Iwatake, Cortina, Happo, Tsugaike

Last week our 4 days off miraculously coincided with 4 days of nipple-deep powder (a term borrowed from Laura – thank you). Just when we thought “real” winter was over and had started preparing ourselves for spring skiing, Japan threw a curve ball and it dumped with fresh snow. We spent our 4 happy days in 4 different resorts in the Hakuba valley and here’s a little summary of each. (The snow was far too good to be hanging around taking photos so apologies in advance for the lack of any!)

Iwatake is the closest resort to Happo-one (where we live) and can be accessed on a free shuttle bus. On piste it is a great area for beginners with really wide green runs that even my Mum would be happy on! It is often a lot less crowded than the other resorts too. The main draw for us though are the trees. Ski patrol are a lot more relaxed in Iwatake and it is possible to find great spots in the forests for untouched snow all day long. Finally it is a great place to spot a kamoshika and who wouldn’t want to see one of these cuties?!
kamoshika in iwatkake, japan
We have already written a post on one superb day spent in Cortina which can be read here and our second day did not disappoint. Cortina is always a bit hit and miss whether it will be open or not after heavy snowfall, so taking the gamble to wake up early and catch the bus is even more rewarding when it is open! We had an epic day that mainly involved a lot of face shots, buried skis, hitting trees, the occasional back flip from Brian and more messing around in trees.
Happo-one is our stomping ground for the season and when Alex isn’t teaching on the flat planes of Sakka we have loads of spots we like to go and explore. Big powder days are my favourite in Happo and you can guarantee you will spot Evergreen friends out for first lifts, lapping Alpen and Skyline. It is the largest of the 9 resorts in the Hakuba Valley and even on average snow days there are lots of great runs to keep us entertained. Best not to go off piste in Happo as ski patrol may very well be waiting for you to confiscate your pass though…
p.s. Happo One was the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, you might spot just one or two relics around town!
p.s. Happo One was the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, you might spot just one or two relics around town!
Somehow we had┬ámanaged to overlook Tsugaike so far this season. We have been twice previously to access the backcountry; once on our AST course (read the blog here) and once on our ridiculous adventure that we don’t talk about too often! So on our fourth day of freedom Alex, Brian and I headed to Tsugaike to see what it had to offer. In the Gondola lift up we debated whether to stay in Tsugaike or head back to Iwatake – were we wasting a sublime powder day by going in to unfamiliar territory? I’m so glad we stayed! It was one of the best days ever. This year the Evergreen backcountry guides have been working tirelessly to open a controlled avalanche off piste area, within bounds. As far as I am aware it is the first of its kind in the Hakuba valley and more information can be found at tsugaikepowder.com. The designated areas can be accessed through back country gates and lead to the most perfect gulleys, tree runs and steeper faces of awesome powder. We spent the whole day lapping the gondola with the worlds biggest smiles on our faces. To top it off there is even a KFC at Tsugaike for lunch, with the best advertising campaign of the Colonel riding the gondola.
Tsugaike KFC
What a week! If only all days off could be so good.

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