Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
The Shiga Kogen Resort in Nagano Japan is a good all-rounder as a ski holiday destination. It first gained international notoriety when it hosted various events at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, including the women’s downhill, slalom, super G and snowboarding events. Since that time many other skiers and snowboarders have flocked to the Shiga Kogen ski resorts to get a taste of what this area has to offer.
Shiga Kogen provides a large variety of ski and snowboard terrain, and quality snow because it’s the second highest ski resort in Japan. It’s not called Shiga Heights for nothing (Kogen means heights or highlands)!
Shiga Kogen Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Shiga Kogen is made up of 19 different ski resorts that are largely interlinked via the slopes and a comprehensive lift system that can be accessed off the one lift pass. The ability to explore the many villages on skis or a snowboard feels a little European.
With 980 metres of vertical, approximately 600 hectares of terrain, and 80+ kilometres of trails, Shiga Kogen is cited to be the largest ski area in Honshu (and possibly Japan), although when compared on an international scale, Shiga Kogen would probably be considered a medium sized resort.
Yakebitaiyama and Okushiga Kogen
are amongst the largest ski areas within Shiga Kogen, whilst some of the other ski areas are so small that you could blink and miss them.
The extensive network of approximately 68 lifts includes some gondolas and fast quad chairs, as well as some “romance” (ie double) chairs (romance on the chairs is optional!). Eight of the ski areas have a degree of night skiing.
The Shiga Kogen piste terrain is varied and ranges from beginners’ slopes to moguls. Shiga Kogen’s forte is the many kilometres of fresh ‘roys for cruising or schussing. Shiga Kogen is nirvana for intermediates, strong intermediates, and low end advanced riders.
There is some great tree skiing at some of the ski areas, but powder hounds will have to really put their canine nose to work to sniff out the powder discretely because off-piste skiing is banned at most of the ski areas (except Okushiga Kogen
). The upside is that you won’t have much competition for the fresh powder. As with most Japanese ski resorts, there’s nothing particularly steep at most of the Shiga Kogen ski areas that will make experts go yabba-dabba-doo.
Where is Shiga Kogen?
Shiga Kogen is located in the town of Yamanouchi in the Joshinetsu National Park in the Nagano Prefecture, about 50km northeast of Nagano
and 250km northwest of Tokyo
. The town of Yudanaka
(and the adjacent Shibu Onsen
) sits at the base of the mountain, with a 14km windy road that leads up to Sun Valley, the first of the Shiga ski areas.
It’s possible to get an airport transfer bus
from Tokyo Haneda or Narita Airport to your Shiga Kogen accommodation. Or from Tokyo, take a 1.5 hour bullet train to Nagano, and then a direct bus to Shiga Kogen which takes about 70 minutes.
It’s possible to get around most of the Shiga Kogen ski resorts via the slopes, but a lift pass also provides free access to a shuttle bus system that travels around during the daytime.
Shiga Kogen Accommodation
Shiga Kogen accommodation
is spread out around many “villages”. Shiga Kogen has a large variety of hotels, many of which are ski-in ski-out or located very close to the slopes. There are hotels to cater to a range of budgets and styles including washitsu with tatami flooring (Japanese style rooms), semi-Japanese rooms, or yōshitsu (Western rooms). Accommodation packages that include breakfast and dinner are common, in part due to the limited number of restaurants available for evening dining.
The Ichinose village is one of the most popular places to stay because it’s centrally located, and it has a couple of bars and restaurants. Don’t get too excited about the nightlife though – this is not Niseko
Another popular choice is to stay in the Yakebitaiyama area at the Shiga Kogen Prince Hotel
. This hotel provides convenient access to the largest and most modern of the Shiga Kogen ski resorts.
Or Okushiga Kogen
is a great place to stay considering it has two ski-in ski-out hotels and a ski school offering group lessons in English.
See our Shiga Kogen accommodation
overview for more information.
One of the benefits of a Shiga Kogen ski holiday is that in addition to the skiing and snowboarding, the region offers various off-slope activities. The Jigokudani snow monkeys
are not far away from Shiga Kogen. Here you can see the famous Japanese snow monkeys playing and keeping warm in the hot springs. The Shiga Kogen area also has plenty of hot springs (onsens) for humans.
The Zenkoji temple and Matsushiro Kaizu castle in nearby Nagano
also make for culturally interesting day trips.
The Difference between Shiga Kogen and Hakuba
Many people can’t choose whether to go to Shiga Kogen or Hakuba
on their Japan ski holiday. What’s the difference between the two Nagano ski resorts?
Unlike Hakuba that has some open areas, Shiga Kogen is entirely below the tree line so the visibility is better and it’s a little more protected from the weather. Shiga Kogen is at a higher elevation than Hakuba so the upper ski areas at Shiga Kogen have slopes not slops. The Hakuba ski resorts are not interconnected (except for two) whilst it’s possible to explore most of the Shiga Kogen areas without getting on a shuttle bus. However if you want to go backcountry riding, Hakuba is far superior.
Shiga Kogen hasn’t been invaded by westerners and it has less crowds, but if you don’t want to have to use your phrasebook, Hakuba is better (although Okushiga Kogen
caters well to English speaking guests). Also if you are looking for an energetic nightlife and a range of restaurants, head to Hakuba.
Summary of Pros and Cons
- Powderhounds.com have bestowed Shiga Kogen with a best skiing in Japan award for the best intermediate terrain.
- Shiga Kogen also scores 5 out of 5 from us for the ski-in ski-out accommodation.
- The ski area is very large (by Japanese standards) and provides good on-piste diversity for beginner, intermediate and low end advanced riders.
- There are group ski lessons in English with the Shiga International Ski School who are based at Okushiga Kogen (there are only several ski resorts in Japan that have group lessons in English).
- Hotels are the primary form of accommodation so if you’re looking for self-contained (e.g. apartment or house) or backpacker accommodation, this is not the resort for you.
- The villages are predominantly a collection of hotels and there aren’t many stand-alone restaurants, bars or shops.
- The “villages” are very spread out. It’s easy to ski or snowboard between the villages, but it’s more difficult to get around in the evenings.
- The nightlife is very limited (although this is common to most non-westernised ski resorts in Japan).
Pro or Con Depending on Your Perspective
- Shiga Kogen isn’t over-run with westerners, it feels very Japanese and many of the hotels have the option of Japanese, Western, or semi-Japanese rooms. In many parts of the resort there’s not a lot of English spoken (if any at all).
- Most of the Shiga Kogen ski areas are very old-fashioned and strictly ban off-piste riding. The upside for those who can appear invisible is that there’s little competition for freshies.
- Other than skiing and snowboarding, there aren’t that many activities on offer at Shiga Kogen. However Shiga Kogen is the closest ski resort to the snow monkeys and Shibu Onsen, and Nagano is not far away where you can partake in some culturally interesting day trips.
Tours That May Include Shiga Kogen