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Arai


Japan's newest & snowiest ski destination is a spectacular freeride mountain, with a sensational luxury hotel at its base.

Consistently Japan's snowiest resort - an average of over 15 metres of pure powder every season – the ski mountain is left largely ungroomed. That's 1,000 meters of vertical across 160 km2 of avalanche-controlled backcountry-style terrain, with open bowls, natural gullies and plenty of well-spaced trees. This is a resort with a clear-minded proposition; aimed squarely at the off-piste powder chasing crowd, who appreciate luxury accommodation and state-of-the-art facilities. And, my goodness, it delivers in snow-filled spades.

Arai is hugely impressive from the get-go, even before you click into your skis – five-star accommodation, elegant restaurants, sleek lounge bars, artisan bakeries, luxuriant onsens, two indoor swimming pools and a day spa. There has been a ski hotel here since 1993, though it was then closed in 2006 and lay abandoned for ten years before the Lotte group bought the resort, and threw money at restoring Arai beyond its original glory...and then some. 
 

Skiing in Arai

There isn't much pisted terrain and the mountain is accessed by only five lifts: a gondola, and then hooded, fast quad chair lifts. Admittedly the marked trails are nice, long cat tracks - hugely enjoyable - but it's kind of missing the point...

Instead consider Arai an off-piste ski resort, notwithstanding what the marketing team may publish to try broaden its appeal. If you are not happy in the deep stuff, then Arai is not for you. Powder junkies fill your boots - this is pure dream skiing. Head to the top station, hike up the additional short distance to the summit and drop in wherever the hell you want. Next time, head straight back up, move along a bit, drop in again and its freshies all the way, 1,000 metres to the base. 

But you don't necessarily have to be expert - far from it, as the way the mountain is laid out it also makes it a perfect place to develop your skills, as the terrain is forgiving and you are never far from a groomed cat track. 

With an enlightened attitude, the resort has employed one of the best avalanche forecasters in the business - Dave Iles from Whistler. He and a team of highly trained patrollers spend their days working on the terrain after the frequent epic snow falls to ensure it is safe to open. 
 

Off Piste

This is why you've come to Arai! Nothing too steep - as is often the case in Japan - but you won't ever run out of wide open slopes up top, or mid-section powder fields with only a small amount of vegetation to add interest, or perfectly gladed areas, or even some tighter tree runs lower down. Whist the lifts get you to most points on the mountain, we would recommend a hike up from the top lift to get access to the best of the Okenashi zone.  The ski map divides the mountain into numerous named zones, all super-conveniently lift accessed. And after a good dump - a very common occurrence in Arai - the patrollers work hard to get these areas open as quick as they can.

However, despite the patrollers' professionalism and expertise, the mountain has an unfortunate history of avalanches. To mitigate the risk there are only a couple of permanently closed areas that funnel into avalanche gullies within the resort boundaries and it’s a hard and fast rule that you don't ever duck the ropes in Arai.
 

Advanced

On-piste there are four black runs....and they're reasonably challenging, pretty steep and quite wonderful. But that's not enough to keep you entertained for too long, so dip your skis off the side.

Intermediate

Unless you are willing to venture off-piste and 'give it a go', then there is not too much to keep you entertained in Arai. Having said that, the few intermediate pisted runs are good fun, some open, others on cat tracks, and the top-to-bottom ride holds variety, intrigue and certainly gets those thighs burning.

But, this is an off-piste resort, and therefore it is all about the deep un-groomed powder snow. And there is no resort better - forgiving terrain,  open, patrolled & avalanche-controlled - in which to learn the techniques, develop your skills and first experience that 'floating on snow' sensation. We can arrange a private lesson with an English-speaking instructor on day one, enough to get you going and show you lay of the land (find your "happy place")....and off you go!

Beginners

There are some very gentle green runs at the bottom of the mountain, which are absolutely ideal for total beginners. I imagine its a great place to take you make your first tentative turns. But progression from this is difficult, as the rest of the mountain becomes a little more tricky. 

Snowboarders

Skiers? Snowboarders? It's all the same when you're in the deep powder. Very flew flats, well spaced trees, large bowls and comfortable chairs / gondolas. What's not to like?

'Tomo-san' - our good friend and main contact at Arai (the ski resort 'Resort Manager') - is an ex-pro snowboarder, having been previously based in Whistler and also up in Niseko. And he confidently rates Arai as the best mountain on which he's ever worked. But then again...he would say that.

Après Ski

This is a single-hotel resort. There is no nearby village, no dining options beyond what the hotel offers, no sneaky little local bars waiting to be discovered. It's a good job that the hotel is absolutely, flipping marvelous!

First of all, the restaurants are remarkable - truly exceptional - but be aware that this is five-star all the way. Discerning guests like to dine well, not cheaply. The main restaurant is called 'Sou' and they offer an impressive international buffet with a large range of dishes, all quality. Then there is 'Rainbow', the best Italian restaurant we've ever eaten in (some boast!) and 'Hakobune Bettei' offers outstanding Japanese cuisine. All are steeped in class, use the finest ingredients, service is attentive and the over-all experience that of an upscale hotel in New York, Paris or Hong Kong. More informal dining is available at the bakery, the juice bar, library café, and Lounge Sui. 

So...beyond the fine-dining, the onsens and spas and the amazing books in the library (what a library!), what else is there to do? Well, its safe to say Arai is not a party place, though the several lounge bars serve beautiful drinks (local beers, sake, Japanese whisky, cocktails) in a sophisticated setting. And there is a karaoke bar - you are in Japan after all!

Family Suitability

The resort has been conceived to accommodate families - they are anticipating a core patronage from Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, who predominantly travel in family groups. So facilities are many, child care readily available and activities abound to keep kids entertained.

Child care is available for two year olds to kindergarten aged kids and babysitting is available for morning or afternoon sessions (or both), but there's a 1.5 hour gap over lunch time. 

RESORT SCORECARD

Snowsure:  

Beginners:  

Intermediate:  

Advanced:  

Snowboarders:  

Après Ski:  

Families:  

Season:  mid-December until end-March

Base elevation:  329 metres

Top elevation:  1,280 metres

Vertical drop:  over 950 metres, more if you take the short hike to the top.

Number of lifts:  5

Number of runs:  11 (but it's not about the 'runs')

Longest run:  5.2 kilometres

Access:  The nearest shinkansen station - Joetsumyoko - is only 15-minutes away, and is serviced by a free resort shuttle which meets every train. It's only a two-hour ride from Tokyo.

Suggested Itineraries featuring Arai

These suggested itineraries will give you a starting point for what your ski holiday to Japan could entail. Sometimes we combine ski resorts and our clients often embrace the opportunity to explore and experience Japan beyond the ski slopes. We hope these itineraries will inspire, excite and inform you as we begin the planning process. They’re not set departures or tours, as every holiday we plan is completely tailor-made for you - treat them as inspiration only.

Ultimate Japan

Niseko - Kanzawa - Arai - Tokyo

Duration: two weeks

This itinerary is all about luxury, both on and off the mountain. Experience the best of both Hokkaido and Honshu Islands.

from £2,988 per person, including flights

Read More

Honshu Powder Safari

Hakuba - Myoko Kogen / Arai - Appi Kogen

Duration: two weeks

Are you travelling to Japan for a single purpose? The deepest, untracked & ungroomed powder snow?

from £2,498 per person, including flights

Read More

Prices are indicative only and include accommodation (low season), lift passes, transfers and – because we are ATOL-bonded – your flights from the UK. Different Snow can also include ski hire, backcountry and off-piste tours, rail passes, private transfers, English-speaking guides, cultural excursions and activities.

Accommodation

There is only one hotel at the base...but what a hotel! Much money has been spent, which could potentially mean nothing if the interior designers lacked taste, the architects lacked pragmatism and the staff were poorly trained and aloof. Luckily, none of this is true - the five-star resort Lotte Arai Resort Hotel is pure class.

The (admittedly, rather large) hotel offers a range of deluxe western-style rooms and suites across two main buildings, a range of amazing dining options, lounge bars, two indoor swimming pools (and a reflexology walking pool), a gymnasium, and extensive day spa facilities.

To stay here is a joy.

Lotte Arai Hotel

A luxury ski hotel, without compare in Japan (outside of Niseko). Stylish rooms and facilities abound.

What a hotel! With 257 rooms spread across four buildings, the Lotte Arai Resort in not small, but my goodness it’s stylish. Five-star in every respect – even measured against the discerning international standards – the hotel features spacious, modern and super-comfortable rooms, game-changing restaurants, the most amazing onsens, two indoor pools, a state-of-the-art day spa facility, bakeries, a gym and a library with the best books we’ve ever seen. It’s new, and the staff are still finding their feet, but the service is attentive and sincere. All told, an amazing resort hotel complex.

Activities

Like anywhere else, your experience on the ski mountain at Arai is hugely enhanced once you have been shown around by a local. And because this is a freeride destination, this is especially true - the powder stashes, the secret lines and the quieter glades. Let us organise a guide on day one, and you'll still be thanking us on days two, three and four...etc. 

If an amazing freeride mountain all to yourself by day, and relaxing onsens and spas by night is not enough? Well, Arai offers more - the hotel has an amazing zipline experience - really beyond the ordinary and worth doing for the devil-may-care crowd - and then the tubing is, we can vouch, not a kid's only activity. Tremendous fun! 

When based in Arai, some pretty amazing alternative resorts are within easy reach and a public bus service can easily get you to them in no time. A day in Myoko Kogen, one could argue, is an absolute 'must'.

Powder guiding in Arai

Brush up on your technique and reveal the secrets of the freerise mountain.

A local guide knows how to safely guide you through the best skiing and riding experiences that Arai has to offer. The guides we use are also qualified and professional English speaking guides with intimate knowledge of the best and safest snow in all conditions - they can coach you as much as you want on powder riding techniques. 

Day trip to Myoko Kogen

Famous for the sheer amount of powder snow it receives, Myoko is within striking distance.

During January & February a bus leaves Arai at 8.50am and gets you to Myoko Kogen for first lifts. It returns home at 4pm. And you've just ticked not only another Japanese ski resort off your list, but genuinely one of its best. Specifically, Akakura Kanko is where you are heading (Myoko Kogen is a collection of severl ski resorts on Mount Myoko), wher ethe powder is deep, the lift queues non-existent and the side-country epic.

Zipline on Arai Mountain

The biggest and best zipline on all Asia - 239 metres above the valley floor.

The main zip line runs from the top of the gondola to the top of the second double chair lift, across a deep, deep valley. Rather terrifyingly, you are (at points) 239 metres above the trees below. You travel just over 1,500 metres, and needless to say, it's a bucket load of fun for people who like to fly downhill fast...i.e. you!  The actual zip lining takes only a few minutes although the tour in its entireity takes a couple of hours because it understandably involves a fair bit of  orientation and strict adherence to safety procedures. There is also Lotte Arai also a mini zip lining cable for those who are a bit scaredy cat.

Ski Concierge

The ski and snowboard services, amenities and facilities at Arai are very well-developed and of an exceptionally high quality - no expense has been spared. They took it back to basics, imagined the 'perfect' ski resort (from a skiers and snowboarders perspective) and simply did it right. 

In the impressive base station (the 'Village Station'), where you'll find the ubiquitous ski gear shops, rental station and ski pass kiosk, there is also a great food-court style restaurant. Expect to pay only 10% more than you would in other Japanese ski resorts (still cheap by European standards), but the quality is 50% better. There is also a bakery / coffee shop / cafe and at the top of the gondola there is another restaurant (the 'Sky Zen'), offering wonderful views on a good day. In addition to the on-mountain eateries, you can ski-in to either of the hotel buildings where most of the restaurants are open for lunch or a mid-morning snack. 
 

Lift Passes

We can pre-purchase single day or multi-day lift passes for the Arai mountain - though the multi-day passes need to be on consecutive days, so if you fancy a day in Myoko Kogen (and why wouldn't you?), then we'd need to work around this.

They also have 'First Class' lift tickets, which cost an extra ¥2,000 per day above the regular price. This buys you express access on to the lifts, which is not really a problem at present as they build the resorts' reputation establish. However, in the future, when the hotel is full and day-trippers flock in, these will prove invaluable.

The lift passes also include night skiing, which operates until mid-March.

Equipment Hire

As you would expect...the best in Japan. Bang up-to-date gear, well maintained and delivered with knowledgeable and efficient service.They have a better-than-decent range of fat skis and powder boards that you're likely to need if you want to head into the sumptuous deep stuff. Waxing and equipment repairs are also available. These guys know what they are doing!

Lessons

If you want lessons in English, then this has been sub-contracted out to an international ski school from nearby Myoko-Kogen, who have an excellent reputation and years of experience operating in Japan. We would need to pre-book to assure availability, but that's not a problem. Private lessons are available - including the 'find your feet in the powder' options - and they also have kids group lessons for ages 3 to 14 for skiing and ages 7 to 14 for snowboarding.
 

Travel Insurance

Winter sports travel insurance is an important part of your holiday booking and we strongly recommend that you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy to cover all your winter sports holiday requirements. We're happy to be able to offer our customers a 10% discount on all policies from Ski Club Travel Insurance.

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