Here's the latest update on Alf Alderson's adventure around the Japanese Alps...

Skiing in Japan is about more than mere snow and mountains; it's a fascinating cultural experience and friendly, incredibly polite people make it all very different from, say, the French Alps (especially the politeness).

And then there are the snow monkeys. Admittedly an unseasonably warm spell meant there was no actual snow when we popped in to the Jigodanku Monkey Park en-route from Hakuba to Naeba, but the scores of Japanese macaques that live here and bathe in the hot springs are both fascinating and amusing to observe for half-an-hour as they groom, bathe and bicker in the steaming waters.

But skiing rather than monkey antics beckoned and by lunchtime we were on the series of ski lifts that would take us to Wadagoya mountain hut where we were to spend the night. Unfortunately – and as proof that even the most snow-sure areas on the planet are never 100 per cent snow sure – it was raining on the lower slopes.

This meant only one thing – get into the hut, get wet ski gear off and order a beer. Wadagoya is situated at 1380-metres on the upper slopes of the Kagura Ski Area, which links to Naeba via the rather spectacular 5.5-kilometre long ‘Dragondola’ lift to create ‘Mount Naeba Ski Area’.

It offers basic dorm-style accommodation, hot showers and baths, a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast and a good mix of company that on our visit consisted of Japanese, Aussie and Brit skiers, all for 7,800 Yen per night (approx. £50). But best of all it also offers guaranteed first tracks since we were on the slopes the next morning before the hoi polloi down in Kagura were even on the lifts.

It had snowed lightly overnight so along with fellow travellers Seb, Pete and Jane, we enjoyed empty pistes that became increasingly sunlit, and for the first forty-five minutes we had it all to ourselves; admittedly it was not the waist deep pow we’d been hoping for, but it was considerably better than throwing down breakfast and hitting the morning commute.

We gradually made our way on skis over to Naeba, where we were staying at the slope-side Naeba Prince Hotel, although we didn’t check in before taking the chance to hoon down the men’s and women’s Reisen Slalom Trails that were used in the 2016 Alpine World Cup; and yes, they’re steep and lots of fun.

Next morning Seb, Pete and I were back over in Kagura bright and early to access the backcountry area at the top of the resort at over 1800-metres. We were led by Jun Nagai, a quiet, smiling ski guide who runs Junrina Mountain Service and knows these mountains like the topsheet of his wide powder skis.

This is what we came to Japan for – the sun shines down on a bright, crisp January morning, the mountains look absolutely gorgeous and when, after an hour or so of easy skinning we drop into our first turns, the snow is soft and light and exactly what the doctor ordered.


Find out more about what our featured Japanese resorts offer here