Sleep at the TOP
As a life-long fan of everything involved in skiing and snowboarding, I find it hard to list unpleasant things about ski vacations. If I had to list two, they would be: lining up for the first lift to get up the mountain after breakfast and avoiding an accident with a skier or snowboarder on a crowded slope.
There is a way to avoid the above instances in Hakuba that means never having to leave the slopes even when the lifts close – and that means you get first tracks after sun-up without having to catch a lift on an empty ski slope.
Hakuba Happo-one is home to a mountain hut where you can watch the sun go down, sleep in comfort and be up to enjoy first tracks before most skiers and snowboarders down in the valley even get to eat their breakfast
I spent the night at the fore mentioned, Happo-ike sanso named after the pond about an hour walk from the hut and most popular during the warm summer season.
After a full day spent on a bluebird day on Happo-one Ski resort, I rode the final top chairlift, passing the start point of the men’s downhill Olympic race and made my way to the hut, elevation 1839 meters. As I stepped through the door and swapping my ski boots for slippers, I was welcomed with the warm greeting of Japanese hospitality; we have been waiting for you Mr.Chan.
After checking into my no-frills room, suffice to say was without the chocolate on the pillow, and being late in the season, I took in the views of the ski resort in front of me and realized that being east facing, I would have to get up early to take in this sunrise.
Dinner was scheduled from 6 pm, so I decided to go outside, pop behind the hut and take in the view of the Hakuba san-sen, or the Hakuba Three Peaks as they are commonly known in English. Rising to just under 3000 meters, Hakuba, Shakushi and Hakuba-Yair’s peaks were glowing in the pink sunset. An avid photographer was setting up his tripod to get the shot, passing greeting, Mr. Takeda comes up the mountain once a week, usually on a clear evening, to not only get a picture of the mountains but explains to me that a dark cloudless night with low light pollution is not enough to get a stellar shot but mountain air is excellent for star shooting…..i slowly hide my smartphone camera and smile.
Dinner is served in the dining room and surprised to find quite a few other guests booked in for the night besides me and Mr. Takeda. There are a couple of senior ladies who love to mountain hike in winter and want to get an early start, a young threesome who are going into the backcountry in the morning and will be shooting a video of one of the party hurtling down an empty slope. The food was buffet style with plenty of options to fill our empty stomachs; I gorged on a “few” pork filets, and combining it with a glass or two of draft beer was very filling.
After dinner, I made my way on the decking, the air is crisp, and the temperature is not too unpleasant. Mr. Takeda is looking up at the stars and points to one and says that is Venus as he clicks away on his camera remote. I looked at the tranquil lights below in Hakuba village when I was startled by the sound of an engine and bright lights coming towards me; it was the snow piste basher knocking out the bumps and laying the corduroy for the next day’s skiers and riders.
I had set my alarm clock to wake up just before dawn to view the sunrise, which is quite a quintessential thing to do in Japan; in fact, it has its own word “goraiko” which means getting up in the early morning on a mountain and watching the sunrise, we need such a word in English!
The sun rises over the eastern mountain range and spreads a yellow-orange tint on the freshly groomed virgin snow before it hides behind a low cloud. A fantastic goraiko, it was worth getting up for.
After another buffet-style breakfast, it was time to put on my skis and sail down the empty slopes; the snow was groomed to perfection and being spring, it was nice and soft like ice cream. I had the slopes all to myself for the first time ever. Bliss!
It is possible to spend one night up on the slopes as a special treat or for those who want to get the first tracks in the backcountry or even in the resort. Or maybe you want to be like Mr. Takeda and take that awesome picture.