Expedia Expert: Skiing in Japan
Expedia’s Director of Customer Experience Justin is a powder hound. He shares his tips to taking on the slopes in Japan.
Skiing in Japan is gaining popularity with Expedia’s Aussie travellers, who have figured out the snow is simply superb. Hakuba gets about 11 metres of powder per season, and I mean powder. When I was last there we had almost a foot of fresh snow every couple of days and sometimes more. It’s one of the more authentic Japanese ski resorts, so there’s plenty of great restaurants and a few bars but no crazy night life.
Hakuba is located on the main island of Japan, about 270km northwest of Tokyo. The ski resort is popular with locals and tourists, who hop on regular Bullet trains connecting Tokyo to Nagano. The trains reach speeds of 300km/hr and will put bus transfers to shame. They’re fun to experience if you’ve never been on one before. From Nagano there’s a bus through to Hakuba. If you’re arriving at Narita Airport, the whole journey will take around 4 hours.
Hakuba itself is a valley containing several ski resorts, all offering something different. Hakuba Happo-one (over 1000 m of steep vertical), Hakuba47 and Goryu Toomi are interconnected and can be accessed on the one ticket. Iwatake is a smaller resort but has amazing tree skiing, while Tsugaike Kogen, Norikura and Cortina are favourites with the powder hounds
Don’t be put off by some of the smaller resorts like Iwatake, where there’s just one chair to the top. When there’s a dump, this is where you can score some of the best powder while everyone goes off to the bigger resorts. There’s endless valleys and ridges, quite often untouched, which funnel off the top of the mountain, generally with a few cat tracks at the bottom.
Still not convinced? Here are my tips on why everyone should try skiing in Japan:
1. Snow Quality
The consistency of the snow in Japan is like nowhere else in the world. I’ve been skiing in Japan twice now, and most days it snowed between half a foot and half a metre. As a result you don’t get many blue-sky days but the champagne powder makes up for it.
Tip: Make sure you invest in a good pair of goggles because it’s often snowing or overcast.
The Japanese mainly stick to skiing and boarding on the piste rather than going off into the trees or off the main piste. This means more powder for those who are willing to get off the main piste. We had days where we were still getting fresh tracks at 3:30pm, unheard of in other ski areas around the world.
Tip: If you are going into the trees, watch where you’re going and make sure someone knows where you have gone.
Onsens (natural hot springs) are one of the best parts about skiing in Japan. At the end of a long day, an hour spent in the hot springs is a god send and remarkably takes away that “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck” feeling when you get out of bed the next day. No need for boardies either, you go naked (separate baths for the boys and girls).
Tip: The onsen on Cortina is a must, with baths at different temperatures, high pressure showers, upward pressure jets and all of this experienced while watching the last of the skiers come down the mountain.
Hiring skis is recommended because you can exchange them as the conditions change. There’s such a wide range of powder skis these days, it’s fun to try out all the different models. True powder skis are verging on the width of the traditional double water ski, enabling you to truly float through the snow effortlessly on a good powder day, but not so much fun when you’re dragging them through the airport.
Tip: Ask the night hotel staff for advice on the conditions, they’ve probably been out all day every day skiing.