Since about 2007, Japan has been one of the cheapest and unique places to ski and snowboard for Australians. Last year I took ten days out and strapped on some snowboard boots. The following was the result.
The adventure starts here. In Hakuba. Well technically it started at my house, leaving for the Gold Coast airport but the story gets interesting here. After an eight-hour flight, followed by a five-hour bus ride and a four-hour sleep I woke up to icicles and snow.
I was staying with OzSnow Adventures who provided transfers from Narita airport, accommodation, lift passes and a return transfer to Narita, or a Tokyo drop off. It was really handy to get a lift from Tokyo instead of catching multiple trains and buses to get to Hakuba. Also if you aren’t fluent in Japanese and it is your first trip, it is an Australian company so there is plenty of english speaking staff and help. Don’t worry though, they know the locals so you can still get a great cultural experience. Hakuba was a great place to snowboard with a range of cat tracks (narrow winding trails down the mountain) and wide piste. Plenty for beginners all the way through to advanced skiers.
One of the highlights though is a visit to the Monkey Onsen (Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring. Hot springs are so culturally important in Japan that I like to use the Japanese term.) near Nagano, a few short hours away. Japan is a volcanic country and because of this there are onsen everywhere and they are used for bathing and cooking quite often in the various villages around Japan. The therapeutic benefits haven’t been lost on these japanese snow macaques however.
These little primates have created their own bathing culture, even to the point where dominant males will chase the smaller males out of the water. It was a fascinating experience and well worth the day trip out. As you get off the bus and start the walk through the snowy forest there is a noodle shop that sells ramen made with wild vegetables and hot green tea to warm you up before the trek as well.
Hakuba itself was not without its charms though and when not snowboarding there was plenty to do. There is an ex-sumo wrestler who now runs a shabu-shabu restaurant offering big hot-pots full of seafood, pork, vegetables and noodles. Once you eat all the goodies, you can continue to order top ups on your favorite ingredients from the menu. One of the larger hotels also offers it’s onsen (for humans) facilities to any guests on the mountain for a fee of around 800 yen. It is broken up into male and female baths and both feature an indoor as well as outdoor bathing. Perfect for sore muscles. I have a particularly fond memory of sitting in the outdoor bath when it was lightly snowing. The prickly sensation of snow on warm skin is amazing for relaxation.
After seven days of snowboarding and onsen relaxation it was time to carry on and head to Tokyo. I was travelling with a lovely friend, Emily, who I had worked with in the past as a travel agent. It was her first time to Japan so naturally I had to show her the glittering metropolis of Tokyo before heading home. We only had three days so I chose two special uniquely Japanese experiences.
I’ll save these for next time when I look at five unique activities in Tokyo. In the meantime, have you been to Japan to Ski? What are you favorite worldwide skiing hot spots?
For more information on Hakuba visit the official website
Visit OzSnow Adventures on their official website
I recommend Jetstar for the cheapest and most direct flights to Japan from Australia on their website
This is an independent article and was in no way endorsed or sponsored by these companies. This is a reflection of my opinion and experiences only.