Japan's Lost Ski Areas

Goshiki Onsen today

Japan’s skiing history is rich and varied. People had long used simple homemade skis to get around, but then in the 1930s the great pioneer Hannes Schneider arrived from the Arlberg to introduce his downhill technique.

From then on, as in Europe and North America, skiing grew as a popular sport. Hundreds of ski areas opened. By the 1980s there may have been more ski areas in Japan than anywhere else -- at least 700, some open 24 hours a day.

During the recession that followed the 1989 collapse of Japan’s real estate bubble, skier visits dropped from over 20 million to nearer five million and hundreds of Japanese ski areas closed, many quickly overgrown by bamboo forests.

Now Andrew Lea, creator of Japan’s largest ski-oriented website, has launched The new site documents all these lost Japanese ski areas.

Andrew is meticulously cataloguing the former ski areas, making personal visits, taking current pictures and adding aerial images. The work in progress so far has more than 110 former ski areas and almost 1,000 pictures.

Among the listings are Goshiki in Yamagata, which opened in 1911 when the Austrian Egon Edler von Kratzer skied there, and closed in 1998. Nanamaki, located less than 3km (2 miles) from Nozawa Onsen (home to the world-famous Japan Ski Museum) operated only 15 years, to 1982. Dedicated skiers walked a kilometer from the rail station, crossing a river on a cable-pulled ferry to reach the slopes. —Patrick Thorne

Photo: Goshiki Onsen (Hot Springs) today. From Wikimedia.

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