- Hunter Mountain is from New York
- Free Transport to the Resort
- Getting There
- Ski Pass and Gear with Minimum Fuss
- Skiing on Hunter Mountain
- A Break For Lunch
- Getting Back & Final Thoughts
Hunter Mountain is from New York
My first such trip was to Hunter Mountain in Tochigi Prefecture. The first time I heard the name, I thought it was a really odd name for a Japanese ski resort. It turns out that it was developed by the owners of the resort of the same name located in New York State. They’ve developed another smaller resort in the same area on Mt Nasu, called Mt Jeans, which stands for “Joyful, Exciting, Adventure, Nature, Sporting”.
Nowadays, both resorts are operated by Tokyu Resort Services. In total, they have nine resorts throughout Japan, including Hirafu in Hokkaido. In addition to operating the ski lifts, they’re also in charge of managing the gear rental and restaurants. I was impressed with the overall quality and service, so I’d like to visit another of their resorts in the future.
There is no actual “Hunter Mountain” mountain in the area. The resort is located on the North side of Mt Takahara (1795m) inside the Nikko National Park, and above Shiobara onsen (1100m). The most convenient station for access is Nasushiobara 那須塩原, about 150km North of the capital. If this seems far, consider that it’s only 70 minutes away from Tokyo station by bullet train! The gondola also runs for shorter periods in summer and autumn. If you aren’t into winter sports, you can also plan a visit around those times.
Free Transport to the Resort
There is a free shuttle bus between the shinkansen station and Hunter Mountain; it runs from mid-December to the end of March, with one bus going out in the morning, and one bus returning in the evening. Since Nasushiobara station is covered by the Tokyo wide Pass, I decided to purchase the pass, use it for a daytrip to Gunma on Saturday, and use it again for skiing on Monday, which was a National Holiday. It almost felt like the transportation to Hunter Mountain and back cost me nothing!
The shuttle requires advance reservation online; there is no English version, so some Japanese ability is required. I chose the option to reserve without creating an account, since I wouldn’t be visiting again this season. Then, I selected the desired date and destination (they also run a free shuttle to Mt Jeans). After inputting my name in katakana, my email and phone number, the procedure was complete. A few seconds later, I received a confirmation email.
However, the email didn’t mention anything about the return bus, and I couldn’t find an option for booking it. After hunting around a bit, I read in the FAQ that I would automatically be booked for the return. It was perhaps obvious, but in Japan I’ve learned to never assume anything. Conversely, there is no way to book only one leg of the trip, even on separate days, so this isn’t an option for overnight trips.
Since the reservation deadline is by 4pm the previous day, I booked my seat around noon the day before, after checking the latest weather forecast. I would have done it earlier, except that the website says that if you cancel your reservation (or don’t show up), you won’t be able to reserve a seat next time. Whether this means the same day or permanently is unclear, and I wasn’t willing to take any chances.
The shuttle bus leaves Nasushiobara station at 8:10, so I had to catch the 6:40 shinkansen from Tokyo station. Although it was early, there were two clear advantages. First, since I was going for a day trip, I would be able to fit in more hours of skiing. Second, the train was mostly empty at that time, and the seat next to me was free, so I had a little extra space. It was also very quiet allowing me to get some additional shut-eye. It’s a very different experience from riding the usually packed Hokuriku shinkansen!
After I got off the train, I headed straight for the West exit. There were a couple of buses parked in front of the station. The one on the left had a sign saying ハンターマウンテン塩原 (Hunter Mountain Shiobara) on the windshield, so I made a beeline for that one. There are no assigned seats, so boarding early means you can get a better seat. However, before hopping on, I needed to check in with a person standing near the luggage compartment, on the other side of the bus. Once everyone was seated, the bus departed, a full ten minutes ahead of schedule!
I had expected to see snow in Nasushiobara, but there was none at all. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the temperature was well above freezing. As the bus wound its way up Shiobara Valley, the outside scenery remained bare of snow. According to the resort’s English page, all slopes were open but I was starting to feel worried. However, as our elevation approached the 1000 meter mark, a layer of snow appeared on both sides of the road, and I could finally sit back and relax.
We pulled into the parking lot at the base of Hunter Mountain (1100m) a little after 9am, twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The driver announced that the bus would be leaving for Nasushiobara station from the same spot at 16h30. Since the lifts operate from 8am to 16h30 on the weekend (from 8h30 on weekdays), this meant I could squeeze in nearly six hours of skiing. I made a mental note to get back to the bus earlier than the scheduled departure time, in case of another early departure!
After I got off, I first changed into my ski clothes, and stashed everything I didn’t need in a locker inside the “Powder House” (パウダ－ハウス) right next to the bus stop. They had separate locker areas for men and women, and I changed in front of my locker, like at a hot spring. Later on, I discovered a better locker and changing space area, right next to the gear rental shop. I could have avoided using a second locker just for my shoes but changing there instead.
Ski Pass and Gear with Minimum Fuss
Once I had changed, I made my way to the nearby Entrance Mall building (エントランスモール) to buy my ski pass. Since Hunter Mountain has no surrounding village (there are a few inns down the road) everything is compact and convenient. There was almost no line for the tickets, and a few minutes later I bought my one-day pass for 4900 yen. The one-day pass was a small piece of paper, and I had forgotten my ski pass holder, so I had to take it out of my pocket to show it at every lift. On the other hand, the resort map was pocket-sized and plastified, and I was glad I had grabbed a copy to consult on the lifts.
Renting ski boots has always been a concern for me, since my feet are bigger than average. The Hunter Mountain website lets you reserve your gear in advance, so I decided to try this for my own peace of mind. While surfing their site from home, I was relieved to see that they had ski boots sizes up to 30.5 cm. The price was also reasonable: 5000 yen for boots, skis and poles (same price for the snowboard and fun ski sets). Ski wear can also be rented, and all items can be rented separately, so it’s possible to turn up in city clothes.
After I clicked on the option to reserve, I was taken to a different website, but run by Tokyu Resort Service. I was pleasantly surprised to see it had a full English version (not a machine translation). There is unfortunately no direct link for this anywhere on the main page. I then clicked on the “rental pre-application” button where I could select the day, the type of set and size. The standard set is for boots, skis and poles. The full set includes the ski wear as well. After that, I had to input my personal information, like name, age, height, weight and skiing level. Next, I had to create an account. Finally, I provided my credit card details. Later on, I received an email with a link to a QR code that I would need to show when I got to the shop. Although it’s called “web pre-application” throughout the entire process, I had effectively reserved and paid for my gear. Since everything was in English, and the site was in the same functional style as the main website, reserving the gear was very easy to do. You can also do it in the store – there are half a dozen terminals for this purpose – but I much preferred doing it from the comfort of my home!
Back to the resort: after buying my pass, I made my way to the next building, the Grand Central Station (グランドセントラルステーション), where I found the gear rental shop. I told the staff I had reserved my gear, and I was immediately directed to a counter, where I showed my QR code. It took two seconds to scan and print out a piece of paper. I was then told to present it at the ski boots counter. The first pair of shoes I tried on fit perfectly. I then got my skis, and was told to pick out my ski poles from a rack. I took the longest ones (120cm). After putting my shoes in a locker, I was finally ready to ski. It was 10 am and sunny.
Skiing on Hunter Mountain
I tried every lift and slope on Hunter Mountain during the morning, and decided that it was best to just stick to the gondola lift. It starts from the lowest point of Hunter Mountain (1138m) and goes to the highest point (1638m). I found that it was more comfortable to ride – most chairlifts didn’t have a bar for resting your skis on, so my skis would dangle in the air during the ride. Also, sitting inside a cabin was definitely warmer. Finally, all the best slopes were located near the top of the mountain. On the map they were coloured black, but I am sure that in some resorts they would be marked red. The plastified map had all the slope inclinations so you can make an informed decision. In any case, as a good skier, it made sense for me to spend most of my time there. There are 12 slopes in total, all with New York street names from like Wall St. and Broadway. The lower section of the mountain had mostly gently sloped blues. If I went really fast and didn’t stop, I could race from top to bottom in under 10 minutes.
What surprised me most about skiing on Hunter Mountain was how few people there were on the slopes. I often had sections of the course to myself. The slopes filled up somewhat in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, but overall I could enjoy skiing without worrying about the other skiers or snowboarders. The best part was that I never waited more than a few minutes to get on a lift. The weather alternated between sunny and cloudy throughout the day, but the mountain itself remained free of clouds, so I could enjoy the wide panorama of the mountains of the Nikko National Park.
A Break For Lunch
At 1pm, I decided to stop for lunch. Most restaurants are located at the base of the resort in the Center House building センターハウス and offer Japanese food. However, there was an Italian restaurant on the ground floor called Uovo Meta Meta ウォーヴォ・メタメタ. Their pizzas were baked in a stone oven, and the online reviews were glowing. They also do pasta and salad dishes.
I put my skis against a rack outside the building and went inside. I expected to find a line, but to my amazement, I was able to walk right up and order straight away. With little time to think, I went for their most popular pizza, the Hunter Margherita. It was a bit pricey at 1800 yen, but I didn’t regret it. The pizza came with a soft-boiled egg on the side, the final topping I needed to add myself before eating. This simple addition, really increased the tastiness of the pizza. Overall it was an excellent choice and I highly recommend it. It was the first time I had eaten so well while skiing!
After a one-hour break, I hit the slopes again. It was 2pm and I could count on a couple more hours of skiing. Seeing how few people were at the resort, and how close everything was, I was fairly confident that I could return my gear, change, and be back at the bus in fifteen minutes. There is no hot spring or hot bath at the resort, so I didn’t need to allocate any time for that. Moreover, as the afternoon progressed, I could see that many people were wrapping up their day of skiing early, and after 3h30 there were only a handful of people left on the slopes. Considering that the majority of people had come by car, and some from quite far (at one point I shared a cabin with 3 snowboarders who had come all the way from Chiba), it made sense that people would head home early on the last day of a 3-day weekend.
Getting Back & Final Thoughts
I finished skiing at 15h55 and by 16h, I had already returned my gear. To my surprise, I was the very first person to board the bus at 16h15. A few more people started to trickle aboard. At 16h30 there were still many empty seats. The bus driver made a few announcements, and finally left a full five minutes behind schedule. It’s a mystery to me why there were so many no shows on the return. There was more traffic going back, but in the end the bus arrived back at the station exactly on schedule, at 17h40. I was able to catch the 18h02 shinkansen, and was back in Tokyo at 19h16, about 12 hours after I had departed in the morning.
In conclusion, I had a satisfying day out, and I’d recommend this resort to anyone looking for a day of relaxed skiing with easy access from Tokyo. Since Hunter Mountain is closer to the Pacific Ocean than other resorts, the weather tends to be better. On the other hand, this means less snow, so it’s not adequate for deep powder skiing. In any case, it’s a puzzle to me why the resort isn’t more popular. I for one will be returning next year for some more skiing fun.
Check out a video of the views on Hunter Mountain
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