So you are comfortable on most slopes around the resort and are looking for you next challenge? The other day we accompanied a friend who has taken several lessons with us on the Matsunoyama Royal Backcountry Tour - their first steps into the backcountry. It was an awesome day for everyone.
Am I fit enough? The first section of the tour which leaves from Matsunoyama Onsen Ski Area uses two of the resort's lifts. After that, there is a 40 minute hike uphill in snowshoes. It is done at a slow, plodding pace so our mainly sedentary, desk-bound friend was puffing and sweating a bit by the top, but it was easily managed. A longish ski after that and then another similar hike up to another peak. Definitely achievable for anyone of average fitness. And the views will take your mind off your muscles. The guides are constantly pointing out things of interest so there are plenty of little breaks to get your breath back.
Am I good enough? It is a fun, cruise-y ski that most intermediates should enjoy. There is a section of tree skiing, some open fields, the slopes of an unused ski resort, some rice fields (!), and a mountain road. Nothing steep, nothing scary. We had great spring snow which was a joy to turn in. Every section can be done at your own pace so you can do long, meandering turns if that is your thing. By the time you arrive over in the next town, skiing right down to the train tracks in the bottom of the valley, you will have a real sense of accomplishment and have covered a fair distance, all under your own steam. No lapping lifts but skiing across mountains to get from point A to point B.
More than anything, this is a fantastic day out. Stunning mountain views, good skiing and stories about an interesting area of Japan. Matsunoyama Onsen used to be cut off by the snows in winter and the path over the mountains that you follow used to be the lifeline connecting the village with the next town. The tour itself is following a route taken by a member of the Japanese royal family in 1957. There are photos of that trip which you pose to recreate along the way.
Matsunoyama Onsen is also famous for its hot, salty onsen which is one of the top medicinal onsen in Japan. Once you arrive back at Matsunoyama Onsen Ski Area after a short bus ride, a barbeque and a soak in the onsen finish off a great day. There are some really good ryokan close by if you want to make a longer trip out of it. Matsunoyama Onsen Ski Area is worth a day of your time as well.
If you are looking for a fun, safe first backcountry experience in Japan this is the perfect choice. If you are more experienced and looking for a great day trip that is different from the norm it is also fantastic.