Snow Report 28 November 2014 - Europe & Japan

Another week passes so quickly but it brings us tantalisingly closer to the start of the northern ski season, and some more ski area openings. The latest opening dates are listed within each country section below.

There has been some skiing in the Alps this week, including at Monte Rosa and Madonna di Campiglio in Italy, and at Val Thorens in France. We are still waiting in Japan, however.

Nozawa Onsen 28.11.14 [Source: Nozawa Onsen FB page]

On November 22nd, a powerful earthquake (magnitude 6.2) hit the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, right in the heart of the Japanese Alps. Fortunately there were no lost lives, although 17 people were injured, and almost 200 houses collapsed or partially collapsed. The major ski operations in Nagano reported no damage.

It has been warm and wet across central Japan (Honshu) this week. This inclement weather has delayed ski area openings - Nozawa Onsen's opening has now been put back to 6th December.

Similar conditions were prevalent in the north, with no lifted skiing available in cooler Yamagata or Hokkaido yet either. If you take a look at the webcams there's no snow cover even at the top lifts across lots of Japan.

The rain is set to continue through the weekend, but next week is looking very good with snow falling down to low levels from Tuesday. This will pretty much guarantee some good snow settling down to the lower lifts across the resorts.

Dynaland 28.11.14 [Source: Dynaland FB page]
For an idea of conditions in Japan at this time in 2012, see my posts during December 2012: Snow Report 2 December 2012 - France and Japan; and Snow Report 10 December 2012 - Japan.

Here are all the latest opening dates in selected Japanese ski areas:

Hakuba Happo - As soon as there is some snow.
Dynaland - 6 Dec.
Myokokogen - 20 Dec. (Akakura Onsen)/20 Dec. (Suginohara)
Nozawa Onsen - 6 Dec.
Shiga Kogen - approx 6 Dec.
Gala Yuzawa - 20 Dec.
Zao Onsen - 6 Dec.


A bit of rain and only a dusting of snow up high this week, however conditions are great above 2,000m. Serre Chevalier was reporting 100cm at 2,100m and 145cm à 2800m.

Some light snow is forecast until Tuesday, but again only on the peaks over 2,000-2,200m, with rain to fall lower down on the slopes and in the villages.

For an idea of conditions in the French Alps last year, see my posts around the same time: Snow Report 24 November 2013 - Europe; and Snow Report 1 December 2013 - Europe.

Here are all the latest opening dates in selected French ski areas:

Val Thorens - OPEN (22 Nov.)
Serre Chevalier (Monetier)
Val d'Isere - 29 Nov. (limited opening on the glacier de Pissaillas)
Isola 2000 - 6 Dec.
Chamonix - Grands Montets et les Houches 6 Dec., Brévent, Flégère, and Balme-Vallorcine 13 Dec.
Les Arcs - 13 Dec.
Serre Chevalier - 13 Dec. (the high part of Monetier-les-Bains is opening on the weekends 29 Nov and 6 Dec.)


For most of the Italian Alps, its been about 11 days since the last snowfall.

Like in France, there is quite a lot of snow up high, particularly in the west at Monte Rosa. Madonna di Campiglio is reporting 87/10cms (2,250/1,500m). But there's not much snow at Val Gardena yet.

For an idea of conditions in Italy last year, see my posts from around the same time: Snow Report 24 November 2013 - Europe; and Snow Report 1 December 2013 - Europe.

Here are all the latest opening dates in selected Italian ski areas:

Madesimo - 29 Nov.
Madonna di Campiglio - OPEN 29 Nov. (limited opening 22 Nov. Groste)
Monte Rosa - OPEN 29 Nov. (limited opening 22 Nov. Salati)
Val Gardena - 5 Dec.


Snow Report 21 November 2014 - Europe & Japan

Val Thorens 21.11.14 [Source: Val Thorens FB page]
Greetings to all!

Well I think we can now officially call the European ski season open, with a handful of the higher-altitude resorts we've been following opening first ski lifts tomorrow.

How very exciting! Not too mention how mighty jealous I am if you're in the vicinity and able to get out there and cruise around on the slopes in your freshly tuned skis and boards in November. Damn you!!! *cough*

OK ... well, in Japan, however, things have been delayed at least a week with both Niseko and Hakuba's Happo One putting back their planned season openings one week.

Next week, we will confirm all the latest opening dates.

Top Lifts @ Happo One 21.11.14 [Source: Happo FB page]

There was a little bit of snow last Saturday at places like Dynaland in Gifu and even down to village levels, according to reports at Akakura Onsen in Niigata.

Then there was some rain on Monday, with a bit of snow on Tuesday as the temperatures dropped - Nozawa Onsen reported 25cms on the 18th November. It was mostly fine for the rest of the week.

The problem is the snow is only lingering at the higher levels with the real wintery weather yet to materialise. So if you check the webcams you'll see there is no snow on the lower slopes of Happo One or Dynaland, for example.

Happo One at Hakuba and Niseko were both hoping to open this weekend but that has been postponed until there is more snow on the ground.

It looks like being fine through the weekend before some precipitation arrives in the middle of next week. Unfortunately at this stage it looks like precipitation is of the transparent variety.

Isola 2000 19.11.14 [Source: Isola 2000 FB page]
Its not a big deal, however, as regulars will know the Japanese ski season only really gets going from the middle of December.


Fantastic news as Val Thorens as the highest ski station in Europe opens this weekend on schedule with around 50cms of snow on its lower pistes. Get out there!

Snow fell in the French Alps last weekend, lowering into Monday, followed by fine, beautiful photogenic weather at the end of this week.

Val d'Isere reported 15cms on the ground, while Serre Chevalier reported snow lowering to the town of Briancon on Tuesday, which is at 1,200m altitude.

It looks warm and mostly dry until around the middle of next week, when it gets a bit colder and it could start to snow.

Passo Sella, Val Gardena 20.11.14 [Source: Val Gardena FB page]

There was snow lowering into Sunday in Italy at Monte Rosa in the west of the Italian Alps, and at Madonna di Campiglio in the east.

Both resorts have limited openings this weekend, with the pistes open below Passo Salati at Monte Rosa, and area Groste at Madonna di Campiglio.

The snowfalls were down to resort and village level, which is a good sign and further east snow fell on Tuesday at Val Gardena.

The outlook is poor for snow, however, at least for the next week. Here's hoping there is something on the radar for later next week.


In this section, I revisit some of the places in Japan, France and Italy that I've blogged about in the past as we wait for the new season to start. Today, another report from Japan. The beautiful, traditional experience at Nozawa Onsen. Enjoy this flashback!

Nozawa Onsen (January 2011)

Nozawa Onsen is a mountain hot springs town in Nagano Prefecture. Like Yuzawa, it had been a spa town for many years and so had developed its own distinct character well before skiing came along.

The very attractive old town sits at the base of the forested hills - now a huge ski area - and is a maze of small streets.

At Nozawa Onsen, our accommodation was a traditional Japanese ryokan, or inn. Fortunately there was a car parking space for us and a friendly welcome as the snow started on and off.

The top of the ski area is reached by either of two gondolas. The recent snows had collected on the trees here.

From the top, there are multiple ways to ski down ... and it takes a very long time with great views and a number of rest stops are required for burning thighs!

At the end of a hard day's skiing we arrive once again close to the town and stop for a look at the snow-covered roofs. A prettier setting is hard to imagine.

Nozawa Onsen is famous for its collection of free public onsen baths fed by hot mineral spring water. The old wooden bath-houses are dotted around town.

Brimming with confidence from our experience at the marvellous Hanasaku Onsen we went to one of the town onsen for a bath (traditionally, our room did not have its own bath or shower).

Beautiful though the buildings were in the snow with their wooden facades and temple-like structure, the baths themselves were tiny, burny hot, sulfurous, and not that well-maintained inside in terms of cleanliness.

The following night we found our hotel's own onsen which were delightful, with inside and outside baths, complementary showers and facilities, and this was our bathing place for the rest of the stay.

A traditional Japanese breakfast was provided at our little ryokan, which was called Kawaichiya.

Tables were set in a large tatami-matted room. Slippers or shoes are left at the door, of course. Sitting was either kneeling or a kind of side slouch at the table, or with legs stretched out under the table.

None of this was particularly hard after eight days of skiing, although the legs option meant mine tended to pop out the opposite side of the table and interfere with the person opposite me.

What was for breakfast, you ask? Well, it changed around each morning but rice, cold grilled fish and miso soup were a constant. You'd also get some kind of egg dish and a hot pot with either vegetables and tofu or some bacon and cabbage in. Add some fruit juice and some pickles, green tea and a bit of seaweed and there's quite a nice buffet happening!

At the front door we collected our shoes (no shoes inside - dirty) and headed out for the day's skiing. It was a bit of a walk to a shuttle bus or a short distance to the car park by car, so we opted for the easy trip.

Clearing the snow off the car in the morning had become a bit of a ritual. The slight delay was compensated by the knowledge that there was going to be some fun snow to play in up the mountain that day!

And what snow! This and the following days were certainly some of the best I have ever had.

Half a metre of dry powdery snow had fallen across the mountain and we were up the gondola quickly to take advantage.

Up above here you can ski through the trees off-piste, which is frowned upon at most Japanese ski areas. I was to get a taste for this despite the signs: "Danger crashing into a tree".

In a few spots around Nozawa Onsen there are little outdoor foot baths where weary and chilly locals can soak their feet in boiling hot spring water. More tourist photo spots nowadays, they are a cute town service.

After serenely heading to breakfast through the gentle ryokan corridors to the sounds of traditional Japanese music and devouring our meals in as little time as politely possible, it was time to return to the slopes ... cos there is nobody there in midweek and that powder is calling me!

Back into the trees we go for unfinished business. The powder is so deep and soft.

The sun is welcome for improved visibility but damn it's hard work in there and I am hot and my knees are screaming from the exertion. But I don't care - the ski lifts provide the recovery.

Need to eat. At a very good en-piste eatery a spicy seafood curry and a mushroom curry does the job plus another local speciality - a sort of big won ton with delicious fillings like pumpkin and pickled vegetables.

At the end of the day the long Skyline run takes us back to the village and, after pausing for another photo, we ski down to the car and head for a hot bath.

Eating out was great in Nozawa Onsen. we hadn't requested meals in the inn as we wanted to take advantage of the large number of restaurants within walking distance.

We found a tiny little sushi restaurant with a cheerful chatty sushi chef who prepared us lovely delicacies and a very solemn and quiet waiter who said nothing.

Another night was spent at a noisy Japanese-style pub shouting orders of the many goodies - many deep-fried - along with beer or chu-hi (a spirit called shochu with fruit flavourings).

Another evening was spent at a Japanese interpretation of a French/Italian restaurant in-between shopping for crafts and gifts.

Being very careful not to slip on ice after lots of food and wine or sake, we were always close to our inn and our traditional room with its mats and futons.


Snow Report 14 November 2014 - Europe & Japan

Greetings to you! Another week and a bit more snow has been falling around the peaks in Europe and Japan. Its time for the snow to start to settle now and begin to build a good base at the higher altitudes.

Dynaland 13.11.14 [Source: Dynaland FB page]


First snows arrived for many Japanese ski areas this week. As winter approaches the white stuff is starting to fall to lower levels as well - 700-1,000m in Honshu. A little snow has been reported up high at both Dynaland and Myokokogen, but Zao Onsen (see our flashback report below) could be the ski area that does best this week.

A touch more snow should continue to fall on the mainland into Saturday then it will ease off before some rain arrives on Monday. This should turn to snow as it gets colder, but maybe only above 1,000m.


There was a little snow on the peaks of the higher resorts in the French Alps above 2,100m to Wednesday. Rain is likely from Friday night, with a chance of snow above 2,000m. But the storm should continue through the weekend and may bring snow to lower levels (down to 1,500m) and a fair bit by Tuesday at some resorts (e.g. Val d'Isere, Les Arcs). It all adds to the base.

Monte Rosa 13.11.14 [Source: Monterosa FB page]

There was snow on and off at Monte Rosa all week for some good accumulation above 2000m and more than a metre being reported above 2,500m. Madonna di Campiglio got a good fall up high as well.

Monte Rosa should get more snow from Saturday to Monday, with those ski areas further east picking up a little bit up high as well through the weekend.


In this section, I revisit some of the places in Japan, France and Italy that I've blogged about in the past as we wait for the new season to start. Today, a report from Japan. The incredible Zao Onsen in the north of Honshu in Yamagata Prefecture. Famous for its snow ghosts! Enjoy this flashback!

Zao Onsen (January 2013)

This ski trip to Japan during January 2013 was a tale of two different ski areas - one, an up-and-coming destination for powder-hungry visitors from overseas in one of the snowiest parts of the country, and the other a huge resort sprawling over a stunning mountain in northeastern Japan. Meet Zao Onsen and Myokokogen!

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On the way to Yamagata

The temperature hovers around 2c as we drive along the Niigata coast in our rental car, switching from one expressway to another as we travel northeast. As the road distances itself from the Sea of Japan the rain turns to sleet and snow, then back to rain again as the influence of the ocean is felt.

The main routes to Yamagata City are on the shinkansen or the expressways from Tokyo. We're taking this back route as we're returning to Niigata Prefecture for the second part of this trip.

Zao Onsen village from Ryuzan Slope
The Yamagata area, famous for its cherries and pears in summer and autumn, is surrounded by mountain ranges in all directions. We climb from the Sea of Japan into one of these ranges and it is a slow, very snowy drive on a single-lane highway.

Its dark as we make our way up out of the valley on the winding road to Zao Onsen. Our hot springs hotel, Tsuruya, is warm and welcoming, in traditional style.

Our tatami-floored room is spacious and comfortable, although I can't help bumping my head on the beams each day!

Zao Onsen

This famous hot springs town sits perched on one side of impressive Mt Zao (pronounced zawo rather than zow) at about 700 metres altitude. The room in the inn is perfectly positioned with great views into the valley below as well as across the little spa town to the ski slopes.

Kamiyu Onsen
The sulphurous springs here feed public and private baths in onsen and in the inns. Our hotel has four private baths as well as the two communal areas for men and women. They're pretty good baths and we reserve a private one each night for a soak after a day's skiing.

The onsen at Zao Onsen are notoriously acidic with a very low pH around and about 1 ... so visitors taking to the waters are warned to remove jewellery!

The two onsen in the town are more impressive.

One is a modern facility - called Shinzaemon no Yu - with indoor and outdoor pools of differing temperature in an attractive setting. There are also rotenburo tubs with water pouring from a pipe above your head.

The other is a smaller, older onsen near the ski slopes called, I think, Kamiyu. This one is basic but it is incredibly pretty at night with the trees surrounding the outdoor pools all lit up. But the air is so cold my wet hair begins to freeze!

The town is quaint and consists of narrow lanes filled with inns, restaurants, bars and a few shops. Its very quiet this week as we arrive just after a long holiday weekend. People are very surprised to see us ... but they are very welcoming!

The clouds clear enough to see the Ropeway top station for a moment
Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort
Altitude - 780-1661m
Lifts - 26
Runs - 41
Snow Depth - 170/100cms

The ski grounds at Zao Onsen rise up above three sides of the town. Two huge ropeways - cable cars that carry up to 30 people - are the most popular way to get from the town to the slopes.

Another gondola lift provides an alternative, as do the many other four- and two-seater ski lifts around the place.

The lower slopes at Zao allow you to ski back to town and one of the good things about Zao Onsen compared to some other Japanese ski resorts is that you can - with a bit of knowledge and experimenting - get around the entire place without having to walk or catch a bus.

Not that you would be able to ski the whole resort in one day ... as it is absolutely huge in scale!

There are really eight or nine separate but connected areas and you could spend all day in one of them if you wanted.

The snow falling before our arrival set us up nicely for our stay and it was to snow on and off throughout the five days.

The first day was spent exploring to scout out the best places to ski, made difficult by a white-out above about 1,000m as the air from the Sea of Japan turned into clouds that streamed up Mt Zao.

We learned that on days like these the lower slopes were the place to be - especially when the higher areas were registering temperatures of -10c to -17c. Yes ... this can be one very cold place. A European lodge-style restaurant up in the Chuo area had a heater that appeared to be more like a jet engine blasting fire at cold bodies!

The village from Kurohime
We probably spent most of our time in the lower areas, partly due to visibility issues at this time of year, partly due to the fun areas we found at Kurohime and Omori.

These two favourite areas offered some steeper ungroomed runs, lovely groomers with great snow for fast turns, and some gentle tree skiing.

Each night after our onsen we would wander around the quiet town and find another little izakaya to try, along with some nihonshu (sake).

Each day when the cloud looked like lifting for the first time, we got excited and rushed to the cable cars to get up high. If you brave the cold and fog to get to the top then you can ski or ride continuously down from the top station for 6 kilometres!

Zao is famous for its "snow monsters", a particular type of conifer tree that collects ice and snow from that persistent air flow from Siberia and takes the form of strangely-shaped creatures stuck in snowy poses!

To get to the snow monsters you need to take a second cable car from the top station up to 1661m. To be honest, we didn't really get a good view of them in their oft-photographed glory - it was either too cold and we were rushing down the run to warm up again, or it was too foggy!

Despite missing out on the supposed snow monsters draw card, we found Zao Onsen to offer a lot more than we thought it would over five days with a good variety of skiing, great quality snow and powder stashes, friendly people and a quaint village, and a good intro to tree skiing.


One of the good features of a ski holiday at Zao Onsen is that you can easily head on down from the mountain for some sightseeing for half a day here and there.

The winding drive down from Zao Onsen takes only about half an hour, and nearby Yamagata and Yamadera in particular are well worth a visit.

Yamagata is a bustling city of some 250,000 residents - large enough to have some interesting sights and some good restaurants and shops. A wander around town takes in the Ka-Jo castle park area with its moats and castle walls, although the attractive shell is all that is now left of the fifteenth century castle.

Surprisingly the sun comes out just in time for some nice pictures - blue skies contrasting with the overnight snow resting serenely in the tree branches and on the castle walls. The snow starts again soon afterwards.

Those interested in art and culture would like to pay the Yamagata Museum of Art a visit. This little art museum punches well above its weight thanks to a program of investment in French paintings during the 80s and 90s. There are original works by Manet, Degas, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Chagall and Cezanne.

A short drive back up the mountain means an early evening onsen followed by nihonshu and tasty food at an izakaya in the snowy streets of Zao Onsen, the perfect preparation for another day's skiing!


Another side trip from Zao Onsen not to be missed is the quick and easy journey to Yamadera, an incredibly atmospheric scenic place - a great trip to make for some time out from skiing!

When you head into Yamagata City from Zao Onsen its not long until you turn off away from the city again into the hills.

Granted, you pass through some fairly average commercial areas including a motel shaped like a flying saucer! But this is the price you pay to get to see some authentic Japanese culture!

Yamadera, meaning "mountain temple", is home to Risshaku-ji, a famous area of shrines and temples that was originally founded in the year 860.

The temple buildings cling precariously to the mountain hillsides making for a particularly spectacular viewing in winter ... a viewing unusual to many Japanese who would mainly visit here during the summer months when there is no snow.

We park our rental car at the base of the mountain in a small, snowy town ... there is absolutely nobody there at this time of year.

Various temple buildings sit at the base of the mountain, but the real attraction is reached by the famous thousand-step climb through the snow-covered cedars, silent save for the occasional snow that gets to heavy for the tree branches and thuds to the ground.

The famous Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited Risshaku-ji Temple in 1689 and wrote this poem: "Stillness/the cicada's cry/drills into the rocks".

The view from the top is awe-inspiring.

Click here for more pictures of Yamagata and Yamadera. Its worth checking them out if your interest has been piqued by the few pictures I have attached to this post.

[This Blog post was originally issued in January 2013]


Snow Report 7 November 2014 - Europe & Japan

Happo One 03.11 [Source: Happo FB page]
Greetings ski fans!

We're still quite a way off from snow season openings but the weather is changing and as autumn begins to give way to winter there has been a bit of snow around in both Japan and Europe to get us in the mood.
A little bit of snow fell on the highest slopes in Nagano and Niigata Prefectures on the 3rd November.

Hakuba's Happo One reported 3cms above 1600m (the highest lifted point is about 1800m and the base is at 760m). Snow also fell at the top of Mt Myoko and on the highest slopes of Nozawa Onsen.

A bit of rain is likely in Honshu on Sunday, but some snow to lower levels than the high-altitude dustings we've had so far is looking like a real possibility in the middle of next week.
Isola 2000 07.11 [Source: Isola2000 FB page]
Great news! The snow has been falling jsut about everywhere this week in the French Alps, but how much depends on how far south you are and how high your mountains are!

The storm moved in from the west on Tuesday the 4th November, with snow starting up high. The snow continued into Wednesday as the storm moved across towards Italy.

Isola 2000 in the far south looked to have received almost 50cms between Tuesday and Thursday, with Serre Chevalier further north reporting snow down to 1400m and falls of almost 1m at 2500m. Val d'Isere was today reporting 20cms at 2500m.

These are all good early signs for skiing and riding in France, which also kicked off the season nicely with mid-November snowfalls last year, although I have to remind everyone that was then followed by almost a month without precipitation!
Serre Chevalier 06.11 [Source: Serre Che FB page]

There is more snow forecast to arrive from this Sunday through to Wednesday although its touch-and-go Sunday and probably only above 2200m. Heavier snowfalls are expected and down to lower levels on Wednesday (lowering towards 1600m).

The storm moved across the Italian Alps from Tuesday into Wednesday. There were some good snowfalls in the west, up high at Monte Rosa for example.

The snow made it to the far east and Val Gardena on Wednesday, with a bit up high but not the size of the snowfalls we saw in France.
Monte Rosa [Source: Monterosa FB page]
As in France, we can expect some snow higher up in the west (Madesimo and Monte Rosa) on Sunday/Monday lowering below 2000m on Wednesday.

In the east, the snowfalls will be mostly only on the higher peaks from Wednesday.

While we're all getting geared up for the new snow season I thought I'd revisit some of the places in Japan, France and Italy that I've blogged about in the past.

Over the next month or so I'll reanimate an old trip report or two from some of the key ski resorts in the countries I'm covering this season in my snow reports. Hopefully it may inspire some of you lucky travellers with trips planned for the winter.

This week - a post from 2010 from the beautiful Isola 2000 in the far Southern French Alps. This is a place that you can ski in the morning and relax by the Mediterranean in the evening! Enjoy this flashback!

Isola 2000 (January 2010)

Another day, and time for a world-class ski resort and our third different ski area of the trip. Isola 2000. Now we're getting higher! Isola 2000 is a big ski resort up a different valley from those we'd previously ventured up, but quite near to our Petit Chalet, and very close to the Italian border.

Isola is a small village in the Tinee valley. Isola 2000 is a ski station built by a British entrepreneur at an altitude of ... der der dum ... 2,000m. That's pretty high by any standards, perhaps the highest ski village in France that I can think of, and it guarantees amazing snow in the sunny Southern Alps.

The road up rises very quickly thanks to dozens of hairpin bends which aren't for the faint-hearted, then travels through a series of avalanche tunnels. These tunnels are supposed to keep the road open during heavy snowfalls, which unfortunately they failed to do the previous year when the resort was isolated with hundreds of people stuck up there for several days.

The village nestles in a bowl surrounded on three sides by peaks with ski lifts up them all. After a very cold start where I gashed my hand putting my boots on we explored the terrain. Its a vast, varied and expansive area and surprisingly there are lots of tree-lined runs. The snow is perfection and the powder off-piste is fun.

The feel was a lot different from Valberg and La Colmiane with far more overseas visitors and a few fashion victims around. Lift prices are more expensive here, but the food was still great value and it was great to ski back into the village centre straight to your cafe for a chocolat chaud or some lunch.

Its a beautiful spot, but the cloud began to come in as predicted on the weather forecast and - given what happened last year with people stuck there for a few days - we thought it wise to make our way back down this mountain and up to our own little mountain and our Petit Chalet!

We needed to fill up with petrol on the way back and the service station was one of these card-only, no-attendant ones that are all over Europe. Without any cards we had to rely on the kindness of a local to use their card and we gave them cash.

Dinner, cheese and wine, then the snow began to fall. The driveway is tiny and narrow so we decided to fit the snow chains on the car in preparation for the night's expected snowfall. Its a smart move as fitting chains once the snow has already fallen is not a pleasant experience!

The chains did not fit the tyres, which was a huge frustration. Avis had given us the wrong size snow chains!

[This Blog post was originally issued in February 2010]