Prices + Booking

Hakuba Splitboard Trip, Day 1

Words: Erin Bruhns

Photos: Matt Bruhns

 

January 11, 2024

We’ve already been in the Hakuba Valley for a day before we meet up with Lars from Whitecap, hoping to acclimate to the local time zone. The morning of the 11th, we’re up and at ‘em and on the doorstep of our hotel by 8:00 am awaiting his arrival to transfer us to our accommodations in one of Morino Lodge’s chalets.

We toss our gear in the amply sized van and wind our way down through the narrow roads of Hakuba, then up the hill on the other side of the creek that bisects the town. It’s a quick and efficient transfer, leaving us plenty of time to head out for a half day tour. As we don our gear, Lars sneaks out to position the van at our end point for the day. 

It’s a short walk from the Alps View chalet to the Happo-one gondola where we buy one-way tickets for the Happo Alpen Line. We have a high ceiling of clouds that’s clearing and mild winds as we wind our way higher along a wide ridge into the alpine. We pass through groves of crooked birch trees and crane our necks this way and that, gawking at the magnificent Japanese Alps that surround us. We spook a ptarmigan and snowshoe hare as we traipse along on our splitboards toward our lines for the day. 

The first few turns down the ridge are deep, and a smile erupts across my face as I get face-shot after face-shot. The snow is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before – deep, supportive and blower, all at once. We finish our run in a shady gully and transition for a short walk to the next pitch. This line delivers more deep turns, then drops us to the valley bottom where we navigate a few river crossings and ride right to the van. 

It’s a quick shuttle back to the chalet where a pizza dinner, hot showers and cozy beds await.

January 12, 2024

We start the day by helping a miniature truck that’s stuck in a snowbank, blocking the road out from our chalet. Seth, Rob, Matt and Lars give it one collective push and we’re on our way.  The next stop is the local Lawson convenience store where we stock up on drinks and onigiri (Japanese rice triangles) for the day. 

It’s dumping and we’re headed to the Goryu Snow Resort. We activate our Epic Passes and bump up the lifts to the backcountry access gate. Here we encounter a sign warning us in English of the various conditions and obstacles we may encounter, ‘riversand’ being one of them. We puzzle over the word for a moment or two, and eventually realise it’s merely a typo (rivers and, not riversand, lol). Either way, we’ve been warned of what lies ahead. 

As we gain the ridge there’s little visibility, with snow and wind swirling around us. We transition quickly at the top, stuffing tuna mayo onigiris in our mouths before we drop into the snowy chutes below. It’s deep, and again I have to be careful not to white myself out at inopportune moments, taking note of where the trees are in my immediate vicinity before entering the white room. We pick our way down, stopping to set up a few photo shots before we bottom out and begin the ‘riversand’ portion of the tour. The sound of the river gurgling down the valley soothes my nerves as we edge our way along its snowy banks and jump over its narrow reach. A few sections require us to wade through shallow pools or across cobbled weirs, and I’m pleasantly surprised that my feet stay dry. The Japanese love their flood control dams.

We make it back to town just in the nick of time and order ramen from the vending machine at a local joint Lars knows about. We cheers our hard earned beverages as we wait for our various flavours of hot noodle soup to arrive. As I slurp my steamy bowl of miso ramen I am in heaven, and we haven’t even had dinner yet.

Dinner doesn’t disappoint. We feast on shared little plates, Izakaya style dining, at Hie. Asahi beer and sake crowd the table, among the tuna sushi, crispy potato towers and agedashi tofu. The beef carpaccio steals the spotlight when it arrives , a dish expertly hand seared with a blowtorch. The food coma hits hard once we’re snuggly tucked into our beds back at the chalet. I fall asleep quickly, lulled by the whir of the kerosene heater in our private ensuite.