Based on forecasts, powderhounds’ review and price, Rob and I chose Hakuba Cortina as our first stop. Unlike most Japanese resorts, it offers off-piste skiing legally in their “self-repsonsibility” zone. We were incredibly surprised to find it packed before opening on a random weekday, but considering it was mainly Gaijin vacation crowd, it made sense. It turns out that we got lucky in our choice of resorts as many of the surrounding ones had lift closures due to high winds. Hakuba Cortina is a relatively protected basin.
Many people went there after their other plans fell through. This also seems to be a popular storm day sidecountry place. Rob and I had never seen so much touring gear, especially avy packs, around a ski resort before.
The lift ticket line took us over 45 minutes, but we happened to find some fun folks in line to talk with. They shared their package deal coupon (ask at tourist info to get one) with us, so we got a lift ticket, 1000 yen toward lunch and onsen with towel at the base hotel for 4000 yen (~$34). Rob ended up skiing with them for much of the day as I took our first day a bit easier. The pow in all the trees was pretty good although the trees and brush here are quite different. Most brush you can ski through although sometimes there are tough vines that don’t give. The tree branches can be whippy and you get go practice skiing with a pole/hand in front to protect your face. I heard the termed “getting flossed” for the first time in reference to surprise trees. We met up for a tasty lunch in the base hotel/ski lodge. It turned out that Holly and Jameson live in Seattle less than 10 blocks from our place. Definitely a small world moment. Hopefully we’ll catch them for Taco Tuesday at the 5th ave tavern sometime.
There was also some school ski trip going on at the resort as there was a mass of Japanese kids dressed alike taking group ski lessons. We couldn’t help wondering if this is where the inspiration for the minions in Despicable Me originated.
After skiing, the hotel onsen was quite nice with a large variety of pools, including one overlooking the slope where you could watch the snow cat grooming begin. We ran into another Japan Campers group outside the onsen. Unlike us, they were headed back to a hostel. We drove to town for groceries and continued on to the nearby Hakuba valley michi-no-ekki (there’s one near otari with an onsen if you’re going the opposite direction through the valley).