Before booking a flight to Japan, the thought of going snowboarding hadn’t even crossed my mind. But after sliding my way around Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen, I can proudly proclaim my love for this winter sport. In fact, exploring mountains that look like the fur of a Siberian Husky is now a yearly aspiration — and should be yours as well!

Why? Mainly because of how metaphorical the entire experience was and can be. By learning how to snowboard, I learned how to embody presence; in turn, I flowed from one corner to another and from one moment to another. Truly, it is impossible to remain in the ‘monkey mind’ when a lack of attention can turn into literally rolling downhill.

Of course, falling is inevitable, but that’s the other lesson I learned: that I can laugh while falling and that I can continue laughing while hauling my heavily-equipped self off the snow.

Perhaps this is how the Japanese saying, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” originated? But enough about me, my experience, and musings! Here’s how you can create your own:

Comparing the two

Image by @hakubacanadianlodge.

Nozawa Onsen is ideal for groups as it’s basically a village. Everyone can find accommodation based on their budget while still being situated within close proximity. Hakuba Valley is the opposite — if your friend is staying in Echoland and you’re staying in Happo One, prepare to splurge on taxis as the free shuttle bus stops operating from around 6pm onwards.

Image by @hakubaslopesidechalet.

In terms of aesthetics, Hakuba Valley is dotted with wooden cabins juxtaposed against modern buildings made of concrete and sharp angles. The majority of the crowd circulating the buses consists of tourists hailing from the West.

What you need to know about Nozawa Onsen
Nozawa Onsen exterior and interior.

However, Nozawa Onsen boasts the charm of local houses precariously perched alongside narrow alleys. The countless corners reveal temples and public bathhouses (known as onsens) frequented by residents and Japanese tourists.

So, the contrast is stark: Are you looking for a snowboarding getaway reminiscent of the Swiss Alps or of true blue Japan?

What you need to know about Hakuba Valley

Getting to, from, and around

● Bus from Haneda Airport to Hakuba Base Camp: ¥10,800 (approximately RM356)
● Bus from Narita Airport to Hakuba Base Camp: ¥10,800
● Bus from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Hakuba-Happo Bus Terminal: ¥5,800 (approximately RM191)
● To & Fro: ¥11,600 (approximately RM382) from Shinjuku

Click here for the timetable for the bus from the airport(s) and here for the timetable for the bus from Shinjuku. Meanwhile, here’s a timetable for the (free) shuttle bus that’ll take you around the Hakuba Valley.

Costs of snowboarding or skiing
Costs of snowboarding or skiing

Day Pass for Hakuba Valley:
● Full Day: ¥7,600 (approximately RM250) for adults or ¥4,400 (approximately RM145) for kids

Day Pass for Happo One:
● Full Day: ¥6,500 (approximately RM214) for adults or ¥3,200 (approximately RM105) for kids
● Half Day: ¥5,500 (approximately RM181) for adults or ¥2,700 (approximately RM89) for kids

To clarify, the Hakuba Valley Pass entails entrance to every area within Hakuba Valley whereas the Happo One Pass only includes entrance to areas within Happo One. If you’re a beginner, then the Happo One Pass will suffice as there are many trails to uncover!

Renting equipment
Renting equipment

Rainbow Rental Hakuba:
● Snowboard Set: ¥4,300 (approximately RM142)
● Ski Set: ¥4,300
● Clothing: ¥3,000 (approximately RM99)

Rhythm Rentals Hakuba:
● Snowboard Set: ¥4,500 Yen (approximately RM148)
● Ski Set: ¥4,500
● Kids Set: ¥3,500 (approximately RM115)

What you need to know about Nozawa Onsen

Costs of snowboarding or skiing
Getting to, from, and around

● Tokyo Train Station to Iiyama Train Station: ¥8,250 (approximately RM272) onwards, although pricing can start from ¥7,000 (approximately RM230) during off-peak seasons
● Iiyama Bus Stop to Nozawa Onsen Bus Stop: ¥600 (approximately RM20)
● To and fro: ¥17,700 (approximately RM583)

Click here for the timetable for the train and bus. There’s also a timetable for the (free) shuttle bus that’ll take you around Nozawa Onsen.

So, what’ll it be?
Costs of snowboarding or skiing

Day Pass for Nozawa Onsen:
● Full Day: ¥6,000 (approximately RM198) for adults or ¥3,600 (approximately RM119) for kids
● Four Hours: ¥5,100 (approximately RM168) for adults or ¥3,100 (approximately RM102) for kids

Renting equipment

Nozawa Sports Thanx:
● Snowboard Set: ¥3,800 Yen (approximately RM125)
● Ski Set: ¥3,800
● Clothing: ¥3,000
● Kids Set: ¥2,500 Yen (approximately RM82)

Nozawa Kawatatsu Rental:
● Snowboard Set: ¥3,000
● Ski Set: ¥3,000
● Clothing: ¥2,500

Overall price comparison

● One day in Happo One, with costs of clothing included: ¥13,800 Yen (approximately RM455)
● One day in Nozawa Onsen, with costs of clothing included: ¥11,500 Yen (approximately RM379)

Vegan tips

Vegan tips

You’ll be glad to know that the Hakuba Valley and Nozawa Onsen cater to vegans. Just keep this in mind — in the Hakuba Valley, there is more variety, allowing you to choose between Japanese, Mexican, Western cuisine and so on; whereas in Nozawa Onsen, it’s mainly local fare (think soba, tempura, and the like).

So, what’ll it be?

To conclude, the total costs of travelling to and experiencing Hakuba Valley is around the same price range as Nozawa Onsen. So, the deciding factor is then this: what type of holiday do you prefer? A vacation surrounded by tourists or locals? A vacation that’s like bringing the Alps to a place closer to you, or a an authentic Japanese experience?

There’s no wrong answer, of course! That’s for you to know and for Zafigo to find out through your comments on this article. Now go conquer those slopes!

*All images by author unless mentioned otherwise.