• Japan In Focus

Ski resort offers offseason thrills, spectacular views

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors ride the Zip Line Adventure attraction.

OTSU — A ski resort in Shiga Prefecture offers visitors the chance to enjoy pulse-racing activities outside of winter while enjoying a panoramic view of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.

Located in northern Otsu on 1,100-meter Mt. Uchimi, the Biwako Valley resort features a number of high-above-the-ground installations, such as an aerial walkway and a flying fox ride.

Fear, exhilaration

Standing on a wooden platform near the mountain summit, I looked out over Lake Biwa far below. My hands trembled with fear as I reached up for the handle above my head at the start of the Zip Line Adventure. The handle hangs from a pulley on a wire cable that stretches between the start and end points.

At some points during the descent, riders are as high as 25 meters above the ground. “Three, two, one, go!” exhorted Mai Fukuda, a guide at the facility. I threw myself forward without looking down.

My fear quickly transformed to exhilaration as I zipped through the air. Though the descent only lasted about 20 seconds, it was very thrilling.

The Zip Line Adventure comprises six different courses ranging from 84 meters to 169 meters in length. Many people scream due to the height and speed, but they soon start enjoying the magnificent scenery. Some wave during the ride, and I even saw two individuals holding hands as they sped down the wire.

“The wind felt so good!” said a 30-year-old woman from Gifu Prefecture visiting with two friends. “I wasn’t able to take a good video [during the ride], so I want to go on it again.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Sky Walker installation provides, a variety of activities.

The Sky Walker area, meanwhile, offers about 30 different challenging activities, including crossing a mid-air suspension bridge and navigating a suspended tree trunk some 5 meters above the ground.

“It’s a great way to relieve stress,” Fukuda, 30, said with a smile.

Breathtaking views

The Biwako Valley ski resort began operating in 1965. Its ease of accessibility from urban areas soon made it a popular destination for skiers.

But when the Japanese economy hit a period of stagnation around 1990, visitor numbers began to drop off.

The operator built a campground and other facilities to attract summer visitors, but it proved difficult for Biwako Valley to differentiate itself from other ski resorts, resulting in a deficit each year.

While mulling ways to turn around the resort’s fortunes, the operator hit upon the idea of leveraging the views of Lake Biwa and the surrounding scenic mountains.

Zip Line Adventure opened in 2011, followed by Sky Walker in 2015.

‘Cafe in the sky’

In 2016, a mountain lodge near the summit was turned into a “cafe in the sky” called Biwako Terrace.

The cafe deck area is surrounded by a moat rather than a fence, so as not to block the view. The eatery has proved especially popular with female visitors who take photos of the panoramic views and post them on social media sites.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors enjoy the view from the Biwako Terrace cafe.

In fiscal 2018 more than 600,000 people visited the resort. During this year’s Golden Week holiday period in May, many young people and families visited the facility, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“For a long time, we didn’t realized the value of the natural environment right on our doorstep,” said Takayoshi Kakimoto, a resort official. “We didn’t think it was anything special, but it’s been key to attracting visitors.”

The high-vantage-point views of Lake Biwa are spectacular, and the autumn leaves are said to be a sight to behold, too.

Extend your trip!

Ono no Imoko Shrine

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ono no Imoko Shrine

Ono no Imoko was an ancient diplomat who crossed the sea to China in 607 on a Japanese imperial government mission. The Ono no Imoko Shrine is dedicated to this historical figure. The Karausuyama burial mound behind the shrine is said to be Ono’s tomb. Each year, local residents hold an annual procession in his honor while dressed in period costumes.

How to get there

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Biwako Valley is a 10-minute bus ride from JR Shiga Station. The resort is a roughly 5 minutes by car from the Shiga Interchange on Kosei Road (National Highway Route 161). A ropeway is available to reach the summit; round-trip fare costs ¥3,500 for junior high school students and older, ¥1,500 for elementary school students and ¥1,000 for infants. The resort is open from April to October. Advance tickets are available. The Ono no Imoko Shrine is a roughly 10-minute walk from JR Ono Station.