Renowned professional skier Cody is planning a ski trip to Japan, one of his favorite ski spots around the world. His trip will take him to Tohoku in winter-a first-time experience for Cody. What will he discover on this trip to the still unknown wonders of Tohoku's winter mountains with its unique regional culture and arts?
Address： 1-12, Kansuizawa, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, Aomori 030-0111 Access： By public transport, it takes approximately 60 minutes from JR Shin-Aomori Station. Take JR to Aomori Station, then the No. 11 bus bound for Towada and get off at Hakkoda Ropeway Station bus stop. By car, it takes approximately 30 minutes from Aomori-chuo interchange on the Aomori Expressway via Route 103 (Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line). * Travel to JR Shin-Aomori Station on the JR East Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station.
Cody Townsend, a professional skier who travels the globe in search of the best skiing experiences, visited Mt. Hakkoda in central Aomori Prefecture. Even today, Mt. Hakkoda is home to pristine natural beauty and is famed for its frost and snow-covered trees that have become known as “snow monsters.” What did Cody think of his skiing experiences in such unique scenery?
-What were the best things about skiing in Aomori?
Cody: By far the coolest thing was being able to choose your own way down and go wherever you want. The Hakkoda Ropeway ski area in Aomori has two permanent courses in the managed area-the direct course (3.5 km) and the forest course (5 km)- and these are amazing for intermediate to advanced skiers. There’s a particularly great range of advanced-level options, plus there is hardly anyone there, giving you a sense of having the entire mountain to yourself.
I don’t know why Hakkoda is not more well-known, because it has some of the best runs, snow quality and scenery I’ve found in Japan.
-What is unique to Aomori (Mt. Hakkoda) in terms of skiing style and ways to have a good time?
Cody: My top pick would be the backcountry skiing. You can enjoy pristine natural surroundings and ski down open slopes with no trees and unbelievable powder. Getting away from the crowded pistes and walking through forests in search of untouched slopes is one of the best feelings.
For all skiers thinking about exploring the backcountry, I would recommend hiring a guide, who knows about danger spots like snow overhangs and crevices.
-Other than the skiing, what else about Aomori made an impression on you?
Cody: Hachinohe Yokocho in Hachinohe city in southeastern Aomori was amazing. There was one bar, called Prince, that was the coolest bar I’d ever been in by far. The bartender was devoted to his craft and it was really cool to experience that-it felt very real. The izakaya bar specializing in seafood Shiosai was the same. The owner was totally dedicated to barbequing fish well. It was their single-minded devotion that I found really inspiring.
Also, you could tell when people walked into the bars that the bartender knew them. I got the impression that, despite being small, there is a strong sense of community. You don’t feel they are serving you as a tourist, and you don’t feel any divide between the locals and visitors-you are just another person there. It felt warm and welcoming. At Okage-san, the izakaya bar serving local specialties, the owners were so friendly. We had a great time sitting under the kotatsu blanket, enjoying senbei-jiru soup, which is a specialty of Hachinohe.
-What were the most appealing aspects of your Aomori trip that you want to tell your fans about?
Cody: One of the best things for a traveler is to find a secret part of the world. I think Aomori is the best kept secret for a skier in Japan. I’ve never heard of other skiers I know going to Aomori, but now I know about it. So, I have a little secret (laughs). With runs that will appeal to even the best skiers and its mesmerizing “snow monster” landscapes, I have no doubt that Aomori is one of the best places to go for skiing.
Also, in Mt. Hakkoda there are fewer skiers than in Niseko (Hokkaido) and Hakuba (Nagano) and your guide can take you to many amazing places to enjoy backcountry skiing suited to your skiing skills. It felt so real, like an authentic old-style ski resort.
Address : Urabandai Onsen, Oshio, Kitashiobara-mura, Yama-gun, Fukushima 966-0402 Access : Approx. 20 minutes by bus from JR Kitakata Station to Oshio Urabandai Onsen. Approx. 40 minutes by car from Inawashiro-Bandai-Kogen interchange via Route 459. Approx. 40 minutes by car from Aizu-Wakamatsu interchange via Route 121 and Route 459.
④Nekoma Resort, Urabandai
Address： 1163 Nekomayama, Kitashiobara-mura, Yama-gun, Fukushima 969-2701 Access： Approx. 30 minutes by free shuttle bus from JR Inawashiro Station Approx. 40 minutes by car from Inawashiro-Bandai-Kogen interchange via Route 459 Approx. 40 minutes by car from Aizu-Wakamatsu interchange via Route 121 and Route 459 * Direct access to Urabandai Lake Resort by bus from Haneda Airport and JR Tokyo Station. (Bus service from Haneda Airport is only available during winter. Please inquire about departure days and times.)
Cody Townsend, a professional skier who travels the globe in search of the best skiing experiences, visited the Aizu Urabandai area in central Fukushima Prefecture. This is an area famed for its smooth, dry powder snow. We asked Cody about his experiences on this trip and the unique appeal of skiing in Fukushima.
-What were the best things about skiing in Fukushima?
Cody: It’s hard to pick any one thing. The whole place was so beautiful. It was so peaceful looking at Mt. Bandai and the other mountains and valleys and the blue sky reflecting off the surface of Lake Hibara.
Obviously, the snow was amazing too. The powder’s so good in Urabandai because of the so-called micro-fine snow that falls here-it’s some of the driest snow on earth. Also, compared to other ski areas like Niseko (Hokkaido) and Hakuba (Nagano) there are very few skiers and on the day we visited it was like being at our own private ski area with perfect snow. People will fly around the world to go to somewhere like that.
-What is unique to Urabandai in terms of skiing style and ways to have a good time?
Cody: There are so many ski areas to visit in the region around Mt. Bandai and you can reach any one of them in about 30 minutes by car. If you come to Fukushima you can choose a ski area that fits with the kind of skiing you want to do and also the level that suits you best. As a skier, it is so cool to be able to choose a ski area from so many options. It’s a great environment.
It’s not just about skiing in the Aizu Urabandai area either. There’s also a super awesome place where you can go snowmobile skiing. Accessing the backcountry via snowmobile is a pretty special way to go skiing and quite possibly my favorite way to get out there.
-Other than the skiing, what else about Fukushima made an impression on you?
Cody: Well, first there are the onsens (hot springs). After a day of skiing, I really looked forward to being able to relax in a hot spring. It’s by far one of the coolest parts of Japan! And after I had soaked in the onsen, the woman who owned the onsen taught me how to make an origami crane. It was really cool experiencing that part of Japanese culture.
Going ice fishing in a hole in a frozen lake was fun too.
-What were the most appealing aspects of your Fukushima trip that you want to tell your fans about?
Cody: The main thing is that there are so many amazing ski areas in Japan that are unknown to the rest of the world. Even professional skiers like me only know two places, and they’re Niseko and Hakuba. This was my first trip to Fukushima and I discovered so many new things, from the perfect powder to beautiful scenery and so many ski areas. It’s incredible. Fukushima really is a world-class ski area.
I have been taking pictures of the ski areas and taking GPS locations because I am thinking that have got to come back! It doesn’t get any better than going to an almost private ski area and skiing on perfect powder. I want to come back the next time I am in Japan.
Ski, ski lifestyle and landscape photos by Ming T. Poon for JNTO
From Tokyo Station, Cody travels by high-speed rail on the Shinkansen to Aomori, close to Mt. Hakkoda. After enjoying skiing on Mt. Hakkoda and a night of culinary delights in Hachinohe Yokocho, Cody will then travel to Urabandai in Fukushima for perfect powder snow and relaxing in an onsen (hot spring). Looking forward to exploring new places to ski and encountering local arts and culture, Cody sets off on his journey to experience Tohoku Magic.
Cody Townsend is a professional skier and adventurer from Lake Tahoe, CA. Having wowed the world with his infamous “Line of the Year” to seeking to ski the biggest mountains in the world— from Alaska to the Himalaya, the Arctic Circle to South America— Cody is renowned for his absolute love of skiing and the constant search for good snow and great times.
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