Hakuba Valley

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By Paul Dubrûle, Ski Sales Director

When one thinks of snow and winter sports, Asia isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. Yet, oddly enough, Japan is actually one of the fastest growing ski destinations in the world! Last December, I was catapulted to the other end of the globe, right into one of the most unique ski experiences I have ever had. I spent an incredibly unforgettable week in Hakuba Valley. Although I knew that one could ski in Japan—I too had seen it while watching the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics—I really had no idea there were so many options to choose from!

During my vacation, I stayed in Hakuba Valley, an authentically rural spot in the heart of the Japanese Alps. There are a dozen or so resorts in this area including Happo-one, Tsugaike Kogen, Cortina and Hakuba 47-Hakuba Goryu. The first two of these are pretty centrally located while the other two are a bit more off the beaten path, although still accessible by shuttle. Despite what many people might think, snow is far from being on the verge of extinction in Japan. In fact, it snows all the time here, and the place has even earned a reputation for its legendary powder. So, make sure you pack your powder skis if you don’t want to disappear under all that snow!

During my trip to Japan, I spent a day ski touring (using climbing skins). If you plan on making this part of your trip, I highly recommend using the services of a guide. From experience, I can say that it will help you move out of your comfort zone and explore your surroundings a little more. As far as accommodations go, I stayed at a fabulous hotel where breakfast and dinner were included as part of my package— something of an all-inclusive formula, you could say. As a result, I got to indulge in delectable sushi, okomomiyaki (Japanese crepes) and soba noodles. I also took a not-to- be-missed dip in an onsen (hot springs). These thermal water sources (where nudity is de rigueur) are the perfect place to relax those tired muscles after a day of tearing up the slopes.

Before heading back home, I made a pit stop in Tokyo where I spent two days enjoying yet another change of scenery. There is just so much to see here, and always something going on… day and night! I couldn’t have picked a better way to wrap up my first Asian vacation. In short, skiing in Japan is a unique experience that delights all of the senses. To think that, after 30 years of travelling and skiing around the world, I thought I had seen it all… until I made my way to the Land of the Rising Sun, and discovered all of its unexpected wonders.



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2015-2016 Ski Magazine

Powder paradise

By Daniel Melançon, Sports Journalist for Salut Bonjour!

A ski trip to Japan is a truly unique experience, and one that requires as much preparation as possible. In addition to the 14-hour flight and the ensuing jet lag, you’ll also have to prepare for the culture shock and language barrier. Another thing you should expect to see in Japan is snow—and lots of it! The Town of Hakuba, located in the heart of the Japanese Alps, in Nagano Prefecture, is the best place to indulge is some fluffy white stuff. The average annual snowfall here is over 11 metres. Hakuba is a mere 90-minute ride by Shinkansen (high-speed train) via Tokyo Station in the heart of the megapolis. Once in Nagano, a 40-minute drive or bus ride will get you to your hotel at the foot of the slopes. My choice of accommodations was the Tokyu Hotel, a modern facility boasting two restaurants (Japanese and French) and shuttle service that will take you right to the main gondola. Happo Village, with its restaurants and boutiques, is a great slopeside option.

Over the backdrop of a gorgeous blue sky, the Japanese Alps are absolutely majestic as you look out atop Happo-One—host to the alpine skiing and ski-jumping events during the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998. With the Olympic rings still displayed throughout the site, it’s almost as if the place is frozen in time. During my visit over the 2014–15 Holiday season, the resort had gotten over 4 metres of snow and conditions were just perfect on this vertical drop of 1,071 metres. There was so much snow, in fact, that the grooming machines had to clear out the space under several chair lifts to keep them running properly. There are plenty of groomed runs to enjoy here. But, because it snows often and heavily, you should expect to tackle some fabulous moguls in the afternoon.

The powder was so deep and light, making fresh tracks was a breeze—even with the Holiday crowd! Although there are few marked trails, they are incredibly wide and provide 543 acres of skiable terrain for you to enjoy. However, I strongly recommend a guide if you are looking to explore. Certain off-piste sectors here are indeed very much appealing and are always better tackled with the company of local experts who are knowledgeable about the snow cover conditions. The North Face of Happo One (nicknamed Happy Face!) is, without a doubt, the best place for adventurous types to let loose and enjoy some amazing bowls and dizzying runs. Be aware, however, that this is considered an unpatrolled area!

After an intense day on the hill, it’s time for a little après-ski enjoyment in the heart of Happo Village. Practically everyone here speaks English, which definitely makes things a little easier. I recommend the Recovery Bar for the great crowd and the fabulous selection of beers. The atmosphere is laid-back yet festive, and is a true melting pot of locals and visitors from around the globe—Australians, Finns, Russians and us Canadians can often be found socializing with the locals. If you’re more in the mood for a quick bite, there are plenty of food trucks on hand, eager and ready to serve up some local specialties.

During your stay in Hakuba Valley, you’ll definitely want to make time for a half-day excursion in the forests of Japan, where you can see wild Japanese Macaques (better known as Snow Monkeys) lazily soaking in the hot springs. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before!

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Photo of Guillaume Martin-Doire
Guillaume Martin-Doire
Représentant à destination – On-site representative

Ma passion pour le ski a commencé sur les pistes glacées du Québec en compagnie de ma famille. À l’adolescence, à la recherche d’aventure et de neige fraîche, les forêts du Mont Tremblant, du Massif et de Jay Peak étaient mes terrains de prédilection. Au début de la vingtaine, la quête de neige et l’attrait des grosses montagnes m’ont conduit à Whistler. Cinq ans à skier du terrain et de la poudreuse comme dans les films! C’est durant cette période que j’ai compris que mon amour pour ce sport était contagieux; de snowmaker à instructeur, j’ai tout fait pour vivre et transmettre ma passion. La rumeur d’un nouveau paradis de la poudreuse a alors commencé à circuler dans la communauté… De courtes vidéos tournées au Japon montraient des forêts de gros bouleaux couverts d’un épais manteau neigeux et des skieurs cherchant leur air en espérant voir quelque chose à travers le nuage de neige soulevée avant le prochain virage. J’avais trouvé ma destination de rêve! J’ai donc passé une saison à travailler comme guide de ski hors-piste/Cat Ski à Niseko. Ce fut le plus bel hiver de ma vie! Depuis, je suis fier et heureux de retourner au Japon et d’entendre les cris de joie des skieurs que j’accompagne.

Ski stations Accommodations Snow Conditions
TEMPERATURE (CELSIUS)
Month Min. Max.
January -7 1
February -7 1
March -3 4
April -3 4
May 2 11
June 7 17
July 12 27
August 17 25
September 18 26
October 6 16
November 1 8
December -1 2

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