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Nippon Ski chases summer business at winter resorts

Company beats off-season lull with picture-perfect views and warm weather fun

At the Ryuoo Mountain Park resort in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, business is thriving as visitors come to view the famous "sea of clouds."

TOKYO -- Nippon Ski Resort Development is tackling the long-standing issue of how to improve offseason earnings by increasing summer-focused ski-field investment. Its efforts are starting to bear fruit, as the company slowly overturns the assumption that ski resorts are winter-only facilities.

Starting this summer, the company will set up large outdoor sports and leisure facilities at the base of the slopes at its Nagano resort. On the mountain summit of another resort, the company will install an observation terrace that commands a magnificent view of the Japanese Northern Alps.

The company's facilities have been getting glowing reviews from customers: "It's a sea of clouds!" and "I'm so moved, I could cry," are typical of the comments about Nippon Ski's Ryuoo Mountain Park in the village of Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture. On the photo-sharing platform Instagram, image after image uploaded by admiring viewers shows an expanse of clouds stretching to the horizon.

A terrace has been installed on the cliff-side at 1,770 meters above sea level, which is reachable by a cable car, to better enable appreciation of the scenery. It has inspired a boom in young visitors, who come to capture and share photos.

Nippon Ski began operating the site in 2009. In 2015, the company set up the viewing platform, and summer tourism saw a sharp uptick. The year ended July 2017 saw a 92% increase in visitors compared to the previous year, reaching 60,000. In the 10 months to May this year, visitors have already reached 87,000.

Koji Utsui, a board member of the company, said, "Visitors can leave their cares behind when visiting the mountains, and we are trying to make sure they have extraordinary experiences."

The company is now looking to expand its customer base further. At its ski resort at Otari in Nagano Prefecture, it will set up in August outdoor adventure facilities developed in France, including one on which visitors can ride bicycles suspended 10 meters above the ground. At the Iwatake ski resort in nearby Hakuba, the company will set up another summit terrace overlooking Japan's Northern Alps this fall.

Nippon Ski was established in 2005 as an in-house venture by Nippon Parking Development. The company bought struggling ski resorts, and now operates eight of them.

Still, results continue to be sensitive to the weather. Record low snowfall in the year to July 2016 sent the company into deficit to the tune of 100 million yen ($905,220 at current rates). However, net profit is forecast to rise 43% to 350 million yen in the current fiscal year, as the snow has been cooperating so far.

The shift in focus is beginning to show up in the company's summertime earnings. Revenues during the six months through October 2017 rose 19% from the same period a year earlier. The deficit in operating profit narrowed, with some facilities back in the black.

The company's share price usually rises when the average ski season begins in around November and falls back when the season ends in May, but "this year, expectations are high that summer season will show improved results," according to a Japanese securities company.

The better the company can minimize the income lull between seasons, the more likely the market's evaluation of the company as a winter-only stock will change.

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