While the kid was attending snowboard camp at Ishiuchi Maruyama, I took the opportunity to get in 4 days skiing at some places in the area I'd always wanted to visit, braving the drive up the Kan-Etsu -- which actually went surprisingly smoothly. After getting the kid checked in at the camp, I decided to spend the first day on snow at Ishiuchi Maruyama itself.
It had been snowing, and continued snowing lightly for much of that day, so skiing conditions were pretty good, though visibility was limited by clouds/fog at the highest elevations for much of the day. But first things first, the Chuo base area, which I found charming with its old-fashioned collection of restaurants, shops and hotels arranged around the slope. Very classic Niigata-style base area, I thought.
So on up the bottom lift, only to discover... another base area! Then up the next lift, another one.
Ishiuchi Maruyama is really quite a sprawling place, with three official bottom-level base areas (Hatsukaishi, Chuo and Kanko), plus innumerable quasi-base areas at higher elevations. I really liked that about the place -- it seemed like a great place for a family vacation, cruising around the hill and stopping somewhere new each time for something to eat.
It also has a proliferation of lifts, some crossing over each other, and not all linking up in the most logical way. Which just adds to the old-fashioned, organically-grown feel.
It takes 4-5 lifts to get to the top, where there is some kind of bell for people to ring. From the top, one can also connect to GALA Yuzawa, if one has an all-mountain ticket (Maruyama, GALA, Yuzawa Kogen). Looking down from the top course, there should be some nice views over the Minamiuonuma valley on a clear day.
Off to the skier's right, across Rt. 17 from the Hatsukaishi base area, can be seen the remains of the defunct First Ishiuchi ski area.
A wide slope heads down to the Hatsukaishi area, with some powder zones to the sides. The Hatsukaishi area has some giant hotels, with some smaller lodges mixed in.
To skier's left back on the main slope, there is a training mogul bahn. There is also an ungroomed area leading to the Kanko base area, that probably turns into a mogul slope later in the season.
A giant sign commemorates some Austrian connections, including a visit by Toni Sailer in 1957. The Tirol Gelaende to skier's right of this sign leads to a largely defunct-looking mid-hill base area. The single chair that serves that slope was not running until early afternoon. I happened to notice it start running, and managed to ski down and catch the first chair on it. Riding up, I noticed that the run to the left looked almost completely untracked!
Right place, right time: I took it upon myself to lay some tracks down the boot-deep powder that had built up on that run, lapping the singles lift 5 or 6 times in a row to do so, getting fresh lines each time. Eventually others caught on that the formerly untouched run was open for business, and it all got thoroughly tracked out. But dang it was good while it lasted. Couldn't believe my luck.
After spending the day cruising around the hill, headed down to the Chuo base area for the last laps of the day. One has to ski over a bridge over the train tracks to get there. Inexpressibly cute.
Parked near the parking lot to skier's left behind the Chuo area is a food truck, serving 激辛タコス, which I could not pass up. Rather than a regular corn taco shell, they use an Ethiopian injera-style bread, wrapped around the hot Mexican-style taco filling. Inspired, and highly recommended.
Retiring to my hotel for the night, which was located slopeside by the Kanko base area, I could see the bottom Kanko lift running for the nighter from my hotel room. The row of lights from the Maiko nighter was visible in the distance -- the next day's destination.
Overall impression: I really liked the old-fashioned, sprawling feel of Ishiuchi Maruyama. Wouldn't want to be pressed for time to get to one's favorite spot there, because it is fairly inefficiently laid out. But with a full day to spend there, that is part of the charm. Great place for families, or to just park oneself at a slopeside lodging and ski as the spirit moves one, by daylight or nighter.