Where to ride in Hakuba
The host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games certainly isn’t short on variety boasting eleven different resorts within its valley so no matter what ability level Hakuba will be able to accommodate you and your party. If visiting all eleven resorts is a stretch for the itinerary, worry not I have you covered with my top picks for skiing Hakuba below.
Beginners and intermediates feeling somewhat nervy and looking to build their confidence and ability shouldn’t go past Tsugaike Kogen – known for its gentle slopes and wide open spaces devoid of many trees the resort is perfect for those looking to find their legs. The main street at the foothill of Tsugaike has various izakayas as well as western style restaurants for you to explore. All in all a very charming experience.
CORTINA & NORIKURA
Powder hounds heading to Hakuba will of course have heard the great lore of Cortina and its off-piste tree runs and unmatched side country. It receives the highest and driest snowfall in the valley and unlike the nearby resorts where heading off the beat and track is frowned upon by patrol, things are pretty relaxed at Cortina. Ridgeline runs that drop into near-perfectly spaced trees will delight those wanting to earn their turns and get waist-deep in the pow. The resort’s groomed terrain is by comparison to its counterparts relatively small but Cortina is interlinked with the neighbouring Norikura; which will open up your options nicely if you’re looking to stay on piste. At the foothill of Cortina is the rather grandiose Green Plaza Hotel with its ironically coloured red roof and tudor/gothic style design. The impressive structure resembles something out of The Shining although I can promise you the atmosphere inside is less ‘here’s Johnny’ and more ‘bon appetite’ with its delicious fusion style restaurant and downstairs buffet that will more than replenish the energy you will have no doubt burned. Perfect for those who prefer to languish by a fire and Après all day.
The big crowd pleaser for families or those travelling with a large posse of varying abilities is Iwatake. The resort, which on a clear day boasts a 360-degree panoramic view of the valley; encompasses mellow beginner greens with more adrenaline pumping intermediate and black runs. On a powder day when everybody’s hopped on the Cortina bandwagon; Iwatake’s tree runs are near empty and therefore just as froth-inducing. Due to its slightly lower elevation Iwatake remains more protected then its neighbors, making it the place to head when Happo or 47 have gone on wind-hold. The piece de resistance is the natural half pipe on the mountain’s reverse side (A Course) –although definitely not for the faint of heart.
The largest and most central resort in the valley is Happo One (pronounced On Ay), spreading across 220 hectares. The slalom and ski jumping were held here during the 98 Winter Olympics, as the pitch is on the steeper side with a 1701 vertical meter drop. Happo possesses some more mellow terrain as well – check out the scenic Panorama and Saka cat tracks; the views will not disappoint. For those who like to catch air; head on over Happo Banks Terrain Park or ‘the Banks’ as its referred to by those in the know. On a powder day my suggestion would be to check out the tree runs on Skyline. Not as long as Cortina’s but just as fun. On a clear day my suggestion would be head up to Reisen Grat, the resort’s highest peak and ski all the way down through Alpen, Usagidaira and Panarama, coming onto what was once the Women’s Slalom course and finishing up at the bottom of the Kokusai area. Worked up an appetite? At the bottom of the Kokusai chair is the Evergreen run Roots Café – a vegetarian eatery dedicated to sustainability and protecting the Japanese winters (plus they have wifi). If vegetarianism doesn’t appeal, directly facing the Kokusai 1 Chair is the warm and inviting Luce. The restaurant is a delicious combination of traditional Japanese, Spanish and Italian fusion. Lunch and dinner menus are equally mouth watering and a completely unexpected surprise is the first-rate gluhwein – common to ski resorts elsewhere in the world but hard to come by in the land of the rising sun.
HAKUBA 47 & GORYU
These two interconnected resorts sit right next to Happo One (the two have reciprocal views of each other) and are adjacent to Goryu and Echoland villages. Suitable for the whole family the two resorts have a large variety of beginner and intermediate terrain with some challenging blacks thrown into the mix. A few good days could be spent here, as the tree runs are mint when the go is POW and the terrain park perfect for firmer conditions. Sign up to their “Double Black Diamond Club” and you’ll have access to the formidable off-piste and backcountry.
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