Japan is a beautiful country with some of the most forgiving and generous people I have come across, they can never do enough to help you. I worked for a well known ski and snowboard shop called 'Rhythm' where there were a few locals working with us and I can honestly say they were the most amazing people who are always stoked on life and want to share their happiness. Whether its getting your carve on or partying, they are just a good time. It was these people that made my experience in Japan one I will never forget, In fact the whole crew at Rhythm are pretty special.
There is no better feeling than going riding with your friends followed by an Onsen and chowing down on Ramen or Sushi. An Onsen is natural hot water that springs from the earth and is routed into public pools. The catch is that you have to be in your birthday suit which at first its pretty strange but once you realise no one cares about your junk, its actually feels natural and is amazing for resting aching muscles after a day's shred.
Japan is the total experience. The food, the people, the culture and the riding all mix together to create this complete package that is unlike most places i have been to, and its the reason you need to go to Japan at least once in your life.
When it comes to exploring the backcountry it's a slightly different story. The locals keep their cards close to their chest and are careful who they share their knowledge with, and while it can be frustrating, I think its a positive thing. You have to earn your turns before you have even got onto the snow. It also protects this very special place from becoming overrun with people.
There are two really good guiding companies in the valley, Evergreen and The Good Guides. The Good Guides is run by Jerry Williams, a very good guide who has been in the valley a long time. Evergreen is run by Dave Enright, another person who has been in Hakuba a long time. There is also one of the most prominent avalanche researchers in the world called Bill Glude ( See him on the 'Billabong Lines' movie). So there's no shortage of people to ask.
Although still a relatively sleepy place, Hakuba is starting to become more well known. Situated on the south island of Japan and about 3 hours from Tokyo on the bullet train, it receives slightly less snowfall than the more well known Niseko who, on average, will get around 14 metres annually while Hakuba will get a mere 11 metres. … Hakuba more than makes up for it with the sheer size of their mountains.
This year they hosted the first Asian Freeride World Tour Qualifier event which brought with it some of the biggest names in skiing and snowboarding (maybe you saw a certain Travis Rice throwing down). I noticed over winter there were a lot of names and film crews, so while it's still Niseko's little brother I feel it's an area on the up.
Japan has the most ski areas per country then anywhere else, the figure is now around 500 although it was once a lot more than that. The Hakuba Valley is made up of 11 resorts ranging in different heights and aspects, meaning there is always snow to be found if you know where to look. Happo One, Tsugaike and Goryu are the biggest and are the gateways (literally) into the huge mountains that dominate the background.