Hakuba, in the Japan Alps has something for outdoors enthusiasts all year round. James Robb, an outdoor instructor and guide in the area, tells us why it just might be Paradise
WHY GO NOW?
REVERED by locals and outdoor enthusiasts alike as the gateway to the Japan Alps, Hakuba village in Nagano Prefecture offers something for everyone, all-season round. With an average snowfall for the winter reaching the four meter mark and a ski season running to early May, snow enthusiasts will have no trouble keeping busy on Hakuba’s numerous ski areas. If it’s a fun filled day of family skiing or a steep and deep backcountry adventure, you’re looking for, the hills in and around the village cater to all ages and abilities.
Located at the base of two of Japan’s biggest ski resorts, Hakuba lies to the north end of the Kita (North) Alps on the island main island of Honshu. It is only 40 minutes from the Sea of Japan to the west and one hour’s drive north-east is Nagano city.
The Mominoki Hotel is Hakuba’s most luxurious. It can also boast its own shop, Le Sapin, which sells European wines hand picked by the hotel’s owner, the hotel’s own brand jam, and freshly baked bread. Most famously it is home to one of the finest onsen in the country, known as “Bijin no yu” (Beautiful women hot spring). The hot spring is recognized as having ‘’the strongest alkalies in Japan.’’ For more information visit www.mominokihotel.com/e_entrance.html
The North Alps look beautiful all year round. In the winter visitors will also be able to catch some exciting firsthand action of ski races on Olympic courses, world-class ski jumping and boarders going into orbit in Big Air competitions.
In summer, gondola access to the alpine areas makes it possible for even the most novice hikers to explore the natural beauty of the Alps.
The 1998 Winter Olympic Games focused international attention on Hakuba for the alpine skiing, cross-country and ski jumping events. Winter activities are numerous; one can head out on slopes for world class Alpine skiing and snowboarding, join a guided snowshoe tour in to the snow covered forest, give Nordic skiing a try and then soak in one of the many hot-springs that dot the landscape.
Come spring Hakuba changes from a winter wonderland to a lush green alpine paradise ideal for hiking and biking. Water running from the upper snowfields makes for fantastic whitewater rafting and kayaking. You can also explore Lake Aoki by canoe or sail. For information on outdoor activities in Hakuba go to www.evergreen-outdoors.com.
If you’re looking for something slightly more sophisticated than the curry rice and ramen you’ll find on the slopes, the Mominoki Hotel offers two restaurants: Sara Mansaku, which is Japanese, and Rinea, which is northern European in style. You can also eat in the hotel’s beautiful garden. For more liquid après-ski refreshment, try the Mominoki Hotel’s bar, called simply The Pub.
In spring and summer trips range from short day hikes to extended multi-day jaunts that can make use of the yamagoya’s (mountain huts) that allow for a first class experience. This area is also a Mecca for serious mountaineers looking to climb some of Japan’s most difficult peaks.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Even in the busy ski season resorts are rarely packed because skiers and boarders are distributed across the 15 resorts up and down the valley. This spring will also definitely be a time not to be missed when Happo-One hosts the Tri-Modal Challenge, Japan’s first combined ski, snowboard, and telemark race.