The mountains of Fukui lack the vertical drop of Nagano's, and can't boast the champagne powder of Hokkaido. However, saying that, Fukui does have mountains that get more than their fair share of snow, and therefore it's a great place for winter sports fans. There are several ski areas for Fukuites to chose from, most of which are in the north east of the prefecture, but there are also a couple in the southern and central area too.
Fukui could be described as somewhat of a hidden gem in the skiing world of Japan. Situated well off the beaten tourist trial ("There is no reason to linger here" - The Lonely Planet Guide) Fukui is generally spared from the crowds that descend on more famous mountains, and I have personally experienced being the only person present on the slopes on more than one occasion. Although all of the areas are small by European or North American standards, there is enough variation to provide the beginners with some perfect learning terrain, the intermediates with plenty of wide cruising runs, and even advanced riders should be kept content with the availability of tree runs, powder riding and freestyle terrain parks.
For cross country skiers there are a number of specific trails in the area and for the really keen powder hounds there is the option of backcountry hiking for untouched lines. So, although Fukui is not known for its skiing, there is plenty of snow sport available to us.
The healthy amounts of snow that Fukui receives during the winter (as much as a meter in a 48 hours) means that although fairly small, Fukui's ski areas are generally kept well fed. On average there is a decent dump every 7-10days during January and February so there is plenty of powder riding to be had during these months (based on the 2004/2005 season.) However, Fukui winters aren't particularly cold; temperatures seem to hover around freezing, and it is common to get periods of warmer weather, which can bring rain even to the highest peaks in the area, so when the powder comes, get out there and ride it quick because often it doesn't last long.
In total, Fukui prefecture has 9 ski areas, but there are a couple more just over the border. Most of the ski areas featured are between one and two hours drive from Fukui City. There are many, many more ski areas to chose from if you are prepared to drive a little further, in Ishikawa or Gifu, and if you're up for the long haul, then Nagano is within reach for a weekend trip.
Sundays seem to be the busiest days but the smaller ski areas rarely get crowded. The bigger ski areas, such as Ski Jam, can get crowded on weekends and bottle neck lift queues can be common. Saturdays tend to be quieter than Sundays while weekdays are normally very quiet.
Compared to the more northerly areas of Japan, Fukui's snow season is short. Resorts don't normally open until the first week of January (late December at the very earliest) and the season runs till late March at the longest, with the lower altitude areas closing their pistes in early march. However, it is possible to hike the backcountry up until May on selected mountains.
Several of the smaller ski areas offer the option of night skiing till as late as 10pm. This can be a great way of getting to the slopes during the working week, and though the amount of flood lit terrain is fairly minimal, it is never the less a nice way to spend a few hours after work, and is especially an ideal time for learning. Night skiing is normally very quiet, and it is possible to find yourself alone on occasion.
Lift tickets can be bought for a full day, a half day and single runs, which are ideal for beginners who don't want to waste money on a full day pass. If you are going for just an afternoon, it's well worth asking people who are coming off the slopes if you can buy their ticket. Many Japanese arrive early, and by noon they are heading home, and will happily sell you their ticket, which saves you a significant bit of cash. Y1000 seems to be the going rate, but you can always bargain, and if you're very lucky you may even get it for free.
SEASON LIFT PASS
It is possible to buy a season pass for any of the ski areas, but unfortunately as they are all separately owned a joint area pass is not available. I don't recommend buying a season pass for anywhere, as it limits you to only one area, and no single area is big enough to keep you entertained for an entire season; it's best to pick and mix. There is easily enough terrain to keep even advanced riders happy for a season, as the variety of ski areas keeps things interesting - I clocked up around thirty visits during the 2004/2005 season without getting bored.
All of the ski areas have ski and board gear available for hire. Prices range from around Y3000 to Y4500 per day. However, bear in mind that if you intend to go more than twice, it makes financial sense to buy some second hand equipment from one of the many recycle shops. There are several in Fukui City, one in Katsuyama, one in Tsugara, and probably many others scattered around the prefecture. A full set up can be bought for less than Y10,000 so it's makes sense to invest rather than shell out for rental gear every time.
Overall, for those living in Fukui, you can look forward to a winter packed with skiing and snowboarding opportunities- and if you're lucky enough to live in the Okuestu Area (Ono and Katsuyama) you have the pick of ski areas virtually on your doorstep.
www.snowjapan.com Daily Snow report in Japanese or English. Also good for info about all resorts in Japan.
http://weather.yahoo.co.jp/weather/jp/leisure/ski/18/ - An accurate localised weather report. In Japanese, but has easy to understand weather symbols.