As temperatures drop and days get shorter, many find themselves longing for summer… Wishing for warmer conditions, nine o’clock sunsets and hours by the pool (or beach). Enduring snow, ice and below freezing temperatures is not something a lot of people look forward to. But with wintertime comes hot cocoa, snowmen, and, most importantly, the thrill of winter sports.
While many dread the arrival of winter, I wait for it like a child waits for Christmas or summer vacation–impatiently and excitedly. I watch the forecast and snow reports incessantly, eagerly anticipating the start of ski/snowboarding season. I wouldn’t call myself an expert (or even good) by any stretch of the imagination. But I can’t wait for the mountains to finally have enough snow on them for me to clumsily tumble down the slopes on my snowboard. I look forward to it every year.
Snowboarding is one of my most favorite activities. I love how it makes me feel. It’s relaxing and exhilarating and freeing all at the same time. I relish feeling the wind on my face as I glide down the mountain. And I always feel ecstatic when I learn to do something that I couldn’t do before. It is physically tiring, and sometimes even a little painful, but totally worth it.
Snowboarding is awesome, but not all resorts are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s unlikely that I’ll turn down the chance to board, regardless of where. However, there are some locations that far better than others. And then there are those that are just incredible. One of my favorite places to snowboard is in Ajigasawa, Japan. The Aomori Spring Ski Resort isn’t super big, but it’s also not overly crowded (which I love). It features 14 trails, four lifts, and a gondola. About half of the trails are for beginners (perfect for kids and a novice like me), 30% are for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and 20% are for the experts. The quality of snow at this resort is excellent (lots of powder). It was like gliding on clouds, and spending a few days on the slopes at this resort was heaven. The main trail is 3.4 kilometers, and while not extremely steep (the max slope was only 18 degrees) or difficult (it’s a beginner run), the landscape was diverse and beautiful. More advanced skiers and snowboarders may not enjoy this resort as much as I did. But there is plenty terrain to go off-piste and the resort also has a big half-pipe for the more adventurous types.
I also really enjoyed Aomori Spring because it offers night-skiing and boarding. This was the first resort I ever boarded at night at, and it was really great. I half-expected the snow to be harder or icier, but it wasn’t. It was soft and fluffy, and the courses were very well-lit. However, only two of the lifts are open for night skiing and none of the advanced trails are accessible after 1700.
The amazing cabin cul-de-sac we stayed at when I visited this resort, though, was what really made this trip for me. At Aomori Spring, you can stay at the very nice and very elegant Rockwell Hotel. It offers comfortable, Western-style rooms with views of the slopes. It has a bar, restaurant, spa, and onsen, and the hotel is situated at the foot of two of the main lifts. But we wanted something a little more private and spacious, so we opted to stay in the little cabin village just a few minutes down the mountain (think fancy camping). The little wooden cottage was fully furnished and featured a kitchen, two full beds, and a loft space. There are only about ten of them, and they are surrounded by thick, snow-covered trees. It’s a wonderful place to start and end your day. Access to the lifts from the cabins is easy, and you’re close enough to the hotel to take advantage of its amenities. However, you’re just far enough away to feel secluded and really appreciate nature. It’s what made this getaway feel that much more relaxing and adventuresome.
The prices at this resort are incredibly reasonable. A full-day (8 am to 5 pm) adult pass cost me 4700 Yen (about $45), and night skiing/boarding is available for only 2800 Yen ($25-ish) from 4:30 pm to 9 pm.
How to get there:
The easiest way to get there is to drive. You can take a couple of trains, but that still doesn’t get you to the resort. You would have to take a taxi to get there from JR Ajigasawa Station. There’s a free shuttle from the station if you stay at the Rockwood Hotel. I drove to the resort and found it to be super simple and way more convenient (note: I almost always opt for convenience, especially when I’m limited on time). Plus, I’ve ridden the Japan Railway enough times to feel confident that I wasn’t going to miss anything. Rental cars are available at the Aomori Aiport (just reserve it in advance); the drive takes about an hour.