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.

No comments:

Post a Comment