5 reasons we are hooked on Hakuba
1. The Terrain
There is a misconception amongst advanced skiers and snowboarders that Japan does not offer expert terrain. This could not be further from the truth. Hakuba has it all; steeps, trees, pillows and great backcountry touring access. There are 10 resorts to choose from in the Hakuba Valley and the mountains in which they sit have far more vertical relief compared to their counterparts on Hokkaido (the North Island). Hakuba is located in the middle of the Northern Japanese Alps, where the highest peak (Mount Hotaka), rises 3190m above sea level. For reference, Blackcomb Mountain’s summit sits at 2,436m. Due to the location of Hakuba, it also sees more extended breaks in the weather compared to the mountains located in Hokkaido. In the winter, intense storms hit the Northern Japanese Alps, bringing insane amounts of snow. However, extended breaks between these storms often allow us to get up into the alpine to access longer and steeper lines. In addition to this, backcountry terrain access has been made super accessible by the Hakuba resorts, with backcountry gates established directly besides many of the chairlifts. This makes our touring days more efficient, which equals more skiing and riding!
2. The Food
The culinary delights of Japan are no secret. Some people travel to the country solely to experience the authentic food. For us, the food scene is a major bonus. There is something about ski touring that makes you anticipate and appreciate each meal to a greater extent! Luckily in Hakuba we are spoiled for choice with authentic Japanese dining options. Each region in Japan has its local specialties. The Nagano region, where Hakuba sits, is famous for its Soba noodles. Yet, this is just the beginning, with izakaya restaurants, ramen joints, okonomiyaki, shabu-shabu, and of course sushi! While Hakuba is not on the coastline, the fishing village of Itoigawa is only an hour away. This ensures that a fresh supply of seafood is constantly making its way to Hakuba’s best sushi spots.
3. The People
There’s nothing like travelling to a foreign country and being greeted by friendly locals. The Japanese people have a way of making visitors feel welcomed and wanted. Whether you’re trying your best to speak a few sentences of Japanese, or asking for directions, the Hakuba locals will do their best to help you along. It is true, that the Hakuba Valley has morphed into quite a multicultural ski town, yet the ex-pats are just as friendly. Our core community has been established amongst the friendly folks at Morino Lodge. We have been working with the crew at Morino for the past 12 years and it has come to feel like a second home. Matt and Craig, owners of Morino, have been operating out of Japan since 2001 and know the terrain, weather patterns, villages, and lifestyle of the Hakuba Valley inside out. The Morino team are always available to answer questions and give guidance to our staff and guests. They direct us to the best après, the most secret onsens and can help coordinate any local extra-curricular activities our hearts desire.
4. The Culture
With globalisation, the internet and modern travel, a good dose of authentic culture can be hard to come by these days. However, Japan has managed to simultaneously modernise and hold on to its cultural roots. With so much to see, learn and absorb, there is never a dull moment when travelling in Japan. The Japanese onsens are a great activity to tack on to the end of a long touring day. Soaking the muscles in thermal hot springs is not only traditional but also a great way to refresh the body for the next day of powder hounding. There is also the Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s best preserved original Japanese castles, dating back to the 16th century Edo period. This is just a quick trip from the Hakuba Valley and well worth the drive. Then of course there is karaoke, green tea ceremonies, whiskey distillery visits, and if your trip dates line up with it, the Nozawa Fire Festival.
5. The Snow
Hakuba has so much on offer, but we can’t forget one of the most important ingredients for a ski/ snowboard trip – snow! While every season is different and exact amounts of snow cannot be predicted in the long range, we can go off yearly averages. The Hakuba Valley boasts an incredible average of 12 meters per winter due to its geography and the unique Japanese weather effect. This is created from the vast, cold landmass of Siberia, which sits directly across the Japan Sea, to the North of mainland Japan. In the winter, arctic winds from Siberia travel across the Japan Sea, picking up moisture along the way. The mixture of cold wind and precipitation then hit the Japanese Alps and start to climb in elevation, which then results in an abundance of fresh snowfall over the areas we love to ski. So, if you’re traveling for snow, Hakuba during the months of January and February is a pretty good bet.
For more information about our Hakuba backcountry ski touring and splitboarding trips, visit our Whitecap Hakuba page here.