Hunter Mountain bills itself as "One of the Largest Snow Resort (sic) in the Kanto Area."
While that may true, it may seem small in comparison to some other resorts. But what it lacks in size, it makes up in unique features such as a halfpipe in the terrain park, the best mogul course I have ever skied in Japan, and a pole bahn to practice those GS turns. It also has snowmaking, for artificial snow when the weather does not cooperate.
Trails and Lifts:
For a total of 12 named runs, there are a total of 7 lifts including one six person gondola which whisks skiers and snowboarders up the mountain 2,418 meters distance to the top at 1,638 meters altitude. With 500 meters vertical, it is a nice size resort with lots of facilities. The park boasts a true halfpipe with some medium and small features and a beginners halfpipe, well, maybe more like a quarterpipe.
The mountain is laid out in a classic formation, with the beginner slopes at the bottom where there is parking and a base lodge with multiple buildings, the intermediate slopes in the middle, and the advanced slopes at the top. While the statistics state that the maximum is 25 degrees, some of the advanced slopes felt like they were steeper in some sections, while some of the intermediate slopes seemed a lot flatter. The grooming is good, and it is one of the few resorts where everything is actually in English, probably a novelty at the time of the creation of the resort back in 1987.
As for sidecountry, well, there really is none, as almost everything is roped off, and the trees are spaced just too tight. There are signs saying that skiing under the lifts is prohibited, and ropes everywhere. The resort is better known for its well groomed slopes and manmade snow making capacity rather than powder and backcountry.
True beginners will like Sesame Street off the 1st Quad Lift, although the section from the lift to the main trail is very flat. The main course is max. 8 and average 5 degrees. Family Run, serviced by its own Family Lift, is a moderate beginner slope with max. 10 and average 7 degrees.
Another gentle beginner run is Westside Street, accessed from the Hunter Quad Lift. It is max. 15 and average 10 degrees. Please note that the English map also shows 2nd Pair Lift, which is not in operation, and the section from the top of the Hunter Quad Lift and 2nd Pair Lift that indicates Black, or Advanced, is actually Green, or Beginner, on the Japanese map, which is correct.
There are plenty of cruisers and nicely groomed slopes for intermediate skiers and riders. 42nd Street is a 1 km. long run with max. 22 and average 15 degrees.
In order to access the intermediate slopes on the left side of the mountain, it requires taking some advanced runs. Via Hunter Quad Lift, New Madison is thankfully a short 380 meters but is also 25 degrees max. with average 20 degrees.
From there, Park Avenue is a 970 meter run with maximum 20 and average 15 degrees.
Pole Bahn:From the 4th Pair Lift, Lexingon Avenue which is marked on the trail map is where the Pole Bahn is located. This is a GS course that requires an additional fee to use. To try it once, it is JPY 100, or JPY 500 for the day. Depending on the day, there is also an SL course. The 600 meter long course with 180 meter vert., at 20 degrees max. and average 15 degrees, was a fun experience, and thankfully, the course was not sprayed down with water to make high speed ice conditions like in real competitions.
The advanced runs are not so long, and not so steep, but can make for some really fast cruising and carving. Wall Street, 600 meters long, seemed steeper than the billed max. 25 and average 20 degrees on the map. It can be accessed via the 3rd Pair Lift or Gondola.
For a longer cruise, Madison, 650 meters long, and max.ave. 20/15 degrees, coupled with New Madison, 380 meters long with max.ave. 25/20, can be a high speed thrill.
In order to get to Madison or FDR via the 3rd Pair Lift, you need to cross under the gondola building. It is not clearly marked, but there is a trail underneath the building (look for the toilet) and then there is a path from the stairs of the gondola exit to the trails.
Moguls and FDR:
I am not exactly sure how they named a mogul run FDR, considering that he was in a wheelchair for the latter part of his life. But perhaps the name is just consistent with the New York street naming theme. This is absolutely the best mogul run that I have ever been on, with several lines of perfectly spaced moguls. The ski school also offers a special mogul lesson, and there is an annual mogul competition.
With a variety of building with names like Entrance Mall, Grand Central Station, Powder House, Center House, Annex, Childrens House, and Family House, it may seem like you are not even in Japan. There are many facilities spread out among these building.
There are dressing rooms in the Annex building, 1F and 2F, as well as the Powder House, 1F and 2F near the Columbus Square bus stop. There is also a locker room in Grand Central Station, the gondola building.
One service indicative of the potential conditions at Hunter is a ski and snowboard waxing and edging service. In just 5 minutes, they wax your skis or board, and in 10 minutes, freshly sharpened edges. The snow towards the bottom can get wet towards the end of the day, resulting in a hooky or grabby ride that can be alleviated with some fresh wax. Also, at the top, the conditions can be icy, and sharp edges will help to carve rather than slip.
The Big Apple on the 1st floor of the Center House is the largest restaurant in the resort, cafeteria style, with 600 seats. There is also the Bakery Cafe with 80 seats and simple dishes like pasta as well as cake sets, and crepes. On the 2nd floor, the World Deli seats 350 and has donburi dishes as well as a selection of ethnic food samplers.
For those who like their fast food, Mos Burger offers the standard fare and take out for literally eating on the slopes. There is also a soba noodle restaurant with various toppings for the soba and udon dishes.
On the mountain, Uovo Meta Meta is a small 90 seat pizza and pasta restaurant at the top of 1st Quad lift. Times restaurant in the middle of Broadway is a larger 200 seat restaurant offering a lunch buffet with curry, spaghetti, and desserts.
At the top of the gondola, the Lounge, Top of Hunter has 80 seats, and offers various fast food as well as soft drinks.
Madison Square restaurant, located at the top of Hunter Quad lift, is currently under renovation and is only open for lunch on weekends.
Those who like soft ice cream to end their day will need to get to the Soft Cream House before it closes at 4 pm.
With neighboring Shiobara Onsen and Kinugawa Onsen, there are a variety of accommodations available, most with hot springs, ranging from Western style hotels to Japanese inns, or minshuku and ryokan. There are no accommodations on mountain. These can be booked through the Shiobara or Kinugawa/Kawaji Onsen Tourist Associations.
By car, located off the Tohoku Highway, from the Nishi Nasuno Shiobara Interchange, it is 29 km. via Route 400 (Shiobara Valley Line)/Aoba Bypass and the Nichien Momiji Toll Road.
There is a special Hunter QQ-Tai (QQ Unit) which is a road assistance service to help drivers with vehicles that may have gotten stuck or run out of petrol on the Nichien Momiji Line during the journey to the resort.\r\n\r\nShuttle buses depart from parking lots at Nasu Garden Outlet (free parking) or Tobu World Square (paid parking) to the mountain. Reservations are required, and bus tickets need to be purchased, or there is a roundtrip bus plus lift pass package available.
From Tokyo, it is a 80 minute journey via JR Tohoku bullet train to Nasu Shiobara station, where the free of charge Hunter Mountain shuttle bus takes about 60 minutes to the resort. Alternatively, via the Tobu Line, via the Nikko Kinugawa Line, about 2 hours from Asakusa to Kinugawa Onsen, the shuttle bus takes 50 minutes from the station to the resort.
There are a whopping 11 parking lots that hold a total of 4,000 vehicles. While I would never want to be at the resort when they are full, this means that there is plenty of space for vehicles. While parking is free on weekdays, there is a JPY 1,000 fee on the weekends.\r\n\r\nOn weekends and holidays, families with children elementary school age or younger can park in the special family parking lot, 100 spaces are available, located in front of the resort entrance in lot P2.
A JPY 1,000 refundable deposit is required for the IC chip, which is used to open the gates to the lifts and gondola. In addition to a one day lift ticket, there are 5 hour tickets (also valid for night skiing), point tickets (2 points for Hunter Quad, 1 point for other lifts, and 3 points for the gondola), and night skiing only tickets available. For those over 45 years old, there is also a "Masters" ticket.
There is an onsen pack, which includes the lift ticket plus admission to local hot springs, and accommodations packages also available through the Shiobara Onsen Tourist Association or the Kinugawa and Kawaji Onsen Association.
Mountain Impressions:The trails are laid out in an easy to understand pattern, and signage is in English, but the runs are not marked so that it is easy to know how to go to the next part. Also, to get from one side of the mountain to the other, there are small trails, most of which are not marked at all.
The grooming is top rate, and the staff seem friendly, reminding you of the exact timing to stand up and get off the lift. While stashes of powder may difficult to find, the well groomed slopes are worth the trip.
For mogul stompers or halfpipe freaks, Hunter Mountain is the place to visit. Racers can work on their form bashing gates on the Pole Bahn. All in all, there seems to be a bit of something for everyone at this resort.
This is one of the only resorts in Japan where almost all the signs are in English. It is like being transported back to the Catskill Mountains in New York, USA, the location of the original Hunter Mountain, probably the inspiration for the Shiobara resort.
Snow condition on visit:
Things I liked:
Unique Features: Snowmaking, Halfpipe, Mogul Run, Pole Bahn, Parking Galore
Things I didn't like:
Conditions can be icy. Also, can get very crowded on weekends