Last weekend, I went on a ski trip to Hakuba. It was a fantastic weekend, filled with great people, good laughs, and most importantly, SO MUCH SNOW! Hakuba Valley, located in the Japanese Alps in Nagano prefecture, is a popular ski destination with 11 different resorts, one of which was the site of the 1989 Winter Olympics. We went to Hakuba Goryu/47, two resorts which are connected via lift and share a pass. And we came at the best possible time. It had just snowed A TON in the area – over 100 cm (40 inches) in the past week. It was some of the best powder I’ve ever experienced. The trip is put on every year by a kind soul named Fred, one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever met. It was a group of over 150 people, mostly foreigners, coming from all over Japan. The all-inclusive trip covered lodging, food, lift tickets, rentals, and even and even a nomihoudai (all you can drink) party. It was a good deal, and I had a great time.
My group left from Tokyo on Friday night. We rented a car in Shinjuku, and were off on our way, seven of us packed into a tiny little Japanese car. The drive took about four hours, and we arrived just after midnight. The entire hotel was booked out for the group, and it was quite lively when we arrived, with many people talking and drinking in the common area. We checked in, met up with the folks from the other Tokyo car, and found our room. It was a traditional Japanese style room, with tatami mats and futons. Luckily, our room was right next to the hotel’s sentō (indoor public bath). We had a nice soak and headed to bed.
We were up by 7 am on Saturday and enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and salad. We picked up our passes and rental gear, which had been delivered to the hotel. I was so impressed with how Fred managed to organize this whole trip with so many people. It was really nice to have everything taken care of for us. We donned our gear, and stepped outside into a winter wonderland. It was snowing hard, and I was stoked. I grew up skiing and snowboarding, and it’s always been an important part of my life. I was really excited to be riding for the first time this season, and for the first time in Japan!
It was a fantastic, full day of riding. The snow was amazing – some of the deepest I’ve ridden in my life. I did a few runs in the morning together with my friends, and then took off on my own, because, as we say… “no friends on a powder day.” I wandered the mountain, getting lost and finding my way, and enjoying every minute. The mountain was a little small compared to what I’m used to (because I’ve been spoiled by some of the best mountains in the world in Colorado), and was lacking serious steeps and tree runs, but I was happy just to be snowboarding again. And the powder totally made up for it. The cute little village had an authentic ski town vibe, which I really liked. Most of the people I saw were Japanese, but there were also quite a few gaijin (foreigners), including some employees of the resort.
At lunchtime, I joined my friends for a burger and a beer at a mid-mountain restaurant. I rested for a moment to dry out and warm up. In the afternoon, it started snowing really hard. The visibility was basically zero, and the upper mountain was a complete whiteout. There was a moment where it actually got a little sketchy – I couldn’t see anyone or anything or even tell which way was up or down. But, I found my way down to lower ground without too much trouble. I rode for the rest of the day, until last chair, wanting to squeeze in as much riding as I could.
Back at the hotel, we went to the onsen, did some yoga, rested for a minute, and then had dinner, which was a strange combination of pork, fish, and shrimp salad. But after a day riding any food sounded good. Then it was time for the nomihoudi (all you can drink) party, which as could only be expected, got quite crazy. All the beer and liquor was supplied from nearby US military bases, so there were many different types of American and other imported beers, and a lot of it. There was beer pong and other drinking games, a DJ, and dancing. We had an “America VS the World” drinking boat race (the world won). It felt like being back in college. I’m not sure what time I made it to bed, but I’m pretty sure it was late.
I woke up the next morning feeling exhausted and hungover, but fresh powder was calling, so I got myself out of bed and onto the mountain. It had snowed overnight and was still coming down. Snowboarding is the best hangover cure. You simply don’t have time to think about it when you’re flying down the mountain, cold mountain air in your face. I was quite sore, but I didn’t let that stop me from riding my hardest. The visibility was way better, so I explored the whole mountain, seeking out powder. I found some sweet spots in the trees, and a little hike above the lift to a fresh line. With my tunes in my ears, my board on my feet, and snow all around me, I felt happy to be alive. There really is no better feeling in the world than turning through a fresh line of powder. It’s my bliss.
I took one really hard fall. I was coming out of the trees, and dropped off a little cliff without seeing that there was a catwalk below me, so I went full speed into the flat catwalk, from probably an eight-foot drop. Thankfully my head was all right, and most of the impact went to my legs. When I got home, I discovered a pretty sweet bruise. Ah well, it happens. If you never fall, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough, in snowboarding and in life.
I rode until around 3 pm, at which point my legs were about ready to give out. I headed back to the hotel, and we packed up the car and were on our way. The four hours going home felt much longer, with my aching body squeezed in the tiny car. As soon as I got home, I collapsed on my bed, utterly exhausted and supremely content. I woke up the next day so sore I could barely move. But it was so worth it. It was an amazing trip! Now I’m ready to go boarding again… and I’m quite seriously thinking that my next move after JET will be to become a ski bum.