So you’ve decided to explore something new and you’ve booked a ski trip to Hakuba? Good call. Some of life’s best experiences are had when we venture off the well-worn path which, when it comes to taking a ski holiday in Japan, means visiting the Hakuba Valley.
Hakuba is the true heart of the Japanese Alps, a mountain range that famously looks similar to The Alps of Europe.
Those expecting to see ski resorts set on volcanoes, similar to Hokkaido, will be surprised when they arrive and view for the first time the majestic peaks of ‘Hakubadake’ watching over the valley. When I arrived at the Hakuba Valley I was floored - and I’ve seen a lot of ski resorts. Don’t worry, there are lots of volcanoes around to view as you ride around, but the resorts are actually set on the main range which means the ski areas are full of features like steeps, valleys, chutes, ridgetops, gladed tree runs and wide open piste.
So what can you do there to really experience the place? Here are a few suggestions that should get your imagination going...
Introduction to backcountry touring day
One of the best things about the Hakuba Valley is that the sun makes a regular appearance during the season, which means that getting out into the backcountry is a must.
There are always fresh tracks to be found once you get out of the resort and the process of learning how to use touring skis or a split-board is really interesting! You will be carefully taken through how to clothe yourself properly for a day in the mountains, how to pack your bag, use the equipment, skin up the hill and how to identify safe and fun terrain.
Your mountain horizons will be immediately expanded… and maybe it will leave you wanting more.
3 day private ski lesson with a daily onsen finale
We all know how important it is to get a private instructor to progress our riding and learn the trails on the mountain… but have you ever contemplated that having someone to guide you to the onsen might be handy when it’s time to soak the day away?
There are so many onsens in Hakuba and some might be more to your liking than others. Some are like a day spa and some are minimalistic and traditional. For first-timers, the thought of visiting an onsen can be confronting, this luxury 3 day experience is designed to give you a half-day on snow then your guide will help you choose an onsen based on your preferences, teach you the onsen etiquette, drop you off and be waiting to pick you up when you are done.
Some of the best onsens might not be located right by your accommodation, so this is an excellent opportunity to get away from the crowds and experience the real Hakuba.
The Japanese restaurant you cannot miss in Hakuba
Tottsuan Ramen House is hands down the BEST place for ramen in town, if not the whole world. It’s always the first place I go for dinner when I get back to Hakuba, and the last place I eat before I leave.
Their broth will make your heart skip a beat and they serve out generous lashings of the local speciality; Hakuba pork. Unfortunately, they are not located near any of the normal accommodation areas so you will need a driver to take you there… but trust me it will be worth it.
Do not miss out on experiencing this onsen
The Hakuba Highland Hotel is not a place that I commonly hear many people staying at, mostly because it is situated on the opposite side of the valley to where all the skiing is. But this is precisely what makes it such a fantastic onsen - perched up high with an expansive view of all the peaks of the Hukubadake mountain range.
The onsen has an outdoor option, plus a number of indoor baths, but the view from the outdoor pool is breath-taking. No matter where you explored that day you will be able to see the runs you skied whilst watching the afternoon light fade away.
Evening snowshoe with chocolate fondue and hot sake
In true alpine style, outdoor experiences in the snow should always be accompanied by a warming beverage. You will be fitted with warm snowshoes, then led by your guide you will wander through the serenely calm forest breathing in the fresh mountain air and taking in the light through the trees. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you will arrive at a table dug into the snow; laid out with hot fondue and steaming cups of hot sake or hot chocolate. Imagine spending a white Christmas eve with your family doing this?
The Hakuba Valley is the largest ski area in Japan and there are lots of ways to find the real heartbeat of the place if you know someone in the know... you know? Give the team at Mabey Ski a call to design a trip where your imagination is truly the limit.