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Japan, which at one time had the biggest indoor snow centre and for many years the most indoor snow centres of any one country, as well as some of the world’s first such centres seems to be gradually falling out of love with the concept.
No new indoor snow centres have been built in Japan for more than a decade and in the past year at least three of the remaining indoor facilities have closed; Kamui Snowpark, Kuma Ski Land and Snova Hiroshima are all no more.
Japan is home to one of the world’s earliest indoor snow centres, Sayama, which opened in 1959. It has no refrigeration so is only cold enough for snow to last from October to May. Originally its operators brought enormous loads of large ice blocks to the venue each autumn which they crushed and spread across a plastic dry slope surface, but in 1992 they installed snowmaking machines.
There had been earlier indoor snow centres created in the 1920s in Berlin and Vienna using a chemical goo as a snow substitute and a modern version of that, called Snova, now spread on a refrigerated sloping surface, lay behind about a dozen indoor snow centres built in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s – the first decade of the ‘modern era’ of indoor skiing and snowboarding.
They included Ski in Tsudanama, one of three modern era indoor snow centres that opened almost simultaneously around 1987/88 in Australia, Belgium and Japan and all now closed.
In the early 1990s Japan built the world’s largest indoor snow centre, SSAWS, in Tokyo Harbour on earthquake-proof piles (reputedly to prevent the danger of an earthquake setting off an indoor avalanche) just as the country’s bubble economy was collapsing and a fanatical interest in skiing waned. It never broke even and closed a decade ago to make way for the country’s first Ikea.
Although as indoor ski areas in Europe and facilities like Ski Dubai and snow planet in New Zealand used ‘real’ snow as indoor snowmaking technology progressed, most of the Snova centres continued to operate with the original chemical mix. The majority of these centres have quite short slopes around 65m long, often given over to indoor half pipes and in some cases reserved for ‘snowboarders only’ survived however and have only begun closing recently as maintaining them has become less viable.
Besides Sayama, the four surviving centres are Kamui Misaka, Snova Hashima, Snova Yokahama (www.snovashinyoko.co.jp) and Snova Mizonokuchi-R246.
With only five indoor snow centres now believed to remain open there, Japan is equal with Germany and behind the UK and the Netherlands in terms of the number of indoor centres operational.