Casey Hawkins

If you’ve ever wondered where the zealous bunch of ski toting travellers are headed at the airport, one sound bet is Hakuba Village in Japan’s northern alps. Having hosted the winter Olympics and supplying the softest ‘powder’ for all to enjoy, Hakuba caters for a whole range of snow sports while maintaining the qualities of a traditional Japanese village. 

1. Snow for All 

If it’s good enough for Taylor Swift, it’s good enough for the whole family. Tay-Tay hit Hakuba’s slopes in 2015 during downtime from her 1989 World Tour. With high snowfall forging some of Japan’s best ski fields, It’s no wonder many celebs pass through between the months of December and April.

Nine ski resorts operate in the Hakuba Valley, enabling people of all ages and abilities to take part in a variety of snow sports. Happo and Goryu are the most popular resorts, consisting of wide open runs, steep slopes and beginner-friendly areas. Even the less courageous are catered for, with a café accessible by chairlift. Customers can thaw out with a hot matcha tea and observe the thrills and spills from a comfortable setting. Advanced riders have the option to enter backcountry to experience some hair-raising terrain or get extreme on Hakuba 47’s superpipe.

I recommend night skilling as well as a day trip to Cortina to avoid the crowds and take advantage of the resort’s lift package- a hot lunch followed by a soak in an onsen (Japanese hot spring bath).

 

2. Picturesque Village

Situated in the Northern Alps, Hakuba’s expansive valley awards its visitors with an exceptional mountainous backdrop. Whether your feet are dangling from a chairlift or warming in front of wood log fire, you’re likely to see glistening peaks, silvery snow-covered pines and clear blue sky. The fresh smell in the air and starry nights will provide a stark comparison to the pulsating lights and bustle of Tokyo.

 

3. Where the Wild Things Are

Take a supervised night walk tour through the backcountry to discover lurking snow animals. You may be lucky enough to spot a serow, a red fox or tanuki (a ‘raccoon dog’). Sightings of the Japanese snow monkey or macaque are becoming more common, however, you’re going to have to head elsewhere if you want to see them bathing in the natural hot springs.

I’d also recommend returning in the summer months, for magnificent colour returns to the mountains and provides the perfect backdrop and for mountain bike riding and trekking.

 

4. Snowed in Tradition

The multinational community of Hakuba welcomes visitors to enjoy the charm and traditions of the thriving valley. The local towns of Happo and Wadano are buzzing with businesses and eateries serving up traditional snacks like yakitori (meat skewers) and gyoza.

 

Come nightfall, there’s no better way to stay warm than sharing a bottle of sake before packing into a small karaoke booth and attempting to sing Frozen’s ‘do you want to build a snowman?’ in Japanese.

If you’re keen to learn about Hakuba’s history or you’re nursing an injury, check out the jumping stadium built for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Alternatively, go for a wander around sleepy Oide Village and cross the suspension bridge at your own peril.    

 

5. Seriously...Why not?

Hakuba has one of the largest foreign populations in Japan which makes it easy to communicate with locals and avoid becoming ‘lost in translation’. Beginners can comfortably learn under English instruction on the calm low slope of Imori. With plenty of quality gear hire shops, newbies can arrive with little more than a pair of thermals and be on the slopes before lunch time.   

Be there in as little as six hours upon landing at Narita Airport, with direct buses operating several times a day. There are a number of hostels dotted around the main towns, among tourist-friendly bars and public bathing houses. Free shuttle buses stop off at many major hotels and street corners, leaving no excuse for sleeping in.

 

Things To Know

  • Try and track down the Muraotoko burger (村男Ⅲ世バーガー)- a creation by the Hakuba community made entirely from locally grown ingredients. 
  • Buy disposable heat sachets from any 100 yen shop to keep your hands or feet toasty while on the snow
  • The bus service to Hakuba makes two rest shops and there are plenty of delicious take-away options  

 

Casey Hawkins grew up immersed in Australia’s sea, sun and surf culture. She first became a teacher because she was passionate about sharing ideas and experiences. Teaching has led her to explore some unique, remote locations and make friends with people from all walks of life. She is most passionate about learning and sharing their stories with others. Website: Nan’s Lucky Duck

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.