Hoshino Resorts Nekoma Mountain is flying the flag for Aizu's underrated ski scene.
Hoshino Resorts Nekoma Mountain is a “new” ski resort based in Aizu, a mountainous region of Fukushima known more for its saké production and samurai culture than its skiing – at least for now. Blessed with tall peaks and heavy snowfall, the region is quietly gaining a reputation among skiers as “one of Japan’s last secret spots”, and Nekoma Mountain is quite possibly its crown jewel.
The resort’s South and North ski areas previously belonged to Alts Bandai and Nekoma Snow Park, individually operated by Hoshino Resorts. However, these were recently merged into a single operation after the company introduced an 810 m pair lift linking the two areas – also known as the “Bandai” and “Urabandai” areas.
Nekoma Mountain in its entirety now boasts 189 hectares of skiable terrain, 33 trails (39 km in length) and 13 lifts, making it one of the largest ski areas in the Tohoku region. Already a mecca for freestylers thanks to several world-class snow parks, the resort seems destined to grow its international customer base, but, for now, it remains firmly off the beaten path.
Lifts & Terrain
Nekoma Mountain’s 33 lifts include several high-speed hooded quads including the Alts Express, which services the South Base area, nearly all of which is beginner and intermediate territory. Some more challenging terrain can be found via the Black Valley Express lift, which provides access to four short, steep black runs, while the Frozen Chair offers stunning views of Lake Inawashiro and Mt. Bandai. The newly-built Connect Chair, which can be reached via the Black Valley Express, takes skiers to Nekoma’s North Area (previously Nekoma Snow Park).
If accessing the North Area via the Connect Chair, skiers can choose between a pisted black run, nicknamed the “Nekoma Burn”, or a gradually mellowing blue, both of which funnel down to the North Resort Centre via the Friendly slope. From here, the Forest Cat and Devil Cat chairs provide access to a host of blue runs and an intermediate terrain park. Towards the bottom of the Forest 1 course, the Deep Cat Chair services both Deep 1 & 2 courses, which as their names suggest are often the best bet for powder on the mountain.
Terrain parks & cat skiing zones
Nekoma Mountain is renowned for its terrain parks, some of which have hosted international-level competitions including the FIS Alts Bandai Big Air competition.
These include two “Step Up Parks” (both North and South areas) that feature a series of increasingly difficult courses, starting from 2 m kickers and progressing to more advanced slopestyle features. The resort also boasts a world championship calibre 20 m kicker, which requires a consent form before riding.
The South Area also features a CAT Tour Area, which in peak season offers access to some of the resort’s best off-piste terrain. This area, intended for intermediate and advanced skiers/snowboarders only, is accessed via a resort-operated snowmobile. Tours are limited to 10 people per trip.
Snowfall / Geography
Nekoma Mountain is located in Fukushima, a province that shares its western border with Niigata and its northern border with Yamagata – both renowned powder destinations. The resort straddles Mt. Nekomadake and overlooks Fukushima’s iconic Lake Inawashiro, one of Japan’s largest freshwater lakes.
The Aizu region, home to more than 20 ski resorts, enjoys a uniquely cold, dry winter and an abundance of snowfall, with some parts estimated to receive up to 15 m per season thanks to the surrounding mountains’ influence and the distance from the coast. Locals refer to the snow as “micro fine snow” due to its quality with minimal water content.
Nekoma Mountain’s South Area, formerly known as Alts Bandai, sees from 5-6 snow days a week in peak season, averaging up to 39 cm of snowfall per day in mid-January. However, the resort’s North Area, now linked via the Connect Chair, enjoys both a higher elevation (1338 m) and a more favourable north-facing aspect and, as a result, is particularly well placed to receive (and retain) huge quantities of light, dry Aizu powder. This area also benefits from a longer season (2023/24: 1 December 1 – 6 May) than the South Area, which tends to open from mid-late December until early April.
A stone’s throw from the Batow chairlift, Hoshino Resorts’ Bandai Onsen Hotel offers the best option for direct access to Nekoma Mountain’s southern slopes. The hotel’s 149 rooms range from simple twin rooms and modern suites to split-level maisonettes. Other features include a local-style buffet restaurant, an Aizu saké bar and a reading cafe, plus a range of events that include guided saké tasting and Aizu handicraft classes.
A handful of smaller onsen hotels and pensions exist just south of the resort in the Nanatsumori and Inawashiro areas. Otherwise, Aizu’s city centre, Aizu-Wakamatsu, offers a more diverse range of hotels, restaurants and bars in addition to several saké breweries – a drawcard in their own right. The commute from town is a 30 minute drive, however.
On the northern “Urabandai” side of the mountain, there are several hotels within a short drive of the resort’s North gate, but, to date, nothing in the way of slopeside accommodation. These hotels include the long-standing Urabandai Kogen Hotel, a nature and onsen retreat, and Active Resorts Urabandai, which features a large open-air onsen bath plus indoor and sauna facilities.
Services & Facilities
The Nekoma Mountain Snow Academy, based out of both North and South resort centres, offers ski and snowboard lessons for adults and children aged 3+. Prices during the week and in shoulder season tend to be lower, starting from ¥4,000 for a group lesson (up to 4 people) and ¥11,000 for a private lesson. Customers are entitled to free rental gear during the lessons and a discounted rate to continue using the equipment afterwards.
Dekkora Akabeko Snow Square
Little ones will be delighted by the resort’s Dekkora Akabeko Snow Square, which is inspired by local toy Akebeco (a cow from the region), featuring cow-shaped sleds and appropriately themed red ski wear available for rental. They can also keep themselves fuelled with grilled rice crackers and marshmallows.
Ski shops and rentals
Gear rental, available at both resort centres, is priced at ¥4,800 (¥3,000 for children) per day for a standard set that includes Atomic skis, boots and poles or a Burton snowboard and boots. The shop’s “Empty-handed” rental set is available for ¥10,000 per day and includes jacket and pants, goggles, hat and gloves in addition to skis, boots and poles.
Food & Nightlife
The resort’s Bandai Onsen Hotel is home to Kisse Kisse Restaurant, a buffet-style setup with local cuisine that includes freshly made soba, “Wappa rice” and “Kozuyu” (soup). The restaurant is also known for its local-style breakfast, which includes Kitakita’s specialty (breakfast) ramen and Manju tempura.
Food on the mountain is limited to The Rider’s restaurant, halfway up the slopes of Nekoma Mountain’s South Area. The restaurant runs from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm and serves up western staples including burgers, cutlet sandwiches and french fries. At ground level, each of the two resort centres has its own restaurant, with typical Japanese resort food on offer including ramen, curry and rice bowls.
In the resort you’ll also find Kamakura Bar served in a Japanese-style iglu (kamakura), which serves miso dengaku (a skewer of tofu or taro coated with sweetened miso) and hot sake. In the evening, the space is stunningly lit with lanterns.
There is no village or any sort of après-ski scene at either of the two resort bases. Inawashiro, just a 15 minute drive from the South Area car park, offers a small selection of restaurants and bars including the Inawashiro Original Beer Brewery. For a livelier mix, Aizu-Wakamatsu, a castle town home to roughly 120,000 people, has plenty in the way of restaurants, bars, onsen and izakaya. It’s also one of the best spots to experience Fukushima’s thriving saké culture, with several breweries to choose from including Suehiro Shuzo and Tsurunoe Shuzo.
Culture & Ambience
As it stands, Aizu is a significant step off the beaten path when compared with some of Japan’s bigger, more westernised ski destinations. Large-scale international brand hotels and western-style après-ski bars haven’t yet made it to this part of the country. Of course, this may gradually change as Aizu continues to promote itself to the international market, but, for now, skiers visiting Nekoma Mountain should look to embrace the Japanese culture on offer.
Getting to Hoshino Resorts Nekoma Mountain
Skiers travelling from Tokyo via train should take the Tohoku Shinkansen (Yamabiko or Nasuno) to Koriyama. For those staying at Hoshino Resorts’ Bandai Onsen Hotel, buses from Koriyama Station to Nekoma Mountain South Area leave at 8:15 am (arriving at 9:40 am) or 3:30 pm (arriving at 4:55 pm). Otherwise, those staying in Aizu-Wakamatsu can transfer to the JR Ban’etsu West Line and get off at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (1 hr).
Those staying north of the resort should take the JR Ban’etsu West Line to Inawashiro Station, where shuttles to the Urabandai hotels usually depart from. This will need to be arranged with the hotel before arrival.
A Nekoma Mountain 1-day adult lift pass is priced at ¥5,500 (US$36.50) for the 2023/24 ski season, with discounts for web purchases (¥4,900), early bird purchases (¥3,900) school students (¥2,4000 / ¥3,800), seniors (¥5,000) and more. These allow access to all 13 of the resort’s lifts, which service both North and South ski areas, totalling 33 trails and 189 hectares of terrain.
The resort also offers a beginner pass for ¥2,000 (¥1,000 for elementary school students), which provides access to North Area’s Friendly Cat Chair and South Area’s First Chair, both of which span a single green run.
In comparison to some of Japan’s similarly-sized resorts, Nekoma Mountain ranks as one of the better value options. A joint Madarao/Tangram 1-day pass, for example, is priced at ¥7,000 for the 2023/24 season, while Kiroro and Furano – two of Hokkaido’s more popular mid-sized resorts – charge ¥7,400 and ¥5,500 respectively.
Nekoma Mountain’s lift pass is significantly cheaper than both the Niseko United all-mountain pass (¥9,500) and Hakuba Valley’s 1-day pass (¥8,500), where many of Japan’s international skiers choose to visit.
Snowfall (annual avg): 10 m
Runs (total): 33
Runs (km): 39
Top elevation: 1337 m
Base elevation 700 m
Vertical: 637 m
Nearest international airport: Narita International Airport (Tokyo)
Transport: Public bus, coach, train, private transfer