This winter has not started great snow-wise, this season in Hakuba. So putting my snowboard aside, I went out to enjoy all the great local treats in and around Hakuba. Lucky for me I’ve spent the last three weeks with a seasoned crew here at the Hakuba Powder Lodge. Their combined countless years spent in the Hakuba valley cumulated in many great experiences, as I was taken to the best spots!
Here are the top 10 things you must see and do in Hakuba:
1# Highland Hotel Onsen
Located on the other side of the valley, this onsen has the best views in town. Go there on a bluebird day when you need a day off skiing (if you ever need such a thing!). Normal onsen rules apply (men and women separate, you wash thoroughly and go in naked, be quiet, courteous and don’t splash!).
2# Mon Pigeon Patisserie
This quirky bakery is tucked away on a back street around Echoland at Happo-One. A local’s treat, complete with two massive dogs and a few cats. It’s like sitting in your grandma’s front room surrounded by the biggest collection of ornaments and china you’ve ever seen. The two Japanese ladies that own it trained in a Paris patisserie and the cakes are amazing! I had a large mug of coffee that was ¥1,100 (around $9 USD!) – so maybe don’t order a coffee if you are on a ski bum budget like me! The pizza is also delicious but pricey (but so is all pizza in Hakuba for some bizarre reason).
Get travel insurance. Seriously. Don’t forget.
3# The Public Foot Onsen
Located just opposite the information centre at the base of Happo-One. These two little onsen pools are a great stop after a long day skiing. Pop over the road to the Lawson and grab a sake, beer or piece of spicy fried chicken to enjoy while you soak your feet.
#4 Kikyo-Ya Sushi Restaurant
There aren’t too many sushi restaurants in Hakuba. This one is definitely the best (the sushi at the Big supermarket is also excellent). At Kikyo-Ya, make sure you try the fattiest tuna – they have three grades of tuna: tuna, fat tuna and fattiest tuna. The fattiest is an experience (there’s a picture of it in the header image of this post). It just melts like butter. Personally, one piece was enough as it left so much oil in my mouth! Take a seat at the bar for the whole Japanese sushi experience or sit on the floor at one of their low tables. Located on the 148 road, not far from the train station.
#5 Visit Rapie Mountain Gear Shop
This place has EVERYTHING you could ever want or dream of owning for skiing, touring, climbing and mountaineering in the smallest little space. A family owned business, the owner Matsumoto-San is over 50 years old with 5 kids, and the fastest hiker on the mountain! He also surfs the local break in winter (and then snowboards in the afternoon). Such a legend! He will also fix pretty much any gear you have broken or ripped. Get your skis mounted here as well.
6# Ooshimo Restaurant
Cheap, traditional Japanese food. This is both a local and seasoned ski bum favourite. The set meals are around ¥700 – ¥1,000 ($5-$7USD), and they have everything on the menu from mackerel in miso sauce, prawn tempura don to delicious Katsu curry, all being served with miso soup, a rice bowl, tofu and pickels. This is hands down my favourite cheap-eat, restaurant in town.
#7 Go Ski at Cortina Resort
The terrain and tree skiing at this small resort is incredible. With a lift pass package deal (day pass), you get a free onsen and lunch. I recommend the ‘make your own pizza’ lunch option. You can also see the ocean on a clear day from the top. It is a magical place. Just check out that red building- surreal!
#8 Master Braster Bar in Echoland
They only play good reggae music! The cocktails are also pretty cheap at ¥600 at time of writing. Get their early and grab one of those big couch tables at the back. Look out for the Still Stoked stickers on the sticker wall!
#9 Try an AK Burger
A cool set up on the main Olympic road by Happo One Ski Resort (also an AK burger over at Goryu resort). They flip gourmet beef or chicken burgers with a selection of toppings. Cold beer on tap. And you get to sit in an awesome bus. The owner has converted a sprinter campervan/RV into a house. Next level! A burger will set you back around ¥1,000, extra for fries or extra toppings.
#10 Book a backcountry ski or splitboard tour with Hakuba Mountain Life
Hakuba has amazing backcountry terrain but it is very easy to get lost and make dangerous mistakes/decisions. Get out there and enjoy the mountains with local guide and avalanche wizard Damian Banwell from Hakuba Mountain Life. He will safely show you some of the best that Hakuba has to offer. If you are interested in learning more about avalanche safety, he also runs the Canadian AST 1 and AST 2 recreational courses (avalanche skills training). I can not stress how important it is know about snow safety before venturing into the backcountry. Stay safe, know before you go and make informed decisions.
Hakuba is a Japanese ski town of multiple resorts lining the valley. From the main resort of Happo-One to Cortina in the north, it is a great destination for families, ski bums and beginners. Friendly, English speaking, rustic and traditionally Japanese, it’s 6 hour drive from Tokyo. I spent a month here on my second visit. Snow is great from Jan to March, you can get lucky in December :-)
Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance, I definitely recommend World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable. You can purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel. They also pay your medical bills direct so you are not out of pocket. I whole-heartedly recommend them.