Saturday 30 March 2013

Japan - Hakuba Ski Resorts

snow man at Iwatake

During my 6 day trip to Japan I had 4 days of snowboarding in Hakuba, and there were 7 ski resorts. Thats a lot in such a small area, I would almost prefer there weren't so many, its hard to make up your mind on where to board!  I went to 4 hills in 4 days, next time I think I would maybe I would not go to quite so many. I bought a multi day pass which you can visit a new resort each day if you choose, the pass cost ¥16,500 for 4 days. I visited Hakuba in late March so keep in mind that the snow is usually a lot better earlier in the season.

Day 1: Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field
23 lifts * 13 courses *  Elevation 539m * 30 Beginner * 50 Intermediate * 20 Advanced

Having made no plans on what hill to go to while on my trip, I decided to go to Iwatake with the guys I met at the bar the night before, miraculously I was able to get up in the morning and make it to the 8am bus. (It was only about 5 minutes from the hostel but having only about 7 hours sleep total the last 2 nights and a little too much beer it was difficult)  On the way to the hill on I heard that it might rain that day, yuk! The morning was alright it had snowed a bit the night before, but the snow underneath was really crusty, I was still able to find a few areas that had no tracks, possibly they could have been out of bounds. We snowboarded all morning stoping only once for a hot chocolate and a foot long donut (kinda weird see photo).
foot long donut
At about 1 we went in for lunch which was perfect timing because almost the second we walked in the restaurant it started to pour :( Not great but at least we got the morning without rain!
ramen restaurant at bottom of Iwatake 

We had lunch at a cute restaurant which served ramen/japanese curry/gyoza at the bottom of the main gondola. The restaurant is really cool theres a wood burning fireplace and the tables and stools are made from huge hunks of tiber.
james & charlie waiting for ramen

On the menu they ramen with three choices of broth: soy soup, miso soup and Tom-kotsu. I had the Tom-kotsu (its pig bone soup) the waitress said she thought it was the best.  I think I agree with the waitress it was delicious perfect after a morning of boarding, in the soup was a piece of pork, thinly sliced leeks, bamboo shoots and ginger (the red stuff in photo). With our soup we had a few orders of Gyoza (dumplings) with pork, cabbage and leek inside, they were so good I want some now!

My Tom-Kotsu

the ramen chef

After our soup a few of us ran next door to get some dessert crepes, I had the banana, carmel and whip creme crepe. It was awesome wish I could have tried a few more flavours they had strawberry with chocolate and even Tiramisu. 
the crepe stand at the bottom of Iwatake

banana carmel whip cream crepe
After are lunch and crepes took to bus back to our accommodation and I went to Max Value supper market to get some groceries to make my breakfast for the next few days. Then I went to the Echoland no Yu Onsen (hot spring) for a soak! Then we all went out for dinner for Sushi

Day 2: Hakuba Happo-One
23 lifts * 13 courses * Elevation 1071m * 30 Beginner * 50 Intermediate * 20 Advanced

Considering it had spent the afternoon raining the day before, it was a nice surprise to wake up to it snowing, the only problem was it was really windy! We took all took the bus to Happo - One which is the largest most central hill in Hakuba.
Windy at Happo-One

When we arrived it was so windy that the gondola was closed, so we took the Nakiyama 3 lift and then the Happo Reisen Quad to the top. By the time we reached the top it was so windy/whiteout/freezing we went into the Usagidaira terrace for a hot chocolate. As soon as we sat down we noticed that they had closed the lift and then there was some sort of announcement in Japanese and everyone else went outside and brought their snowboards inside. We decided to do the same thing, even though didn't know what the announcement said, it was probably a good a idea as a few minutes later the snowboard stands were blown over. We ended up staying inside for about an hour, while I was wondering around the building being slightly bored I found another restaurant downstairs with really had really great baked goods and sandwiches! I had a cinnamon bun, it was not too doughy, lots of cinnamon and sugar and the icing cream cheese so good!
cinnamon bun with cream cheese icing

After the wind finally calmed down a bit we snowboarded down the hill, then did a bunch of runs at the bottom while dodging beginners.  It continued to snow an when the wind finelly died down after lunch we were able to get back up to the top of the mountain and get some good runs in with fresh powder!

After snowboarding we took the bus back and I went to Dani Sato no Yu Onsen, then to Hie for dinner. Then to mount Hakuba backpackers for pool then to the pub.

Day 3: Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort 
7 lifts * 16 courses * Elevation 530m * 40 Beginner * 30 Intermediate * 30 Advanced

The third day and my favourite, I went to Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort with some guys from my hostel. You can either take a bus 2 buses to get to Cortina or take a taxi. We took the taxi in the morning to make sure to get first lifts and the bus back at the end of the day. Cortina is about a 30 minute drive from Echoland. Cortina is a pretty small resort with a large hotel at the bottom, its the best for powder days because the runs are not groomed and there are tons of tree runs which you are actually allowed to snowboard in! It had been snowing since the day before so there was about 2 feet of fresh powder! nice

Included in your lift pass is a  ¥1000 coupon off your lunch at the hotel and free visit to the onsen, its attached to your lift ticket and in Japanese so you might not notice it. You don't really have any other choices on places to eat on the hill except for the hotel or a few little stands at the bottom of the hill so you will probably end up using the coupon. There are about 5 things to choose from for lunch ramen, curry, tom katsu and the salmon bowl. I had the salmon bowl which had to kinds of smoked salmon and salmon roe. After lunch we went out for a few more runs and were able to still find fresh tracks! Then I quickly went to the hotel onsen before jumping onto the bus back to Echoland.
our boards lining up for first lifts

Salmon lunch at Cortina

Day 4: Hakuba 47
19 lifts * 23 courses * Elevation 926m * 35 Beginner * 40 Intermediate * 25 Advanced

The last day was beautiful it was clear and sunny, perfect for the views if the Japanese Alps that you get for Hakuba 47. It was pretty and nice runs but not my favourite hill most of the runs are groomed and there are a lot of cat tracks to get around. Not ideal for a snowboarder, they do have a nice park but thats not really my style of riding. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant thats almost at the bottom of Hakuba Goryu which is connected to Hakuba 47. It was so nice and sunny we were able to sit outside and enjoy our soup and ice cream and watch passed out skiers riding the lifts.(see last photo)

After boarding I took the bus back to the hostel and went to the Mimizuku no yu onsen, then to Shinshu Dining Sarugaku for dinner then to the pub.

Restaurant at Hakuba Goryu
fiddlehead veg ramen with salad and apple ice-cream
a very tired skier 

Favorite hills in order:
1. Cortina,
2. Happo-one,
3. Iwatake,
4. Hakuba 47

Favourite Onsens (hot springs):
1. Mimizuku no yu (inside and outside onsen, view of ski hill)
2. Cortina hotel onsen (really big lots of different onsen with different temperatures)
3. Daini Sato no yu (onsen inside wooden gazebo room, very traditional)
4. Echoland no yu (inside and small outside onsen)

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