids tend to wear their merino thermals morning, noon (while on the snow) and night (around the lodge and even to restaurants). As an added bonus, they tend not to smell even after days and days of skiing.  So one garment per child is typically enough. So, if you are going to spend money, invest in good thermals.

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Sock, socks and more socks

Appropriate ski socks will be essential to ensure a comfortable day in ski boots. Make sure you don’t just use thick winter socks. They bunch up and may cause boot pain, despite the illusion of cushioning. Thermal socks with appropriate length will keep your mini me’s toes snugly warm and ensure there’s no nasty digging in. Just ensure the top of the sock extends well past the top of the boot for maximum comfort.

Don’t skimp on outer wear

Outer wear is always a controversial subject when buying for kids. Kids a closer to the ground and consequently spend a lot of time on or in the snow.  So some level of water resistance is important.  Here it’s important to understand that there is no such thing as water proof, unless your talking about plastic raincoats.  The downside of plastic is that it doesn’t breath, so after sweating for an hours you end up wet on the inside anyway.

Water resistance is measured in units of 1,000’s as is breathability.  For Australian and New Zealand conditions (i.e. slightly warmer in average than some northern hemisphere destinations), we recommend you dress your kids in outer wear with water resistance and breathability ratings of a least 10,000-15,000 (for both).  In dryer, colder climates like Japan, you could even get away with less.  In really cold climate (with little change of ran or thaw) its probably more important that you focus on warmth, and that means lots of layering (see above).  No need to spend a fortune on the latest European brands.  Shop around and if you can, try and support local brands, like XTM Performance, Rojo and Rip Curl.

High quality gloves – the piece de resistance

Age will be a big factor in the gloves vs mittens debate in your house. Little snow grommets just can’t manage the finger thingies and your sanity will be saved by mittens. Older kids generally like the flexibility and freedom gloves offer. In my opinion gloves are something you shouldn’t scrimp on. Shop around, but ensure they are appropriately lined and have a waterproof outer. Gloves with wrist straps are great as when the gloves are taken off (always when it’s a blizzard and your about to kick off – guaranteed) they won’t fall into the snow. If no wrist straps, do what Nanna did and sew a piece of elastic to each glove and thread it through the jacket sleeve – those gloves are never far from those frozen pinkies and you wont have to go rummaging around in the lost property bin at ski school! Cold fingers means guaranteed whingeing so it’s worth splashing out on gloves to ensure they are really toasty.

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Other cheats

If it’s raining – then all bets are off. Even the most expensive outerwear with the highest  water proofing ratings will leak EVENTUALLY, especially if your kids are rolling around the wet snow.  If you have to ride in those conditions, proper rain coats over the ski jacket will do the trick as will plastic garbage bags with holes cut out sleeves and the heads may not win any fashion contests, but it will keep the kids 100% dry, guaranteed.

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First time JaPOW: the only question is Hakuba or Madarao? Why not both?

Our legion of followers have been very busy recently, traveling the world, experiencing some of the best snow on offer.   Here, guest reporter, Hamish Macphee, gives us the low down on his first trip to Japan, taking in the popular resort of Hakuba and up-and-coming ski area, Madarao (or MadaPOW as it’s known affectionately).

Madarao has been hitting the media a lot in 2018, with articles from Powderhounds, Miss Snow it All and the Snow Gauge, to name a few.  As a matter of interest, we too visited Madarao in late February 2018 with the kids in tow.  Find our review of this fantastic family destination here.

So you’ve been hearing a lot about skiing in Japan? There’s good reason for that. You’ve heard about the powder, so light, so dry. You’ve heard about forbidden tree skiing. And yes…..you’ve heard about the snow monkeys. Perhaps you have already done the Canada thing……bloody long flight! You’ve probably tried New Zealand when the Aussie snow is not at it’s peak. The next step has got to be the now famed Japow!

Let me give you a snapshot of what it means to have a snow holiday in Japan:

1. One to Two-hour time difference = no jetlag

2. Nine-to thirteen hour flight time versus 16-20 for Canada/US = fresh arrival

3. Easy public transport Bullet-trains = WOW!

4. Affordable accommodation walking distance from chairlifts, shops and restaurants.

5. Lift tickets for less than half what it cost back home

6. The BEST snow you will see in your entire life!, and

7. Accessible (and legal) tree-sking (yes, they’ve lightened up in many resorts)

Great food, great people, great ski-schools, beer from vending machines, noodles noodles noodles and a real taste of a very different culture. Oh yeah…and whisky!

Now that you’ve decided Japan is for you, the hard choices need to be made. Which resort(s) do you visit?

For us there are two great options for the first time trip to Japan’s snowfields: Hakuba or Madarao. If you have the time then, porque no los dos? Give both a try! Access is simple. From Tokyo get the Narita Express from the airport to Tokyo Station for about $50 return $25 for kids 6-11 years old. From Tokyo Station you get the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Nagano in approx. 1 hour, or to Iiyama, a short 10-20 mins further along.

Hakuba

If Hakuba is your chosen destination then a bus will take you the remaining hour in to the Hakuba Valley and the 9 resorts it has to offer. Goryu, 47, Happo-one (oohhh-ney), Iwatake, Tsugiake, Norikura, Cortina being the larger areas as well as Kashimayari and Jiigatake for the less adventurous. There is so much terrain that you need a month to see everything.

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Some of the accommodation options in Hakuba, Cortina

Families coming to Hakuba for the first time will love the Goryu/Hakuba47/Iimori area. With ski school at Iimori for the little ones, Hakuba’s best terrain park at 47 and some super groomers at Goryu, this little pocket of the valley represents exceptional value for both money (with the Hakuba Valley Pass) and time with everything so close.

For an introduction to tree skiing Hakuba 47 has done it right. Some resorts are known to outlaw tree skiing and take your pass if you are caught in the trees. At 47 they allow it, but safety comes first.

In order to access the “tree zones” skiers and boarders need to do a short induction, sign a waiver and collect a bib to be worn over the ski jacket. These bibs are then to be returned by 3pm to the office. Failure to do so will result in a search party being sent out to look for you. There are significant hazards like cliffs and tree-wells so this safety procedure puts the mind at ease somewhat. Just don’t forget to return the bib when you duck in for a quick beer at day’s end!

While the youngest is making new mates in ski school and the teenager is honing park skills and progressing to bigger jumps, mum and dad are cruising the groomers and enjoying the breathtaking views of Happo-one and the vast valley below. After lunch and lessons the more advanced in the family might check out some bibs are explore the trees.

After the days snow action and perhaps a relaxing onsen Hakuba has many dining options. Booking is highly recommended and waiting for a table is commonplace.

For those with the Epic Australia Pass (Perisher) the Hakuba Valley Pass is included. If not, a 7-day (out of 11) ticket will cost about $450 for Adults and $250 for 6 to 12 years old. This pass also includes shuttle bus to any of the 9 resorts.

Madarao

If Madarao is your choice you can get the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station all the way to Iiyama. From the Iiyama station the bus up to the resort (20mins) will cost you less than $10 per person.

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Beautiful Iiyama

Madarao is the sleepy cousin of Hakuba. There are many resorts within an hour including Myoko Kogen, Shiga Kogen, and Nozawa Onsen. If you are coming for your first Japanese snow holiday, Madarao and neighbour Tangram Ski Circus (yes, that’s really what they call it) is all you need. At $60 for a day lift ticket for both resorts…what more could you ask for?

To say that Madarao was untouched by Aussies would be a lie. The last 10 real-estate acquisitions on the mountain were purchased by Australians…but you wouldn’t know it. Unlike places like Niseko and Hakuba, the Australians have moved in quietly and respectfully. They are creating a family friendly resort that is easy for Australian guests to navigate.

We stayed at Aya Lodge. This well renovated guest house offers comfortable rooms and great amenities within few hundred metres of the slopes. The beds are comfy (not always a given in Japan) and the included breakfast goes well above the expected. There are also other great options in the Active Life choice of hotels, Active Life Madarao and Hakken by Active Life (both really kid friendly).

Once out on the slopes the resort and it’s network of 15 lifts opens up in front of you. Mt Madarao looms above and attracts great snowfall (Between 10m and 14m per season). On a good vis day views across to Mt Myoko set a magical backdrop…but the foreground is what you come for.

Madarao is building a reputation as THE resort for tree skiing. On a day when MadaPOW delivers the goods, there is nowhere else you want to be. The trees at the top of the resort are perfectly spaced and the pitch is perfectly steep to satisfy the cautious thrill seeker.

For the daredevils the trees between Madarao and Tangram Ski Circus (known by the seasoners as Tangram Trees) offer untracked lines through steep terrain after the bowls like Powderwave I and II have been skied out. There are gates to enter the tree area between the two resorts and ski patrol are around. Having said that there are many opportunities for those who dare…enough said.

If you are very lucky you may come across a Kamoshika or Japanese Serow while skiing the trees. The most accurate description I have heard is that Kamoshika looks like a snow bear goat dog…having seen one myself……I totally agree. But, please keep your distance as they are wild animals.

If you need a a few lessons, or are seeking adventure beyond the resort boundary, try Action Snow Sports, run by Aussie Peter  Hillman, or Nagano Outdoor Sports run by local legend Aki (who also has a great pizza joint on the slopes).  Otherwise, the Active Life Group of Hotels offer complimentary lessons for guests.  All offer English speaking instructors.  For a short hike the back of Mt Madarao offers endless lines of superb skiing days after the in-bounds pow has been smashed.

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The pizza at Aki’s

We recommend the Hotel Tangram for lunch with a great view of just about all the smaller resort has to offer. Plan your next laps while chowing down your ramen or katsu-don. For dinner this small town is bustling with options: burgers at Unjaune, or try the devine Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) at Sakura. The top of the must-do list for food and drinks in Madarao is the Lazy Yak. This oversized tent (Yurt actually) plays host to a restaurant and bar that also sells and hires snowboards and backcountry equipment. The fried  chicken (Karage) is amazing and the tofu is like no tofu you have ever had before. They have a great selection of whisky and some cool gin cocktails, as well as a fine collection of hand-made jewellery…of course.

On the way home it is well worth spending few nights exploring the amazing metropolis that is Tokyo. There are endless options for shopping and dining limited only by your budget. For electronics head to Akihabara, Ueno Zoo, or for toys, you cant go past the Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Ginza, a 5 story specialist toy store (the kids will love it). Shibuya Crossing is a right of passage, especially at night. You can give the statue of Hachi the most loyal dog a pat. The Government Building’s South Tower offers amazing views of the city all the way to Mt Fuji on a clear day. The North Tower is not a good.

If you want to get a bit closer to Mt Fuji there are tours available with Tokyo Hotel pickup or you can just get the Shinkansen and local train independently. We opted for the guided option and included a tour and tasting at the Hakushu Whisky Distillery. Any whisky drinker will have heard of Suntory’s Hakushu and Yamazaki whiskys. A trip to the serine mountain environment of the Hakushu distillery means the opportunity to sample many different blends like Hibiki up to 30 years old ($30 per 15ml for a $5000 bottle). As well as recognisable labels the tasting room offers samples of the component barrel whiskys that become Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Hibiki.

Before leaving home make sure to get your International Driving Permit. Not for a car silly…for a go-cart! Maricar offer tours of Tokyo driving on the roads in go-carts, dressed up in costumes -like Ninja Turtles and Mario characters. This is an experience not for the feint-hearted, but not to be missed.

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Mario Carting in Tokyo

Now is the perfect time to start planning your first trip to Japan. Make 2019 your year of JaPOW. With a little research and some handy Japanese phrases your holiday can be stress-free.

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Don’t be a bogan in Japan this winter

Bogan, n. An unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, esp. regarded as being of low social status (Oxford English Dictionary).

Ok, so maybe ‘bogan’ is a bit strong. But with increasing levels of ill-feeling toward Australians abroad, and a noticeable increase in the Aussie ‘bogan’ element in some of the Japanese ski fields, we thought we’d do our civil service and offer a few tips on how to conduct your self when visiting Japan.

Continue reading Don’t be a bogan in Japan this winter

If you’re looking for a value ski holiday with a difference, you need to read this!

Those that have followed us for a while will know that this year we are actively promoting Madarao in the Nagano Prefecture, Japan, as a family ski destination.  And before we go on, let us disclose that – yes – we are working with the resort and one of their accommodation providers, Active Life, and yes, we are receiving support to cover some of our expenses.

However, this is not your standard sponsored post about another basic accommodation provider in another standard Aussie-dominated resort; its more about the way Active Life are looking to differentiate from their competitors, in a quaint, relatively undiscovered resort.  So if you are a family looking for an alternative ski holiday, complete with FREE ALL DAY beginner skiing and snowboarding lessons and a FREE inter-resort shuttle bus, providing access to up to 6 nearby resorts, then we invite you to please read on.

Madarao Resort

But first, a little bit about Madarao. Madarao or Madarao Kogen is a smallish resort in the northern Nagano Prefecture. The resort is easily accessible thanks to the recent extension of the Shinkansen line through to Iiyama station, the whole journey from Tokyo to Iiyama taking just 110 mins.  The resort is famous for its champagne powder-snow, earning it the nickname MadaPOW, and its unassuming Japanese style. Until very recently, Madarao was very much undiscovered, and widely heralded as one of Japan’s secret resorts – largely untouched by westerners.  Although its would be a lie to say it remains this way, Madarao is still relatively quiet and on a quiet day, you can still pretty much have the mountain to yourself; and that means fresh tracks all day.  At just under 1400 m, Madarao Mountain is not big by Hakuba standards, but as a northern facing mountain it still receive around 10 m of very light, very dry snow, every year.

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Madarao Event

Madarao is an excellent all round resort with terrain for every kind of rider from first timers to advanced skiers or boarders. Madarao has a vertical of 440 m and dedicates 30% of its courses to beginners, 40% to intermediates and 30% to advanced skiers and boarders, providing plenty of options for all levels. The longest course is 2.5 km and the steepest slope is 36 degrees. Madarao is open from 8:30am until 5pm, with night skiing until 9pm, weekends and public holidays. On New Year’s Eve, you can also ski till midnight. Lift passes are also cheap at 4500 yen for the Madarao area, or 5000 yen for Madarao and the adjoining Tangram ski area.

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The tree skiing is easy in Madarao

Unlike some of the more famous Hokkaido resorts, Madarao is not a party destination, and nor does it pretend to be. People come to Madarao for the quality snow and the low key atmosphere, and although there are plenty of bars and restaurants, there are certainly no night clubs or noisy patrons. Having said that there is plenty to do in Madarao, from exploring the local architecture, the nearby town of Iiyama, or even visiting the region’s famous snow monkeys, located just a short bus trip away. As a part-time skiier, my wife commented that she just enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, reading a book by the fire, walking the cat trails and indulging in a bit of nature photography.

The snow

Having grown up skiing in Australia, we spent an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the snow, hoping and praying the weather would turn in time for our holiday. You don’t need to worry about that in Madarao, or anywhere in Japan for that matter – especially if you go in the depths of winter (i.e. January and February). Madarao receives a whopping 8-10 m of snow fall annually, most of which falls between December and Late February. In 2018, January and February were big months, with near daily falls of 30-40 cm creating ideal powder conditions. Not surprisingly, the resort is a powder-hound’s paradise and tree skiing is very much encouraged in a series of dedicated off-piste areas, where the trees are thinned (or gladed) to create open powder bowls with widely spaced trees.

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Great value for families

Family rooms at Active Life (accommodating a family of four) start at Y44,446 ($AUD556) per night and a double room from Y15,489 ($AUD 193) per night.  All family rooms come with their own ensuite while cheaper double rooms have shared ablution blocks.  Each of the Active Life hotels serve breakfast (either a nice continental style breakfast, with gourmet muesli, cereal, bread and fruits, or a hot breakfast, complete with bacon and eggs).  The drying rooms are large and efficient leaving you and your children’s gear dry and toasty warm the next day.

But forget about the price for a minute

What sets Active Life apart is their offer to supply FREE ski and snowboard lessons for any guest staying four nights or more.  Active Life offers 2.5 hour lessons for adults and ALL DAY lessons for children aged 5 to 14, making the lesson structure akin to kids club in Australia.  To put this in perspective, children’s lessons in the resort start at around Y12,000 for a full day lesson and around Y10,000 for a 2.5 hrs adult lesson.  Adding it up, that represents a saving of around Y50,000-60,000 ($AUD625-750) per child over a 5 day period.  That reduces the price of a family ensuite room to around $AUD256 per night, which is great value especially in peak season.  Let us tell you, it is very difficult to find family rooms cheaper than that anywhere, even if you were intending to buy your lessons separately.

For the more adventurous riders, Active Life also offers a FREE shuttle bus to six nearby resorts, Lotte Arai, Myoko, Nozawa Onsen, Kita Shinshu-Kijimadaira, X-Jam Takaifuji and Ryuoo Ski Park.  The shuttle runs Monday to Friday (to avoid peak times) between 28 December and 5 February, and leavs Madarao at around 7 am returning around 5:30-6pm.  There’s no fixed route.  Destinations are chosen based on the forecast and the best snow conditions at the time.

Lift passes are cheap at Y4500 and Y1500 per day for adults and kids respectively, OR, cheaper again at Y4050 and Y1350 per day if you book through Active Life.

Video
Check out our 2018 family ski holiday video compilation

Like what you hear? Why not join us?

Snowriders Australia in partnership with Madarao and the Active Life Group, is this year proud to announce our inaugural club trip, Powder Seekers 2019;  the first of what we hope will be a regular series of Club Skiing and Snowboarding adventures to Japan, Australia and other snowy destinations. Powder Seekers 2019, taking in Madarao and surrounding resorts, is suited to families and powder hounds alike.

Our accommodation is Xplore and Hakken by Active Life, Australian/Kiwi owned and newly renovated hotels just minutes walk from the chairlift.  Forget catching buses and taxis, everything in Madarao is just minutes away on foot, making everything super easy, especially with kids.

Powder Seekers 2019 is a CLUB TRIP, designed for friendly, easy going, like minded riders looking to experience Japan for the first time, or those looking to experience a new area with ample off piste skiing opportunities. As it is a club trip, guests will be free to ride on their own, or if they chose, ride with our experienced guide.  Members of the SRA team will also be available to assist with resort logistics, directions and recommendations (i.e on the best places to eat!). In fact, our friends at Active Life Group have already organised a welcome dinner 🙂

Places are very limited. For further information, please don’t hesitate to send us a message via our contacts page, or send us a personal message via our Facebook page.

The bottom line [$$]

We’ve worked really hard with our partners at Active Life  to bring you the best deal possible.  Remember accommodation costs include breakfast, FREE all day children’s and 2.5 hr adult’s lessons and FREE shuttle bus transfers to nearby resorts – all in peak season!  Such a deal is rare and new for the Active Life Group.

Here’s the bottom line:

Summary

  • When: 13-19 January 2019 (7 nights).
  • Cost option 1: JPY 108,424 [*2]
  • Cost option 2: JPY 311,124 [*3]
  • Cost option 3: JPY 235,303 [*4]
  • Costs include: 7 nights, breakfasts, lessons, shuttle bus (3 days), guide (min 3 days)
  • Payment due: 26/10/2018
  • Note, if you hold a Mt Buller Season Pass, you can ski Madarao free for three days, plus score 50% off further lift passes for the rest of your trip!

Exclusions

  • Airfares (costs variable).
  • Lift passes (~JPY 4,500/day; kids <12 JPY 1,500/day)[*6];
  • Gear hire (Skis, Boots, Poles) (~JPY 5,500/day) [*7];
  • Japan Rail Pass (Adults ~JPY 17,000; kids ~JPY 8,500);
  • Lunch & Dinner (costs variable, but budget options available);
  • Insurances ($AUD 150 per person [*5])

Fine print

  • [*1] – Guided days are supplied in the spirit of a social club event. As such Snowriders Australia accepts no responsibility whatsoever for injuries that may occur either within or outside resort boundaries, or any costs incurred as a result.
  • [*2] – For singles or couples. Basic accommodation in the newly renovated Xplore Hotel, with shared ablutions; 2 x single beds. Max 2 people.
  • [*3] – Family friendly accommodation with private ensuite in the newly renovated Xplore Hotel; 1 x queen bed and 2 x single beds. Max 4 people.
  • [*4] – Deluxe accommodation with private ensuite in the Hakken by Active Life Hotel; 1 x queen bed. Max 2 people, but 3 on request (extra costs incurred).
  • [*5] – Basic insurance. Guests intending to participate in guided days are encouraged to seek off-piste cover and carefully review the insurance T&Cs.
  • [*6] – Cheaper for multi day passes (more prices) e.g. 6 day adult pass = JPY 23,800.
  • [*7] – Cheaper for multi day hire (more prices) e.g. 6 days package = JPY 26,500

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Hakken by Active Life

Xplore
Xplore Accomodation

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A few local sights

Charlotte Pass: The search for Australia’s best value snow experience ends here

By Hamish Macphee

Finding value in the Aussie ski fields can often be a fool’s task. With lift tickets over $130 at most resorts and a pie and Gatorade for lunch over $15 you could be forgiven for giving up the search.

Enter Charlotte Pass – a quiet place to learn to ski or just hone your skills without the pressure of the crowds. Australia’s Highest Ski Resort is small…..but it offers great variety for a wide range of terrain from wide groomers to steep rock patches and perfect cruising treed areas.

The ‘DayTripper’ Pass costs $109 for adults, $68 for children, and $87 for seniors…let’s break it down.

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Transport
Park at Perisher Valley for the day and take a scenic trip on the over-snow (the road is closed during winter) which takes just over half an hour. When you arrive you will be greeted by friendly locals at the Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel who will talk you through the ins and outs of the area including where to go for lunch.

Lift Pass
Kosciuszko Triple Chair (the resort’s only chairlift) takes you from the village up to the ridge line. From here the views out into the Main Range are spectacular. With good visibility Mt Kosciuszko all the way to Mt Twynam can be spotted.

For beginners you can get your snow legs on Basin Poma. For those wanting things a little steeper you can hit up Pulpit T-Bar. Those keen on the most challenging terrain should check out Guthries High Speed Poma. Just a sort hike from the top opens up Guthries Chutes, a steep and rocky section to satisfy the adrenaline seekers.

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Lunch
Included in the DayTripper Pass is lunch at China King, Australia’s Highest Chinese Restaurant at Lucy Lodge. A selected 2-course menu awaits and will be gratefully consumed after a morning spent exploring.

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For those wanting to head out into the backcountry Charlotte’s offers a great entry point with Club Lake and Curruther’s Peak not far away.

My favourite area was looker’s left of the chairlift and above the village where the trees are perfectly spaced and the terrain isn’t too steep (just look out for the pond on the way down).

Over-snow transport back to Perisher can be booked at a variety of times depending how the legs are feeling (and how far the drive back home is). A well-deserved Kosciuszko Pale Ale at the Chalet Hotel is a great way to spend the time waiting for your chariot to arrive.

Charlotte Pass is a small resort but sometimes that is perfect. The price is certainly right…a welcome surprise in the otherwise expensive pastime of skiing in Australia.

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Mt Buller mourns passing of pioneer Hans Grimus

The Mt Buller community is today celebrating the life and mourning the passing of mountain pioneer and legend Hans Grimus, aged 78.

Hans, owner of Mt Buller institution Hotel Pension Grimus, played a formative role in Mt Buller’s development and contributed widely to the resort and the community.

Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management CEO Mark Bennetts said today, ‘We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Hans. He was a larger than life character who shaped the development of Mt Buller for many decades. Our thoughts are with Lotte, Oliver, Hannes and Anton at this time.’

‘Hans was a greatly loved member of the Mt Buller community, and respected throughout the ski and wider tourism industry.  He had a reputation as an impeccable host, an astute businessman, as well as being the life of any party’.

Laurie Blampied, General Manager, Buller Ski Lifts remembered Hans as a vital part of the fabric of Mt Buller, with a true spirit of ingenuity and pioneering.

‘Hans spent almost 50 years living and working on Mt Buller and was instrumental in the development of the lifting infrastructure on the mountain.  Hans has left a legacy that will be remembered for many years to come.’

‘We will miss Hans, he was a generous entertainer and a great friend to many.’

Hans is survived by his wife, Lotte and sons Oliver, Hannes and Anton.

Image and text supplied by Mt Buller.