PalCall Tsumagoi attracts a record number of skiers and snowboarders in December 2021
Palcall Tsumagoi Resort is not a name on most people’s radar, at least not for international travellers. And yet, the ski resort – the largest in Japan’s Karuizawa area – has roughly doubled visitor numbers from the last two seasons, which of course includes December 2019, a month that was unaffected by COVID-19.
With international travel bans in place, the resort is relying on domestic visitors, as it has traditionally always done. This has made it less susceptible to the challenges faced by businesses who have in the past relied on international travellers, not least those in places like Niseko and Hakuba.
But what is it about PalCall that has Japanese skiers and snowboarders flocking to its slopes?
It’s not the powder. PalCall’s geography means that it is somewhat reliant on artificial snow-making, and although it has seen plenty of the real stuff fall on its slopes during recent New Year snowstorms, it’s certainly not a destination for powder hunters.
Instead, the resort has benefited from wholesale changes since it was purchased in 2019 by Active Life Group. These changes have largely been inspired by General Manager Masa Sugawara, whose vision for a world-class terrain park, among other things, has been instrumental in attracting a new demographic and customers base. PalCall also benefits from terrain that naturally lends itself to beginner and intermediate skiers, with wide slopes, long runs and a consistent grooming.
The group’s owner Regan Yan, who is also heavily invested in Madarao, saw a gap in the market for visitors needing suitable terrain for learning, better weather and visibility, and options off the slopes for those not skiing (including the enormous Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza).
“I noticed that a lot of families would come [to Madarao], but often mum would sit around the hotel reading a book while dad and the kids were off skiing. These families were coming in January when there might only be five days of sun because it’s puking down snow all the time. And it’s tough for beginners in a blizzard,” days Yan.
“At PalCall, the hotel is ski-in ski-out, and the hotel, ski centre and gondola and all connected, so the little kids don’t get cold on ski lifts.”
“Our hotel has loft-style rooms that can accommodate a family of four, and there’s also a shuttle bus to the mall every day for mum or anyone who needs a day off the slopes.”
But the team at PalCall have not been content to rest on their laurels, and have been busy introducing new initiatives and features that are already proving a hit with this season’s visitors. Here are three (more) reasons you might consider a trip to PalCall in 2022 and beyond.
In many resorts in Japan, you’ll be lucky to see the sun more than a handful of times over the course of a week-long holiday. But at PalCall, sunny days are not only the norm (80% of the season) but a major attraction, with last season’s introduction of the “Sunrise Gondola”, a stunning 6:30am journey up the 3.2km gondola as riders gaze eastwards over the sun-kissed Mount Azumaya and surrounding alpine scenery.
It’s the perfect way to start the day, and that’s all before enjoying first tracks down PalCall’s pristinely groomed slopes.
The experience has been a hit with skiers, snowboarders and Instagrammers. Check out パルコール日の出ゴンドラ/ for some incredible images of PalCall in all its morning glory.
Magic Terrain Park
While PalCall has traditionally been a family resort for many of the reasons mentioned above, the evolution of the Magic Terrain Park is rapidly putting it on the map as a destination for freestyle skiers and snowboarders.
“It’s an added bonus the mountain topography is perfect for a terrain park, so we built the largest terrain park in Asia” says Yan, who had the vision for a PalCall terrain park from day one.
In reality, there’s a whole lot more to the Magic Park than its size; it’s actually three parks in one, with a traditional slopestyle course for intermediate and advanced riders as well an innovative transition park and a 24-hour mini park in front of the hotel (which riders can hike).
The transition park is particularly interesting, and has been designed in collaboration with pro Ryo Aizawa, a former X Games rider who has been described as “a new school snowboarder with an old soul”. It’s been designed to appeal to all levels of riders, from kids to pros like Aizawa, and includes 20 features – a creative mix of rails, kickers, volcanoes, banks, spines and more.
It should be noted that the 2021/22 park is not yet fully complete, however the resorts plans to have all features built by mid-January (the transition park and 24-hour park are about 50% complete, while the slopestyle course has yet to open).
“We have some of the best grooming in the country”, says Kei Ishiuchi, a Manager a PalCall.
“Combine that with very wide runs, a 4.2km run and a gondola that makes it easy to do laps … it’s somewhat similar to Furano.”
And the proof is in the pudding or, in this case, the picture. The secret? PalCall’s snowmaking machines run at full capacity throughout the season, creating a consistent base of light, tightly-packed snow – a product they refer to as “Magic Burn”. All 24 of PalCall’s courses are regularly groomed; in other words, a paradise for beginners or anyone who like to rip big, arcing turns.
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