Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort
Tsugaike Kogen is one of the ski resorts of the Hakuba Valley
, and it takes the crown of the “Queen of Green” with a massive beginner area and no gnar. The Tsugaike Ski Resort doesn’t offer ski lessons in English, but it’s the ideal spot to teach the kids yourself on super wide mellow slopes without the fear of running into anyone else.
The associated Tsugaike Village is a great spot to stay if you’re looking for a peaceful ski holiday where you can absorb yourself in a Japanese ski village, away from the westernised hub-bub of Happo. Or if you want a holiday with vibrant nightlife and the ease of being able to speak English, stay in Happo Village
and just visit Tsugaike for a day trip or two.
Tsugaike Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Hakuba Tsugaike is a decent sized resort with 156 hectares of piste spread across 880 metres of vertical (800 – 1,680 metres). The lower part of the mountain consists of the gigantic beginners’ area that is serviced by multiple chair lifts and is about 350 metres wide. The area is largely devoid of trees, so that only leaves one big bell for novices to potentially run into! More green runs can be found further up the mountain as well as wide groomed red (intermediate) slopes.
As is often the case, the trail stats are rather misleading. Supposedly 20% of the piste is advanced (black), but there are only 1.25 black runs and the quarter run doesn’t deserve its single diamond status. So those who love bashing their knees on steep moguls will want to head to Happo One
Advanced powder hunters might find some fun off-piste in the trees, particularly off the Tsuga No. 2 lift. Ski patrol have a reputation for being rather strict and confiscating lift tickets for those who dare to chase the pow, but when we visited they just seemed to turn a bit of a blind eye to it. So if you want to head off-piste, perhaps find a happy medium between being respectful and being discrete, and be prepared for the associated risks.
Tsugaike Kogen is well reputed for the backcountry access. Backcountry riding is permitted by the ski patrol, except in one zone where it previously avalanched onto the ski area.
The Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is also popular for the terrain parks that are scattered across the resort. The best hit park is located at the top of the resort, although sometimes it doesn’t get into full swing until later in the season when the weather is kinder.
Tsugaike Kogen has rather impressive lift infrastructure. The Tsuigake gondola takes a while to get from the bottom to the top, but it travels at a decent speed to cover the lengthy distance. The resort has another 22 lifts including lots of fast quad chairs and an assortment of other chair lifts.
The Panorama Ropeway rises from above the top of the gondola, but during winter it is teasingly closed. From mid March onwards the ropeway (cable car) usually opens up, making the access to the true backcountry Kogen (highlands) much quicker.
Tsugaike Hakuba Heli Skiing
Or if you really want to get up into the backcountry quickly there’s always a helicopter! Japan heli skiing is a bit of a rarity, so the Tsugaike heli skiing which starts in spring time is rather popular. It’s reasonably affordable so it’s worth going solely for the thrill of the helicopter ride and the amazing scenery, or if you’re new to heli skiing and are happy to ride a mellow slope. But don’t go if you’re dreaming of steep and deep virgin snow. This is an unusual heliski operation where they use the same drop zone and route, so unless you’re lucky enough to be the first down, fresh tracks are far from guaranteed.
Where is Tsugaike Kogen?
The base of the Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is located about 8.5km north of the town of Hakuba and 9km from Happo Village
, the tourist hub of Hakuba. Otari is the closest town; 7km to the northeast. Although not interconnected, Tsugaike is located between Iwatake
and Norikura ski resorts.
See the Hakuba travel
page for information on the location of Hakuba Japan and how to get there.
To get to Tsugaike from other parts of the Hakuba Valley, there are free shuttle buses operating from Wadano, Echoland and Happo (including the main Happo bus terminal at the Happo Information Centre) that go via Iwatake. There are also buses between Cortina and Tsugaike.
In the main street of the little town of Tsugaike are lodgings as well as shops, restaurants and izakayas. In addition, simple pensions and hotels flank the beginner slopes, so there is good choice for ski-in ski-out accommodation. Much of the Tsugaike accommodation consists of Japanese style rooms (with futons on the tatami flooring) and Japanese meals, and some Tsugaike hotels also have western rooms.
The secluded Hotel Sierra Resort Hakuba
($$$-$$$$) is located half way between the Iwatake and Tsugaike ski areas. This deluxe hotel has spacious modern rooms with configurations of twin, king (which is rather unique in Japan), and suites for up to 4 guests. The hotel offers high levels of service and (English speaking) concierge, and exquisite onsens including private onsen baths. Free shuttle transport is available to the major Hakuba ski areas and a night bus is offered if you want to go to other Hakuba restaurants. Sierra Resort is popular with families, in part due to the sledding area and igloo, and babysitting services are available.
Tsugaike Hotel Listings
In addition to a cafeteria near the top of the resort, many of the hotels and pensions that sit alongside the green slopes near the base double as restaurants for lunch, so there are choices galore for Japanese fare. Other options include eateries with western food such as pizza or the obligatory crepes. Or if you feel you’ve absorbed enough Japanese culture, you can always sacrilegiously retreat to KFC.
For the kids there’s a snow park with tubing and play equipment. There is also a day care centre if you need child minding, but don’t hold high hopes for the staff being able to speak English.
At the base is a small ski shop with basic ski and snowboard equipment rentals. The shop also sells some ski and snowboard accessories and a few sundries.
Tsugaike has an onsen near the base of the gondola as well one a little down the road; perfect for a therapeutic soak after a big day on the slopes. Or if you can cope with the supposed “onsen flowers” (that suspiciously just look like gunk!) you can bathe your tootsies in the foot onsen.
Pros and Cons of Tsugaike Kogen
- The resort is fantastic for beginners (who don’t need lessons in English) and very good for intermediates.
- Tsugaike tends to attract fewer crowds than some of the high profile Hakuba ski resorts.
- Many of the lifts are high speed so you can get plenty of vertical under your boards each day.
- Above the resort is nice hike-to backcountry.
- Hakuba Tsugaike has lots of ski in ski out accommodation, which makes it popular with families.
- A form of heli skiing is available during spring which is worth it for the scenic helicopter ride.
- Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is easily accessible by free bus for day trippers from Happo and Wadano.
- There is negligible on-piste terrain to keep advanced riders entertained and donuts for experts.
- Whilst there are some restaurants and a few bars in Tsugaike Kogen, the evenings are rather quiet. Most of the Japanese folks have an onsen, eat dinner in their hotel, and then go to bed.
Pro or Con Depending on Your Perspective
- Tsugaike is only moderately geared up for international visitors. For example there is no ski school for Anglophones and cash is king, but the advantage is that the cute village is more Japanese and traditional, and you’re unlikely to see too many westerners.
- Off-piste skiing is frowned upon but it is possible. The advantage of the prohibition on tree skiing is that combined with only minimal gaijin visiting, there are lots of freshies to be found. Accommodation is generally geared towards the simple end and there is more Japanese than western style lodging.
Tours that may include Tsugaike