While visiting Melbourne this week, my mum reminded me that my old skis were still in the garage and that perhaps I should do something about them….I was reluctant to throw them out as the skis, my 190 cm Kneissl White Stars AVT SL, are quite rare in Australia and are of enormous sentimental value. They also have quite a history. Read more!….
Back in 2007, I was a hot skiier. Fresh off the back of a season (90 days straight skiing), I knew every bump, every crack and every obstacle on the mountain. I had one gear: fast.
Enter my cryptonite: first trip away with my new girlfriend (GF), combined with an excruciatingly painful afternoon on the bunny slope. There on the left of the bunny slope was a temptation too great for any mortal overly confident skiier, and completely irresistible to any man spending the afternoon on the bunny slope with his GF – yes, a terrain park – (a) it was a chance to show off and (b) it was a chance to momentarily end the boredom.
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.
Because we are over the media speculation about the status of the Australian snow season, we at Snowriders WA decided to take a closer look. Every year, normally around the June school holidays, we are subjected to media speculation about the present snow cover and the extent to which it translates into (a) the beginning of a bumper season or (b) the ‘worst’ start in years, decades, or living memory. Clearly this is no more scientific than the prediction made by ‘Chuck’, the Groundhog in the movie of the same name! Want to read more? Click here!
By our roving reporter, Andrew Spittle
Area Review (by A Spittle):
The Japanese ski resort Shiga Kogen lies on the main island of Honshu and is the largest and highest ski resort in the country. Shiga Kogen has a whopping 54 lifts over 21 different ski areas that cover 607 hectares of Japanese skiing heaven.
Although Shiga Kogan only gets around 10 metres of snow per season, its 2300m elevation it means that the snow quality on its upper slopes is generally better than other lower ski resorts in the Nagano prefecture. .This also ensures that Shiga Kogen has a comparatively long season that runs between late November to early May.
All of this adds up to a top rate resort with a good range of terrain and ski conditions, which is what attracted the organisers of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics to base their Alpine Slalom and Giant Slalom on the mountain. I can verify that these runs were both challenging and awesome fun!
One of the quirks about Shiga Kogen is that three of the runs are off limits to snowboarders (Okushiga Kogen, Kumanoyu, and Yokoteyama). So depending on how you view the bans, it can be a feature, or a pain in the butt. But there is so much terrain on the mountain, you would be lucky to come across these areas, in fact as it is such a massive mountain, the main challenge is not getting lost!
This leads me onto my next point, if this is your first visit to Japan or even Shiga Kogen, I would suggest hiring a ski guide for at least your first day. I booked a day with Nagano local Kaz Sekiya from Ski Nagano, a born and raised ex Japanese ski racer, who took me straight to the best runs on the mountain, and ensured I made the most of my visit.
Kaz also found many of the powder stashes in amongst the trees and runs to test my powder skills (which were lacking!). Now that the off piste skiing rules at Shiga Kogen have been relaxed a bit, the already massive ski area is that much bigger again.
Rating: 8/10: Terrain: You can find a run to suit any ski level. We were only there for a day, but on that day snow quality was better on the upper slopes, and bit sloppy (relatively) on the lower levels. We enjoyed the Yakebitaiyama area (as a whole), and particularly enjoyed the Nagano Olympic runs. Fast and fun.
Accessibility: (9/10): 50km north East of Nagano, which is 250km from Tokyo Regular bullet trains or Shinkansen’s run daily from Tokyo, then buses service the mountain with the trip up the mountain taking around 1 hour and 25 minutes. Alternatively you can drive from Tokyo in 5 hours.
Food: (8/10): There is no village in Shiga Kogen, accommodation is provided by three large hotels with various restaurants, which have very nice Japanese food available.
Iwanai cat skiing – the experience
Options for more advanced riders
Caption: Paul (POS), Melbourne, Victoria, carves his snowboard through some of Iwanai’s finest
Caption: one of our American friends, also on the tour
Caption: The author (Perth, WA) emerging from the waste deep albeit for just a second
Caption: Corey, Melbourne, Australia, knee to waste deep.
Caption: our chariot for the day.
Gulmarg resort is situated in the far northern reaches of India, immediately east of the Pakistani border. Interestingly, it lies in the disputed territory of Kashmir, an area over which India and Pakistan have fought three wars, the latest in 1999. However, with the skirmishes now over (for now), Kashmir is once again quiet….
Gulmarg literally means “Meadow of Flowers”, named for the lush greenery, flowers, fruit and nut orchards that are scattered throughout the highlands during the warmer months. During the snowy season, those visiting Gulmarg for the first time will be immediately struck by its size. You’ll also be struck by its altitude. Maxing out at close to 4,000m (the highest lifted point), the resort opens up to stupefying amounts of vertical; some of the bowls off the summit, for example, have a straight 1,200 metres of thigh-destroying vertical descent (refer to Powderhounds website)….
According to Powderhounds, ‘the amount of Gulmarg ski terrain is virtually unlimited and includes alpine bowls, chutes, cornices, glade skiing amongst ancient pines, and glacier skiing without the glacier(!). That’s not to mention the epic ski journeys down to some of the local shrines and villages which add a whole new dimension to the terrain”.
The charm of Gulmarg lies in the fact that the riding terrain and the ski resort itself remains relatively undeveloped and is therefore serene, lacking the après ski facilities, bars, shops, restaurants and tourist sites that define many Western resorts. Gulmarg is some of nature’s best work – take a few steps away from the hotel and you will soon be lost in an endless white landscape where it will feel like you are the only person around….lost in an eerie white calm, where the silence is almost certainly deafening.
You’ll need an experienced guide
Gulmarg while beautiful, is not for the faint hearted. The terrain is deceptively difficult, some of the exits are complex and avalanches are common. An experienced guide is highly recommended even for very experienced riders. There are many different guides available in Gulmarg and they include Australians, Americans, British, New Zealanders and local Kashmiris. Most offer a variety of packages which in addition to guiding services tend to include all local transfers, accommodation, and most meals.
Australian company, K-Line, is a boutique adventure travel company focusing on ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ type skiing and boarding adventures. K-Line has been running quality specialist tours out of Gulmarg since 2009. K-line is run by a professional and highly trained team and only employ highly experienced guides. They have a safety record that is second-to-none and will take you some of the most mind-blowing secret locations on the mountain.
K-Line is a great choice because they keep tour numbers to a minimum making for an intimate experience, but more importantly, a small guide to skiier ratio – which in turn improves safety. As a testament to its impeccable safety practices, K-Line recently established K-Rescue, Gulmarg’s only comprehensive search & rescue service. K-Line is also working with local authorities to secure a decree which will give the area national Park status, thus securing its ecological values for future generations.
K-Line has been in Kashmir since 2008 and in that time has sampled most of the accommodation in the area. Gulmarg has a range of accommodation options ranging from luxury 5 star hotels to more modestly appointed backpacker style accommodation, with 3 and 4 start options in between. K-Line has done the hard work for you and narrowed the options down to a sub-set consisting of the Khyber (5 star), Heevan (4 star) and Alpine Ridge (3 star) hotels, all of which provide direct ski access to the Gondola from the front door.
For more information on Gulmarg, feel free to contact us at email@example.com