I’m crazy when it comes to snowboarding, fanatical even. Come Golden Week I’m still looking for lines. In the snow country of Niigata, one can find a snow covered slope worth a ride long after the ski lifts have gone still. The north face of Sumon Peak (Sumon-Dake, in Japanese) is one such line that can be seen from my home in Niigata City. Snow, the very thing I was seeking, had prevented me from even getting close to the mountain once before, and it prevented me from doing so again on my attempt the last day of Golden Week. This time though, the snow gave me a great consolation prize: Ohara Ski Area. With only two lifts, 4 runs (advanced beginner to intermediate level runs), a short 200 meters of vertical elevation and a remote location, Ohara would never enter my radar during the ski season, but on the last day of Golden Week with my hopes of climbing and snowboarding down a big mountain dashed for the second time, it was awesome!
May 6th was Ohara’s last day of the 2014-2015 season but it was spectacularly beautiful in the growing spring. The slopes of the small resort were an island of white in a sea of increasingly vibrant green, the expansive views of the surrounding mountains struck me with awe, and riding the lift past trees in full green leaf, and carving and slashing past the same on the edge of the runs is something I’ve never experienced before. Crossing into the out of bounds glades under the green-dim canopy of the forest, where the trees rise and flourish out of meters of left over snow, is to enter a world no fantasy novel writer has ever dreamed up. More amazing still, despite the presence of so much snow, the air was devoid of any chill. It was warm enough to make T-shirt and shorts snowboarding a comfortable and more enjoyable endeavor. The snow might have been what Japanese skiers and riders call “sherbet,” but a quick application of rub on wax made for easy and fun turns. Seeing the ski patrol go out and switch off the lift when my friend and I called it a day gave us the rush of realizing that the last run of the season was ours.
Ohara Ski Area is off National Highway 252 north of Koide City in Niigata Prefecture. The closest station is Oshirakawa on the Tadami Line, but unless you get one of the 3 local trains that cross the line each day (yes, only 3 in either direction from Koide or Tadami) you’ll need a car to get there. It’s hours are a bit short, even in the winter it’s only open until 2:30 (it opens at 8:00). It’s also pricey for what it is, ¥3,100 for an adult all day lift ticket. My friend and I paid for a few single rides up the lifts (¥240 each). Ski/snowboard rentals, a ski school are available at the base center. There’s a cafeteria restaurant also but I didn’t eat there. Apart for the local population or those who are determined to run with a much smaller crowd, Ohara is not worth going out of the way for, but for a last run of the season in a T-shirt and shorts it’s fantastic. Happy travels!