Lift to link 2 Mt. Bandai ski areas, create one of Japan's biggest snow resorts

Photo: Chart shows a planned lift connection between the Alts Bandai and Nekoma resorts.

Hoshino Resorts Inc. announced on Feb. 2 that the company will construct a lift connecting the two ski areas it operates on Mt. Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture. Construction work for the new lift is planned to begin this spring with its operation expected to start in December, linking the mountain's front and back sides for the first time. When combined, the mountain will have one of Japan's largest ski resorts featuring 33 courses and 13 lift systems. Hoshino Resorts, based in the Nagano Prefecture resort town of Karuizawa, owns Alts Bandai Snow Park & Resort in Bandai town and Nekoma Snow Park & Resort in Kitashiobara village. The former is located on the Omote Bandai south side and commands a panoramic view overlooking Lake Inawashiro, while the latter on the Ura Bandai north side is known for its powder snow and normally open as late as the end of the Golden Week holidays in early May. Skiers will be able to travel a 785-meter section over a mountain ridge with the new two-person chair lift. Hoshino Resorts took over the Nekoma resort business from its previous operator in 2008 and unveiled a plan the same year to connect both areas. But it turned out that the project needed to develop part of a forest area that is located around the ridge of 1,404-meter-high Mt. Nekomagatake and inside the Bandai-Asahi National Park, requiring permission from the Environment Ministry. A long wait ensued and the two municipalities involved -- Bandai and Kitashiobara -- had also submitted requests for approval to the ministry since 2016, hoping to revitalize the local economy and help deter the decline in visitor arrivals following the 2011 earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The ministry finally granted a permit in December last year, Hoshino Resorts said. It added approval from the Forestry Agency, the last remaining hurdle, is likely to come soon. "This project will enable people to go between the two areas and make both much more appealing," said Go Morimoto, 42, general manager of the Alts Bandai and Nekoma ski sites. "Hopefully, it will be a powerful weapon in our business for attracting skiers from inside the country as well as inbound foreign tourists, who are expected to grow further in numbers. And we would like to see it eventually contribute to local revitalization." (Translated by Kyodo News)