Jonny Richards on why the small resort of Geto Kogen was one of the best on a 13-stop ski trip in Japan
I came to Geto on the back of three weeks exploring resorts all over Japan. A dream ticket, but one packed with 5am starts and nights spent on tatami-mat floors worrying which of the three pairs of supplied slippers to use for the restaurant, versus the loo, versus the onsen…
In short, by the time I arrived at Kitakami station – for the free shuttle bus to what was mountain number 13 – I have to admit to dreaming of home, my own bed and a life without kimonos for dinner (wearing, not eating, that is…).
But Geto is a wonderful tonic. The place is not big – 14 pistes, plus eight tree runs – and like most of Japan it’s certainly not steep. But it has a magic. A huge part of this is the amount of snow. It was snowing when I got to the Iwate prefecture resort (that’s just over two hours north of Tokyo via the bullet train), snowing when I skied under its twin peaks of Mt. Yokodake and Mt. Usagimori, and snowing when I reluctantly hopped on the 45-minute bus back to the station 72 hours later.
To put some numbers on the joy, we’re talking overnight reports of 40cm, 13cm and 24cm. Which sounds good rather than stellar (especially for Japan in January). But grab a ruler, measure up from your foot, and that’s wonderfully close to waist-high.
And that was at the base, so you can imagine how much more was up-top. Tons! And the queue for this precious bounty? A piddling 15 people was the most I counted on any of my mornings waiting for the first gondola. In fact, so light was the traffic, and so deep the snow, you really did have to pick your lines and topography carefully, or risk a 20-minute armpit-deep wade out.
As for highlights, an afternoon lapping Shooter (a glorious, gated, gladed area skier’s right of the main gondola) with Danish boffin Dr Steve, and an American trio road-tripping Honshu in the smallest camper you’ve ever seen, was a match for any memory from my long trip.
I can’t quite remember how our three distinct parties all met (probably on a lift, as it’s that sort of friendly get-talking spot). But if I close my eyes, I can see plenty of the almost perfect, can’t-feel-the-bottom-just-got-to-yelp powder turns we grabbed. And just as wonderful, on every 1,740m cable up, and candyfloss crusade down, there was none of the usual anxiety; or sense that we needed to rush-rush-rush to get the goods before an area got skied out or smashed up.
Instead, the hill that calls itself King of Snow (normally I’d laugh, but they did seem to have a point during my stay) is so deserted, the fear is instead all about hitting a spot too early. And in the case of Shooter, being among the first handful of skiers required to put the bottom track in, once the delicious quartet of fall-line options (ride them 1, 2, 3, 4, exploring further into the trees each time) tightens into a nasty, and very flat final gully.
Even now as I write this, I can’t quite process how a circuit that’s no more than 30 minutes from start to finish, could be so satisfying. With just a dozen dreamy over-the-brim turns, bookended by not very steep pistes.
But like Geto (no one seems to use the Kogen bit) it just somehow works. And is… marvellous.
As to other excitements, accommodation is not usually something to get the pulse racing. But if you are looking for ski bum perfection, you will find it here, via their modern and friendly Super Dorm, within touching distance of the bottom lift station.
Don’t worry, each bed is roomy, and enclosed, and private (thanks to a curtain). And I found the whole experience both cosy and quiet, yet also sociable when you wanted it to be – rather like a capsule hotel only cheaper and better.
A week-night half-board stay is around £40, with loads of room for ski kit drying, your own big locker for valuables, a vast media room with funny dentist-type comfy chairs for wi-fi feasting, plus a very decent buffet breakfast and dinner.
Speaking of gondolas, it’s got two of them (rather impressive in a total of just five lifts). But I never rode the imaginatively titled 2nd gondola, because it only operates at weekends. Normally, this would be absurd, and frustrating. And it does mean a little extra skating when exploring skier’s far left under the resort’s only quad chair for tasty runs like C1 and C2.
But given how quiet the place is, it’s hard not to be understanding. And think: if that’s the price for so few skiers on the slopes, it’s well worth paying. Visit Geto Kogen, Japan