Shiga Kogen 志賀高原 , Nagano 長野 is one of Japan’s nine UNESCO biosphere reserve. In 1947, Shiga Kogen introduced a ski lift and in 1998 Shiga Kogen participated in Winter Olympic games with the first ever snowboard competition in the history of Winter Olympic games. I visited Shiga Kogen during my new year holidays. I had no expectations, no experience of skiing or snowboarding and luckily Shiga Kogen was a pleasant surprise. I tried my hand at skiing for the first time but gave it up soon. However, I utilized onsen facilities in my hotel and beautiful scenery of Shiga Kogen to the utmost. If you are into skiing or snowboarding I highly recommend going to Shiga Kogen this winter. Continue reading to find out top three things to do in Shiga Kogen.

 

1. Skiing and Snowboarding

Located in the highlands of ながの Nagano Prefecture, the Shiga Kogen Ski Area is a group of ski resorts which is the largest combined ski area in Japan. It stretches across in size from a height of 1340m to 2307m with 71 lifts, gondolas, 21 ski areas, 19 resorts and 80 kilometers of trails that are functionally connected by a shuttle bus service with an all-mountain common lift pass. Shiga Kogen offers a variety of hiking and trekking activities apart from snow activities. There are several accommodation options including ski in/ski out hotels and guesthouses in three popular areas of Ichinose, Okushiga, and Yakebitai. Most of the hotels in Shiga Kogen rent latest performance equipment which makes it convenient for us newbies.

Shiga Kogen is away from the coast with a mountainous topography and high altitudes which blesses it with large amounts of extremely dry powder which stays on the ground longer and in better condition than other resorts. As a result, Shiga experiences better powder and a longer season than most resorts from the middle of November through April. That is why it attracts many foreigners as well.

Access – New Hokuriku Line from Tokyo station to JR Nagano station will take about 1 hours and 19 minutes. From Nagano Station change to the private Nagano-sen train line to Yudanaka Station. There is approximately one bus per hour from Yudanaka Station to Shiga Kogen. There is also a direct bus to Shiga Kogen from the East Exit of Nagano Station which takes about 70 minutes.

 

2. Jigokudani Snow Money Park 地獄谷野猿公苑

Another interesting place to visit in Shiga-Kogen is the 地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Money Park – which literally means Hell Valley because of very steep cliffs and the steam coming off the springs. In mid -1800s, Japanese snow monkeys would come down and the guests lounging in the outdoor bath of Korakukan Onsen would feeding them. The monkeys caught onto this system quickly and started taking baths themselves. The monkeys visit the baths year-round but tend to spend a lot of time in them during the colder seasons between December to March. They live in the surrounding mountains but come down for the free meals provided by the park staff and of course for the hot baths! It started snowing when I was there which made the monkeys jump into the hot Sulphur water of the onsen. Luckily, the monkeys didn’t appear to be get baffled with all the attention and tourists taking their photos.

The two-kilometer path from Kanbayashi Onsen to the Jigokudani valley, where monkeys bath runs through a quiet forest. During winter the trail is particularly beautiful. You’ll start encountering the monkeys as you near the bath. The trail is slippery and takes about 30 minutes each way. Ensure that you have sensible shoes on!

Access – To get to the Jigokudani monkey park, catch the Nagaden bus from one of the village bus-stops bound for Yudanaka, and get off at the Kanbayashi Onsen Guichi bus stop. From there start walking up the trail!

Jigokudani Snow Money Park 地獄谷野猿公苑

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3. Onsening and Eating in Shiga Kogen

An important component of the Japanese culture is a dip in an onsen – especially after a hard day on the slopes. It is the perfect rejuvenation which helps sore muscles to recuperate. Many of the Shiga Kogen hotels have indoor onsens and some have outdoor hot springs. If you are there for an authentic onsen experience, take a quick bus trip to Yudanaka Onsen village. I didn’t get a chance to go there, but I would totally go there on my next visit! The hotel I stayed in had a pretty good onsen, and that is where I spent my maximum time!

There are a very few restaurants and bars in the Shiga Kogen area. This area is 2000 meter above the sea level, so do not expect any crazy night life. However, most of the hotels have bars and restaurants in their facilities. Most people staying in Shiga Kogen prefer to eat, drink and socialize in their hotel itself, which is a great experience in itself. And honestly, it is too dark and cold to go out anyway!

Shiga Kogen maintains an authentic Japanese atmosphere as it is less developed than other popular resorts such as Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen. Shiga Kogen’s size, snow quality, authentic atmosphere, longer season and beautiful views make it the best ski resort in Nagano. If you are a skiing and snowboarding enthusiast, this the place for you! For beginners like me who are afraid to take chances, I would recommend going there in fall as they offer beautiful views of the color change.

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