Winter Sports and Ultimate Relaxation In Hakuba
The Closest Ski Heaven To Tokyo
Kick off the ski season with a visit to this amazing winter resort.
To me, Nagano is synonymous with the 1998 Winter Olympics. It was where the world’s greatest skiers and snowboarders gathered to compete, for the first time in the Olympic history. There is a magical aura of the Olympic Games that is omnipresent all through Hakuba, Nagano. This picturesque ski village boasts beautifully manicured streets, as well as fabulous restaurants, shops and points of interest. The Hakuba Happo-one ski resort is famed for steep slopes and moguls, panoramic snowcapped skylines, spa and onsen, and its friendly community – all of which we got to experience during our recent visit.
Hakuba is accessible by train from Shinjuku station. On our last visit there, we chose instead to rent an SUV and reached Hakuba in less than three hours. The drive was quite scenic, and before we knew it we were out of the metropolis and into a winter wonderland.
We headed out to the slopes in the morning after several feet of marvelous fresh powder had fallen the night before. My son and I are both beginners, so we rented our ski equipment from a hip ski shop named Rhythm, which had an impressive lineup of cutting edge and nearly new rental equipment. The staff was so helpful and knowledgeable.
This picturesque ski village boasts beautifully manicured streets, as well as fabulous restaurants, shops and points of interest.
We arrived at the Happo-one resort and bought one-day lift tickets for ¥5,200 for adults and ¥3,000 for the kids. Navigating the various ski runs and chair lifts was easy, and the runs spanned from bunny slopes that were very conducive to learning to the advanced runs. The ski instruction program for children was exemplary. The kids were totally engaged by the charming and patient instructors. Their ski lesson concluded with a healthy meal and a well-deserved hot cocoa in the Kids Center.
While the kids were eating downstairs, we capped off an epic day of skiing with a tasty meal at the Roots Café. Taking refuge from the cold into this café, with bohemian its décor and reggae music, was just what the doctor ordered for my sore hamstrings. The café offers great vegetarian cuisine, energy snacks, smoothies, alcoholic beverages and teas. I had the vegetable curry with brown rice and a chai milk tea. My husband enjoyed his lentil burger and red ale.
That evening we went for a jaunt down Wadano no Mori and admired the beauty of the snow-covered trees lit up at night. We dined at the chic Mimi’s in the Phoenix Hotel. This restaurant is known for its head chefs, a husband and wife team who use only local produce traditionally known as “Shinshu produce.” We devoured the restaurant’s signature dish, the Shinshu Omachi charcoal pork chop. The flavors were savory and sweetly spiced.
We left our cozy cabin in Wadano village the next day with great blues, knowing that our break was over. On our way out of town, we stopped by Sounds Like Café. This is a quirky little café has a bombshell breakfast menu and legit lattes to boot. We armed ourselves with mocha lattes and crumbly house-made muffins for the drive home. But we wished we had more time to enjoy the breakfast menu at this spot. It looked like a must-hit for next time.
The journey home graced us with a pristine view of Mt. Fuji ahead, while the sun shone and the snow spiraled off the top of our van behind us. We left Hakuba with great nostalgia and much talk of our next visit.
Getting There: Approximately one-and-a-half to two hours from Tokyo Station to Hakuba Station on the Nagano Shinkansen line, or four hours from Shinjuku Station on the Super Azusa express train.
More Information: For further details and ideas, visit the official website of Hakuba Tourism.