Known for soba noodles, Togakushi in Nagano prefecture, is not as famous as the larger ski resorts like Niseko in Hokkaido or Yuzawa in Niigata, but it is absolutely one of my favorite ski resorts. The view from Mt. Menou summit, with the natural snowflake twinkle filter, in the cold, crisp air, is an unforgettable scene that is so addictive, it will definitely make you want to visit again.
A 90-minute local bus ride from Nagano station will take you directly to the ski slopes of the Togakushi ski region. I went with 4 of my friends this year and we drove from Tokyo. It took us around 4 hours, which included escaping from the crazy Friday night traffic.
Unlike the larger ski resorts, Togakushi does not have major hotels or luxurious facilities, so we stayed at a lodge near the slopes. As I mentioned, it’s not a high-end vicinity so we had a 7-minute walk to the ski lift’s lowest point. Walking the snow trail slightly uphill with your ski boots and equipment can be exhausting, to be honest, but I actually consider this as the good part; as Togakushi is not the easiest ski area to get to there tends to be fewer group tours and school ski trips. Besides, not only do you get to have a good warm-up, but the trails with the white birch trees are absolutely beautiful in the snow.
Being a little inconvenient to get to, most of the users here have experienced the major ski resorts and ended up here – a place that they come to improve. Therefore, more than half of the skiers and snowboarders here are middle to high experience and skill level so there is no need to worry about being crashed by beginners (or vice versa.)
But no worries for beginners! There are decent schools for both skiing and snowboarding around the area for all ages and all levels. I was surprised to see many middle-aged skiers (at insanely high levels) taking lessons. This really made me think about the word in Japanese, “生涯スポーツ” (shougai-sports) meaning “lifelong-sports” which are sports and exercises that anyone at any age can enjoy easily to stay fit and healthy. Skiing is definitely one of them, and it is one of the things I would like to keep on doing even when I turn 80 years old.
Slopes at Togakushi are 30% beginner-level courses, 40% middle-level courses, 30% high-level courses, and more than 80% of the ground is compacted snow. The powder snow is relatively good even though the amount of snow is smaller than other mountains in Nagano. It is also quite rare these days that there are more skiers than snowboarders. The highest point is at the top of Mt. Menou (1,748m) and the stunning view from the summit is something you never get tired of seeing.
Although we went on a weekend, the queue to get in the lifts was less than a minute wait, which is a very important; the more we ski, the hungrier we get!
And speaking of hungry, the meals at Yanagiran (https://tabelog.com/en/nagano/A2001/A200101/20009261/) are a must try:) In order to attract repeat visitors and regulars, Togakushi must satisfy, so the “expensive-but-not-so-worth-it” food that you find at the larger resorts won’t do. Yanagiran serves homemade beef stews and freshly baked curries. The restaurant is usually packed during lunch time. If you are a cheese lover, I recommend you to go early because the local people have their eyes on the hot melted raclette cheese dishes which has a limited supply each day. This is due to the restaurant being literally in the mountains. (You need to be able to ski, snowboard or roll down the hill to even get there.)
Togakushi ski area does not provide “nighter,” which is the Japanese term for night skiing, so when the lifts stop around 4:30 PM, it’s time to head back before the sun goes down. Walking back again, no magical shuttle bus will arrive. In case you see one, you are probably suffering from hypothermia and hallucinating so get yourself together and make yourself warm. I actually missed a turn (even though it was my 7th or 8th time staying there) going off track by 100 meters and I had to turn my GPS on to find my way back – that is how beautiful the scenery is… Luckily, I found my way back and keeping yourself warm is no problem in the lodge we stayed in.
森の宿めるへん (mori-no-yado-Märchen) http://web.mytrip.net/my/info_page_e.Eng?f_no=5833&f_ptn1=kaigai meaning “Fairytale – the lodge in the forest” has not only a cute name, it has an atmosphere to match, including a common room with a fireplace and floor heating. The guests naturally gather in the common room after dinner and spend the night as they like. Watching the snow fall with a cup of tea by the fireplace is another reason it makes me want to come back. Or you can help yourself to the whisky behind the bar.
After leaving the Togakushi mountain, you do not want to forget trying the soba noodles which requires pure water to make. Togakushi is the perfect place to make them because of the snowmelt water. Sobanomi (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g298565-d3610498-Reviews-Sobanomi-Nagano_Nagano_Prefecture_Chubu.html) has a cozy ambience with many kinds of dishes to choose from. (First-time soba eaters, please be aware that soba can cause an allergic reaction to people who have never tried buckwheat before.)
Togakushi Shrine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togakushi_Shrine) is another amazing place to visit with the silently falling snow, adding an enchanted effect. Around Nagano station, there is the famous temple Zenkō-ji (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zenk%C5%8D-ji) and if you are an art person, I am sure you will enjoy the Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g298565-d388271-Reviews-Nagano_Prefectural_Shinano_Art_Museum_Higashiyama_Kaii_Gallery-Nagano_Nagano_Prefe.html). Exhibition arts by Higashiyama Kaii who was inspired by the scenery of Nagano is definitely worth visiting too.