Japan is a country where more than 70% of its area is comprised of mountains. With this topography combined with its high location in the northern hemisphere, it actually has its own version of the Alps. Termed as the Japanese Alps (Nihon Arupusu), it is composed of a series of three major mountain ranges : the Hida mountains at the north, the Akaishi mountains at the south and the Kiso mountains at the center.
Blessed with word class snow conditions, Japan is one of the best places in Asia to for winter sports. Having hosted two Winter Olympics is its strong testament. During winter, influx of visitors head over to more than 500 ski resorts within the country.
Winter season in Japan may perhaps be never complete without getting to the outdoors, play and have fun in the snow. As a foreigner from a tropical country, it is one of the things I looked forward to do during my stay here. And fortunately, there are a lot of ski resorts in Japan that caters first timers like me.
The Hakuba Village of Kitaazumi District in Nagano Prefecture is a mecca for winter sports in central Japan. Lying along the Hida mountains, it is one of the major destinations for skiing and snowboarding. With gentle slopes and plenty of open area, it is one of the best places for beginners to hone their riding skills.
How to Get to Hakuba, Nagano, Japan
- Train From Tokyo – One way is via Chuo Line from Shinjuku. Fare is around JPY 8500 and travel time is around 4 – 5 hours.
- Bus from Tokyo – Another option is to take a bus. Also in Shinjuku, there is a terminal with trips that goes straight to Hakuba. Fare is around JPY 6200 and travel time is 5 – 6 hours. Check this site for schedule.
Hakuba Valley Sights and Scenes
Whenever we go on a trip somewhere in Japan, regardless of how near or far the place is, we always look for a transportation pass or a tour package. It not only saves us a lot of bucks but helps us eliminate some of the minor troubles.
For this snowboarding trip, we availed a tour package from Orion Ski. It includes round trip bus rides from Tokyo to Hakuba Village, unlimited use of lifts and gondola, and a whole day rental of snowboard equipment like boots, clothing, and the board.
From Machida City in Tokyo, we hopped on a bus bound to Hakuba Village, Nagano on a Friday evening. The whole night trip was around eight hours with a few stop overs. We arrived at Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort at around 5 in the morning.
The resort has a reception area where day visitors like us can stay and take their in-between rests. Guests may opt to leave their bags here but locker rooms can also be rented for safekeeping of the valuables. We stayed at the reception area as we prep up for snowboarding.
The snowboarding gear can be a little uncomfortable for first timers. The boots are rigid which take away any mobility from your ankles.The angle between your foot and leg is a little bit bent to the front which can give a very unnatural feel. Then add up the at least 10 lbs of extra weight from all the equipment.
Ski and snowboard lessons are available at the resort. Rates vary depending on how long you choose to take the lesson. For us, we were fortunate to have a Japanese friend who is very good at snowboarding and is willing to teach. So we had ours for free.
Standing on the slippery snow with the snowboard can be intimidating. Balance, obviously, is a very important skill. But just as important to thing to learn is how to fall down properly and safely. Because just like any starter, it would happen numerous times before you actually get a hang of things.
I had my fair share of experience in skateboarding and surfing before. Not really an expert on these two, but I believed that my balance would at least transfer to snowboarding. It did actually, but I was still no exemption from the painful crashes.
Frustration is common for first timers, especially if you see every other people in the resort riding their snowboard and ski like it was part of their body. Sometimes all it takes is to stop for a while and regather yourself. Riding the gondola is a good way to relax and appreciate the beauty of Hakuba Valley and the Hida mountains.
Just like the lifts, unlimited gondola ride was already included in our tour package.
The ride takes more than thirty minutes to the top so it’s a really worthwhile experience. As you slowly climb your way up to an elevation of 800 meters, you get the magnificent view of the snow covered planes and slopes around you – a truly breathtaking scene.
It took me a while to learn how to maneuver the snowboard in both directions. Turning right actually was the most difficult. After countless wipeouts and a bunch of painful crashes, I’m glad to have finally figured it out. My friends who were also first-timers were also having their share of clean runs down the beginner course late in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, we had a very exhilarating experience in Hakuba Village. Our bodies were tired and muscle pains were just about everywhere, but it’s something we look forward to doing again.
Hakuba Valley, Nagano Snowboard Tour Budget / Expenses *
- 13,900 – Packaged tour (includes transporation, and use of facilities)
- 500 – Snowboard, boots and clothing rental
- 500 – Locker usage (smaller ones are also available for 200 and 300)
- 1000 – Insurance (refundable when you return the equipment)
*Prices are in Japanese Yen (JPY)
As a first timer, here are some tips I can give to fellow beginners.
- Fuel up. Get a good meal because you’ll be spending a lot of energy.
- If it is your first time, get snowboard lessons from an expert.
- If you’re already getting frustrated. Take a break and enjoy the view.
- Be considerate of others. Remember that you’re not the only guests so be mindful if you’re blocking someone else’s way.
- Stop trying to look cool. Prioritize learning and have fun.
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