Riding in Hakuba Valley in Japan was hands down, the best snowboarding experience of my life. Granted, my snowboarding life has only been three seasons long, but I had made up my mind that nothing could beat Whistler. Japan did.
Japanese snow (雪: pronounced Yuki)
You know how the Eskimos have over 50 words for snow? I’m not saying I have the snow expertise of an Eskimo, but on some level, I sort of understand.
The snow was so soft, fluffy, dry, and… simply magical. It snowed the whole time we were there, but it wasn’t like the sharp, painful snow that sometimes pelts your face at Northstar or Kirkwood.
It was like snowboarding in a snowglobe. The snow just floated. You couldn’t tell if it was coming from above you or from below you. It tickled your face. You could catch it with your tongue. It was perfect.
I think the snow in Japan makes it a great place for a beginner to learn. You just could not fall! Even on the flat parts of the mountain, I didn’t get stuck. It felt like there was an invisible conveyer belt under my board, helping me to glide effortlessly through the fresh powder.
The snow was so forgiving it was near impossible to catch an edge, and because of this, I rode extra fast and crazy. I toppled over a few times but who cares because you’re falling on magic!
This, coupled with the fact that the mountain was empty, enabled us to board for hours without getting tired.
Our timing was perfect as we had just missed the Chinese New Year crowd!
U.S. vs Japanese snowboarding
The subtle differences between the resort in Hakuba vs U.S. were so interesting. I felt like I was in an alternate universe where everything sort of looked like Lake Tahoe, but not.
The gondolas were smaller and looked like the sky tram at Disneyland.
There were announcements in Japanese each time the chairlifts stopped (too bad I didn’t understand what they were saying).
There were “ding dong” noises each time we walked through a chairlift entrance. Picture walking through your corner bodgea or local convenience store — yeah. It’s the same noise! So all day long when we rode past chairlifts all you hear is “ding dong. Ding dong.”
I also noticed that Hakuba is a snowboarding mountain. I hardly saw any skiers!
Of course you could not beat the food options on the mountain. There were ramen spots, curry, donkatsu, and even a Burger King.
After boarding on day 2, we rested our tired feet in a mini onsen at a bar nestled at the base of the mountain. We met a group of Australian guys who were culminating their two-week bro trip.
Hakuba was unforgettable. It was the first time I mustered up enough courage to use my selfie stick while riding down the mountain. I’m always scared I’ll fall and my phone will go flying. I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall, and since I was in Asia, the whole selfie stick thing wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about.
Next year, I’m definitely planning to go to Hokkaido! Can’t wait!