About an hour's drive northwest of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture, the massive Appi ski resort has everything: stunning designs, fabulous food, efficient lifts and rooms with spectacular views of ant-sized humans descending 4,300-foot peaks with abundant snow. It's a theme park for skiers, a family-oriented abode with a ski school, 1,009 rooms and friendly English-speaking staff - such as U.S.-educated painter Akiyoshi Osumi, who coined the resort's slogan, "Be happy in Appi."
Thanks to the work of design pioneer Yusaku Kamekura and other architects, the sprawling resort complex features the luxuriant Hotel Appi Grand - with more affordable rooms in the Annex or Villa - including a reception area with a cascading wall tapestry set near a dedicated desk for foreign guests. Corridors lead to a variety of restaurants, lobbies, bathing areas, massage services and everything else a skier might want, including newly-minted Salomon and Atomic rental gear.
The cozy quad chairs and lifts lead to artfully groomed runs, as well as some ungroomed fun on on Mount Maemori’s Second Sailor Run A. After an overnight snowfall, it's heaven for advanced skiers (preferably with a local guide) who can sit back - tips up, hands forward - and carve their signature with looping turns in the virgin powder. On a sunny day, even the rabbits seem to enjoy the dazzling contrast of blue sky and blinding white snow as they lay tracks under the lifts.
In addition to the lemon-yellow hotel, the resort's gondolas and lifts are color-coded green, blue, orange and yellow, while the "bunny hill" leads to a children's area and a food court with locally raised pork cutlets.
Poolside Sips: Après-ski Amenities
After soaking in a hot-spring bath, guests can choose from a buffet of crab, shrimp, scallops and beef; a hearty Korean BBQ washed down with a glass of Appi's own draft beer (rather like a European white); or a Japanese set course of salmon-head cartilage sashimi, white fish soup, and shabu-shabu (hot pot) of succulent Iwate Maezawa beef and cow tongue. Then top it off with a sip of saké at San Remo, a bar overlooking Hotel Appi Grand's heated indoor pool.
Appi also boasts tennis, golf, hiking and concerts. From Morioka, the Shinkansen bullet train generally takes a little over two hours from Tokyo, after which it's another hour on the Hanawa line to Appi Kogen Station.
Address: Appikogen, Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture
Season starts: Mid December until early May
White Wall: The Aspite Line
Appi sits adjacent to the southern section of Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Straddling Iwate and Akita Prefectures, the park's northern edge is cut by a 17-mile sightseeing road known as the Aspite Line (pronounced "ah-spee-teh").
The area is so snowbound that it closes throughout the winter, only opening again when snow cutters cleave a path bounded by sheer white walls up to 20 feet high in spring.
Stone Cutter: Ishiwarizakura
For visitors in the area over the latter half of April, it would be a shame to miss the blooming of Morioka City's Ishiwarizakura (literally, "rock-splitting cherry tree"), a monumental tree that has grown out of a crack in a granite boulder in front of the Morioka Courthouse. Said to be over 350 years old, the tree’s base measures 14 feet in circumference, and was recognized as a national natural monument in 1923.