Hitting the Slopes in Nagano, Japan

When the winter months come along, there’s nothing more enjoyable than dusting off your skis, pulling out all your gear, and hitting the slopes after a recent snowfall has dusted the mountain, leaving some great powder behind. But one thing that I know about skiers is that they like to change things up a bit by traveling around and skiing in a lot of different places. Each mountain range offers different conditions and scenery, so finding variety is pretty easy. Once you’ve had your fill of Aspen, Vail, and Banff, you might want to venture out of the country for your next trip.

Japan might not come immediately to mind as a skiing destination, but don’t forget that the 1998 Winter Games were held there. Since skiing and snowboarding are major Olympic events, you can bet that there is some prime powder in that area. Specifically, I am talking about the fabulous resorts in Nagano prefecture, the site of the Olympics.

There are a couple of different ways that you can organize your trip to Nagano. First, you can choose to sign up as part of a tour group. This is a simple matter of contacting your travel agent and telling her your needs or looking up various Japan tour groups on the Internet and booking a package directly.

You’ll find that Japanese tour groups are quite inclusive, which can either be a good or a bad thing depending on what kind of traveler you are. On the one hand, you won’t have to worry about making any further arrangements once you arrive. That’s because your transportation, hotel, meals, and additional sightseeing will be included in the tour package (specific details will depend on which package you actually choose, of course).  On the other hand, you won’t have very much free time to slip off to do some exploring on your own. If you like structured, relatively hassle-free vacations, then you’d do well to purchase a tour package. If you prefer to call all the shots on your vacations, then read on.

Traveling in Japan is a bit different than traveling in other foreign countries. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone speaks English everywhere you go, and not all signs are written in English as well as Japanese. This can cause you to experience a few rough spots, but shouldn’t have a detrimental effect on your vacation as a whole.

Nagano is centrally located on Japan’s main island, and getting there from Tokyo’s Narita Airport is relatively easy. If you are planning on driving in Japan, you’ll of course need an international driver’s license.  You should also be aware that people drive on the left in Japan. This can be a bit disorienting at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.

When renting a car, it’s important to let the clerks know that you will be driving to a ski resort in the mountains. Japan has some very strict laws regarding driving in snowy or icy conditions, and you must have either snow tires or tire chains when conditions warrant these accessories. If you don’t have these things, not only will you be at risk for an accident, you’ll also be subject to a ticket and/or heavy fines.

Once you get to whichever resort you’ve chosen to stay at, things are pretty much just like you would find back home. You can rent skis, boots, and even outwear (snow pants, heavy jackets). You can also buy these things from small stores on site; however, if you do that, you should be prepared to pay higher prices than you would at a regular store.

After you have your equipment straightened out, you can buy a lift ticket or use the rope tow to get to the top and then cruise on down at your own pace. Most resorts have several different slopes for different skill levels, from beginners on up to advanced skiers. There are even sled hills for the kids, so there wouldn’t be any problem turning your trip into a family vacation.

The next time you want to hit the slopes in a new locale, why not consider Nagano, Japan? You’ll find top-notch skiing, beautiful views, and delectable cuisine waiting for you!

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