• Kyodo

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The Ontake 2240 ski resort in Nagano Prefecture opened for leisure Thursday after a two-month delay caused by the deadly eruption of Mount Ontake last September.

The slopes filled quickly with skiers and snowboarders following an early morning ribbon cutting ceremony.

The resort in the village of Otaki had originally planned to open on Dec. 5 but was delayed because some of the slopes were within the 4-km exclusion zone that was imposed following the eruption, which left 57 people dead and six others missing.

Seismic activity on the volcano, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures, has subsided and the risk of another eruption is currently thought to be low. This prompted local authorities on Thursday to lower the alert level and shrink the exclusion zone, which now extends 3 km around the craters.

The volume of skiers on the first day of action was good news for those whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

“We’ve got more visitors than on weekends,” said Tatsumi Ichinomoto, president of the resort, as he looked out over the slopes filled with skiers and snowboarders.

Soon after the opening, some 200 people were waiting in line to buy lift tickets.

“I’m happy to see so many people showing how much they care about the mountain,” Ichinomoto said.

Some of the skiers said they were thrilled to be back in action.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for so long, because I took to the slopes here almost every day last year,” said Yuko Sakuno, 37, a nurse from Otaki who participated in the ceremony. “These ski slopes are an invaluable blessing to our village.”

The operators of Ontake 2240 stressed that the slopes are safe. There are now loudspeakers across the skiing area to warn patrons in the event another eruption is forecast.

The enhanced safety measures also include more patrols as well as more helmets stocking emergency shelters on the pistes.

The operators also said that, before resuming service Monday, they had conducted a drill to practice their response to a sudden eruption.

Meanwhile, local government officials said they hoped the resumption of activity at the ski resort would help boost tourism in the area, which suffered greatly after the eruption.

Otaki officials said 70 percent of local jobs are involved in tourism. The resort remains open to visitors until May 10.

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