HAPPY IN HAKUBA

A girl-friendly Habuka Japan ski getaway yields sake, biru, kimonos, chest-deep powder, and at least one marriage proposal.

HAKUBA: “Hey!” The call comes from a 70-something, silver haired guy with a relaxed Australian accent strolling across a snowy Japanese street. “You’re those four Canadian girls from the pub last night, EH?!” We smile widely, nod yes, and continue our search for coffee and breakfast—our gear on and skis slung over our shoulders.

When this trip is done, I have no doubt we’ll be back. We girls are happy in Hakuba.

We smile widely, nod yes, and continue our search for coffee and breakfast—our gear on and skis slung over our shoulders. The friendly greeting didn’t come from the Aussie surf team we were hoping to meet, but when you’re skiing deep, sweet powder on an all-girls’ vacay in faraway Hakuba, Japan, you make friends easily and with everyone—you’re just so damn happy.

We’re getting a later start than usual: Jill Young, Leslie Hogg, Sarah Frood, Izzy Lynch, and me, Robin O’Neill—all good friends and skiers who’ve come to have fun in Hakuba. Last night’s dinner followed by sake-fueled dancing at the Mockingbird, Hakuba’s trendiest izakaya (pub), had us up until the wee hours. A late start is okay. We’ve been skiing our hearts out for the past week and we’ve learned at least one lesson: Fresh tracks in Hakuba last all day, no need for first ride up.

It’s true, snow has fallen every single night since our all-female crew navigated the winding, wind-swept roads from Tokyo to Hakuba, Japan’s most popular ski village. It’s a skier’s Nirvana: an average 36 feet of snowfall per season, 138 lifts, and more than 200 ski runs to choose from—all of them consistently and completely covered. The powder-filled Hakuba Valley—a.k.a. Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics Games—is situated in the heart of the Japanese Alps, and is home to an incredible nine ski resorts. The terrain is abundant and varied, yet skiers are few… which for us, translates to line after line of fresh, dreamy white stuff.

Indeed, it’s impossible to get bored on skis in Hakuba. Its incredible inbounds skiing is bettered only by its easy access backcountry—a high-alpine spine that made us question if we’re in Japan or Alaska. There’s enough terrain here to keep you skiing all day, every day… but, well, a girl’s got to keep her energy up. Snack breaks, lunch breaks, any food break is worth taking in Hakuba. Heaping bowls of homemade udon, stacks of oyaki (savory steamed buns), reams of steamy ramen—our energy remains high after long days of deep‑powder skiing.

When this trip is done, I have no doubt we’ll be back. We girls are  happy in Hakuba.

When our day is done—when our legs just can’t take it any more—we play a game. It’s called “Find Hakuba’s Best Onsen.” Our game is simply played by sampling as many natural hot springs as possible. There are at least a dozen scattered throughout Hakuba. The rotenburo are our favorites—outdoor baths with mesmerizing views of the snow-laden alps. The Japanese are correct: an onsen’s mineral waters do offer a girl soothing, restorative health benefits.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a day off. The skiing’s very good, but we want to soak up some Japanese culture. We’ll go to Matsumoto to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park. Or maybe we’ll spend the day more simply. We’re keen to taste every single strange, sugar-filled treat at the Japanese corner store. It’ll be heaven.

Tonight we’ll eat out. Hakuba’s restaurants—and foodie experiences—are as abundant as its snowpack. Option 1: Walletfriendly, deep-fried pub food teamed with a bucket-sized biru (beer). Option 2: Wrapping ourselves in kimonos to learn how to make traditional rice cakes with a wooden mallet.

When this trip is done, I have no doubt we’ll be back. We girls are happy in Hakuba. We’ve fallen for its storms, its strange snacks and chest-deep powder. We’ve yet to meet an Aussie surf team, but the local ski area employees are nice. On one of our deepest storm-skiing days, a liftie proposed to me. I just may say “yes…”

Photographer’s Note: Hello again from Whistler, Canada. Dreaming back on those chest-deep laps, I am wondering if that liftie’s marriage offer still stands. Liftie: If you’re reading this story, call me.

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