With some uncertainty about snowfall, being the start of the season, my mind was instantly put to ease after a 30cm snowfall occurred the night we arrived and remained generous to us our entire stay! (thank you snow gods)
Hakuba is a cute little village that is easy to navigate around. We stayed on the main strip and it was the perfect location, just a 5 minute walk from the lift up to the mountain and only a short walk to local pubs and bars.
Day 1 began with sorting out our gear for an epic day of shredding ahead. With a mix of skiers and snowboarders in the group, we headed out to the Hakuba slopes to check out the powder. I was blown away, this was some of the best snow I’d ever seen and apparently it ranks as some of the best snow in the world!
I decided to snowboard for the first few days, however snowboarding for a second timer entails a lot of time on your ass in the snow, so this naturally led to me becoming at one with the mountain. But I didn’t give up, after practicing on what is best described as 100 x larger than the practice runs in Australia, Kylie (one of our awesome unleashed crew) and I declared we were ready to join the group on a run.
We were excited and ready to show the group our new shredding skills...However, the signage was all in Japanese and with not a great deal of snow knowledge we found ourselves on a black run which went (*pause for dramatic effect )...well, as good as it could have gone for two inexperienced snowboarders. Luckily, a short time after this, we found our group, who thankfully guided us back to some simpler runs. Once we mastered the pendulum, moved on to proper turns and gained some serious confidence, we were totally carving up these Hakuba mountains no worries….. (*shaka hands)
I thought to myself, I’m doing this, I’m actually doing this, I’m shredding down Hakuba mountain, wind in my face... I spoke too soon, face in the snow...Again! But that didn’t deter us one bit because we were improving at least.
After a morning of skiing and snowboarding on the Hakuba Mountain the group enjoyed a delicious hot lunch together and a few cheeky bevvys (liquid courage is fabulous) in the ski field cafeteria. After we were fed and hydrated we headed back out.
After a big first day it was time to re-group for our evening activities and it was then I realised how sore my entire body was. Holy hell, every muscle was aching. My immediate next thought was “It’s only day 1, what am I going to feel like on day 4?!”. I decided it was time for a reward, a trip to the old Botoruo (as they would say in Japan) aka bottle-o. Strongs and vodka’s all round I declared!
Over the next few days we ventured away from Hakuba and jumped on a bus to one of the nearby mountains where we had loads of fun making snow angels and having snowball fights. On one of the days we decided to stop at the top of the mountain for some insta shots, as you do! I watched the guys hold their board above their heads and get a sick shot, so I thought sweet, easy enough, the avid snowboarder I now was, I wanted the same photo. So I began lifting the board up and as I struggled to get a grip, my weak ass thumb clicked out of place (as it sometimes does due to a previous injury) resulting in me fumbling, trying to regather the board but instead this resulted in watching my board make its own way down the gigantic mountain (*sigh) The others were yelling “grab it, grab it” but it was too late!... Meanwhile a nearby skier put his body on the line trying to help but all that resulted in was a few giggles and a ‘thanks for trying!’
As I slid down the mountain on my already drenched butt (this activity was actually really fun and probably faster than my snowboarding technique) the others went on ahead to see if they could source the missing board. After no discoveries and stopping at a flatter bit of the mountain to regather, a Japanese skier was waving for our attention and was pointing over towards the river... (oh Sh*t).
As one of the other team members and I proceeded over a hill, towards the river there was a large snowmobile parked just before it and low and behold “MY BOARD” Stuck in the wheels of the vehicle! After that, I decided that was enough boarding for me so I traded in my snowboard for a pair of skis. Having skied a lot when I was younger I seemed to pick it up quite quick and was able to exceed my snowboarding pace and confidence by a mile.
After the 4 day included ski pass, we had an extra day in Hakuba where we could decide what we wanted to do with our ‘free’ day. A group of us decided to spend it on the slopes. Others decided to use the day to rent out snowmobiles and explore the stunning terrain surrounding Hakuba. There was so much to explore and a variety of mountains and runs to choose from. I probably only experienced half of what the Hakuba mountains have to offer.
The eating experience in Hakuba was interesting to say the least, on one particular night, we ventured out in the town to try some of the local cuisine and due to restaurant unavailability we ended up in a traditional restaurant where the specialty and almost the only thing on the menu was…. Eel...Mmm yum. I opted for a plain broth. The night after however we were smart enough to make a reservation to a traditional Japanese BBQ restaurant, cooking our own meats and it was delicious!
We also dabbled in the Japanese culture with a visit to a local Onsen in Hakuba on our last night. This was a unique experience and although there were no mixed gender open until later in the season, we split into boys and girls and it was nice spending time chatting with the gals in the beautiful hot springs.
The Hakuba experience exceeded my expectations! The ski and snowboarding was unbelievable and some of the best snow I have ever experienced. I would 100% recommend!
We also had the awesome opportunity to visit the snow monkeys, watching the cheeky little rascals in their natural habitat, not acknowledging us, but at the same time doing some great poses for our tourist snaps. On our way to Tokyo we stopped to explore Matsumoto Castle and then stopped again at Zenkoji Temple and participated in a sacred blessing ceremony, which includes a two metre tall giant pot emitting incense for luck. We then explored the temple grounds. There were many statues and rows of markets to explore before a traditional lunch and then making it to our final destination- Tokyo!
We made a last minute decision to go to Disney Sea on night 1. Minnie ears on, I was running around the park like a crazy kid. It was amazing! The next few days were a mix of exploring the hectic streets of Tokyo, understanding the subway, losing our voices at karaoke, eating sushi, walking across the Shibuya Crossing (about 40 times) and MariCAR around the roads. MariCAR was a definite highlight and also a strange experience being dressed as a Mario Kart characters in a tiny carts driving on the streets of Tokyo next to semi trailer trucks. I would 100% recommend, but beware you will need your International Drivers Licence (NRMA can process this for $39) and you’ll need to organise this a few weeks before the trip.
Overall Japan was such an amazing destination and you will have the time of your life if you choose this for your grad trip!