Garden Villa Ishiuchi, Niigata, Japan

For my second ski trip, we went to Ishiuchi Maruyama and stayed at Garden Villa Ishiuchi (ガーデンヴィラ石打). The lodge was only a 10-minute taxi trip from Echigoyuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅) and was located very close to the ski fields (5 minutes of walking?), so we never wasted any time travelling to and from the place.

We got a third-floor room with ensuite toilet and shower. This time I learnt my lesson and travelled very light, so even though the lodge didn’t have a lift, going up and down three floors wasn’t an issue even after all the workout from skiing.

The room itself might have been meant for three but only the brother and I stayed there; Kenneth squeezed into the other room of similar size opposite us with the other three so I could get some privacy (thank you!). Like last time, breakfast and dinner were provided daily at the lodge.

I never took pictures of it, but the room wasn’t as spacious as the one at Yamasanso in Nozawa Onsen, and would definitely feel too cramped even for three. Imagine what the four in the other room had to do; one of them had to sleep partially in the cupboards!

It was a Japanese-style room with tatami flooring and a kotatsu (heated table). It’s already March so the weather probably wasn’t as brutal, but the kotatsu was still very appreciated. I also loved the ensuite toilet and shower for obvious reasons.

While we stayed there, breakfast was the same each morning: traditional Japanese with rice, miso soup, natto and a different piece of fish. I do love my fish, but it got boring very quickly.

Coffee wasn’t part of traditional Japanese breakfast so, as expected, it wasn’t served there, but there was a vending machine inside the dining area. Sadly, no black coffee; I had to settle for canned cold coffee with a little bit of sugar in it until Kenneth went out to the shops and got me several bottles of black coffee (thank you again!).

I actually think there was a small pantry area that served hot boiling water and possibly tea on our / each floor, but I never looked after I got my coffee stock.

The dinners weren’t traditional Japanese, but they also weren’t very exciting (read: not enough meat for Vickie). We had dinner out in town on half the nights. From what we could tell while walking past the dining area, they served almost the same food every other night.

Our room was a non-smoking room but that didn’t mean anything. There was a small metal mesh balcony outside our room and a smoking area in the corridor next to the stairs. We smelt smoke each and every day and night. I still can’t get over how much the Japanese folks seem to love to smoke, and how they just wouldn’t make it better for the non-smoking population. These are supposed active people who ski and snowboard, too.

Kenneth, Jacky and I checked out after 5 days, but Donny, Deddy and Benny stayed for a few more. After we left, Benny posted these on Facebook:

Different breakfast. Meat at dinner. Second round of meat at dinner (Benny: “We even had our 2nd round. So full here.. if only Vickie was around…“).

Now that is just unfair. sad

Yamasanso, Nozawa, Nagano, Japan

Yamasanso (山三荘) in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県) is really a ryokan than a hotel, but you get the gist. We originally wanted to stay at another cheaper ski resort nearby that everyone else was at (Resort Inn Chitose), but they were fully booked out, so Yamasanso it was!

We got there too early in the morning and no rooms were available for us to do an early check-in, so we dropped our stuff at the other lodge and went skiing. There was quite a walk to the ski fields from Yamasanso. Now, I’ve seen some snow before, but it was my first time skiing and I have no experience walking on soft snow and slippery ice in ski boots. That walk to and from the ski fields, especially the first trip back in ski boots and carrying all the gear, was very exhausting.

Unfortunately, there were also only stairs at the resort and I had to carry quite a lot of luggage having already spent a whole week travelling to Hong Kong and a few more days around Tokyo. A lot of luggage up to our third floor room. I swear if I ever went skiing again, I would travel light. Very light.

Yamasanso: Our Ensuite Double Room
The knackered brother in our ensuite double room at Yamasanso

Our room was clean and tidy and came with a small ensuite toilet, which I didn’t appreciate as much until I visited the other lodge and walked into their small, stinky, unisex guest toilet. Otherwise, our room was Japanese-style with tatami floor and futons. We also had to use the public bath, which we didn’t mind too much at first because it’s all in the experience. The small stuffy baths didn’t open until 3 pm (I think) and closed at around 10 pm, so we really had to watch what we do and make sure we head back in time to get a much needed bath each night while avoiding the crowds as much as possible.

Daily breakfast and dinners were included and served in the dining room, laid out by the staff at each meal on tables allocated to each room. Breakfast was around 7:30 am and dinner at 6 pm. The food was a bit salty, but the dinners were especially cherished after a long tiring day of skiing.

We had a total of 4 meals there: dinner on the first night, breakfast and dinner on the next day, and finally breakfast on the last morning. We’d been trading pictures of our meals with the others at the other ryokan. Apparently our food was much better than theirs.

Altogether, it cost us 46,000 yen (almost A$500) per person at Yamasanso, over A$110 more than the other lodge. Was it worth it for the ensuite toilet and the better food? In my opinion, yes; it’s just better to have a non-stinky private toilet to use each morning. Would have been worth all of it if there were also ensuite shower facilities, and perhaps also being just a little bit closer to the ski fields — but now I just sound greedy.