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Topic ClosedHakuba Goryu/47 (review)

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Hakuba Goryu/47 (review)
    Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 12:20am
Preamble: I shouldn't be writing this review. I feel icky writing it. Not because i HATE hakuba and cant keep my rather well worn bias out of this. Au contraire kiddies, for i LOVE goryu/47. I love it so much that out of the 4 years ive been riding, it was only this past season that i didnt make at least one trip to it. :) Im drawn to hakuba every year despite what i may infer on the forums. I only play it down a bit so that some other places can get a bit of sunshine out of the enormous shadow it casts on Nagano snowboarding with the tourist trade.

But like with niseko, it's not just hype. There is a reason tour operators keep sending bogans here by the millions and that's simply this: hakuba is pretty much awesome.

Ugh, i feel clammy just saying that.

I should also explain one thing, this is just a review of one mid size mountain resort (small size if you're used to bigger and grander stuff), Hakuba is a decent sized area in total. It comprises of several resorts and the main base is echoland which gives easy access to Happo1. Happo1 is pretty big in comparison, but i like goryu a bit more so i tend to hang about there. :)


(hakuba 47/goryu - it aint massive yo!)

So why don't I want to write this review? Well for the main reason that hakuba has its own publicity machine. It doesnt need my voice promoting it. It does fine on its own. I feel like if i even mention it im guaranteeing more people to go there instead of the other places id like to see people check out (myoko, nozawa, ryuoo, shiga).

Second though, it's because honestly, i'm not best placed to write this review. The last time i was there was January last year at the effective start of only my 3rd season, and the two seasons before that i barely knew how to ride. I have no idea how id honestly feel about it right now. It might just feel fun because i couldnt ride it then. Also I haven't explored all its nooks and crannies and unlike every other review, it's almost exclusively going to be stuck on the groomers. I haven't even gone into the park because honestly it scared the bejeesus out of me every time i saw it :)

So reasonably i feel very under-qualified to write this review and really bring out the feel for the place. So why then write it at all?

Well first because its a massive omission (alongside nozawa and zao by the way) in the reviews i've already made on this site for niseko, myoko, shiga, ryuoo, kamui, and furano.
Second, Im writing this because I have a feeling no one else will :) The hope then is that the people who have ridden it might pop in and add their own opinions without being burdened by an overwhelming need to turn it into a small dissertation (like i clearly always do). :)

So i guess that leaves the final question: why just goryu/47? Hakuba is massive! MASSIVE!!! why are you just talking about one of its resorts?

Simply because its the one i know the best. Ive hit happo a few times, but genuinely I cant remember a thing about it other than this: when that gondola closes because of the wind, you might as well get your money back, because fighting with thousands of other people to ride a crappy two seater for a naff little run aint worth the bother. I've also hit Tsugaike and HATED it. Hated it arguably more than any other resort I've been to. :) I've yet to ride Iwatake and finally, although cortina is on my hit list every year, i just never seem to make it out there... :( So that's why.

With that all said, time for the standard preview:

Where:Japan, Nagano prefecture, Hakuba. About an hours drive west of nagano city.

Resort Map:

heres a better trail map, but its too big to put in this thread: http://www.powdertravel.com/resort_trail_map/Hakuba%20Ski%20Resort%20Map.htm

When:Various. Season 1 Mid march; season 2: nov/dec and season 3: late Jan

Who: Season 1: learning to carve and spin. Season 2: trying to figure out why id taken 100 steps back from the previous season. And season 3: Oooh! reverse camber! CHAAAARGE!!!! ... /wash :/

Cost:4800yen per day (aprox $60), and 48,000-60,000yen for the season ticket. Prices: http://www.hakubagoryu.com/e/liftcharge/index.html

Snow conditions:From spring slush to off the wall powder and everything in between.

Resort Conditions:Generally excellent. Escal plaza is definitely one of the best bases youll get in japan. It has everything you need. There are also some nice places to grab some food or equipment at the base of 47. The lifts are reasonably well connected but can feel a bit slow and old at times. Lots of lifts at the base of toomi/iimori (goryu) though so you shouldnt be in a queue if you avoid the toomi 4 person quad (and stick on the iimori side). That being said there is a bottleneck. Lift C is really the one lift connecting 47 to goryu (though you actually need to take a second lift if you dont fancy doing the adventure course). It can get incredibly busy and will have people spiking your top sheet or snaking past you winding you up a bit. :) Early doors in the season and its also the effective bottom of the mountain. So again it will be carnage down there.

Off resort stuff:Hakuba goryu is not the party capital of hakuba. For that you need to go to echoland, but it does have more than enough to keep you happy. It also has a really nice vibe since if you stay there for longer than a week youll start seeing the same people out and about. It gives it a bit more of a freindly but cliquier vibe than the much bigger happo might have. If youre up for partying though, tracks bar is a great place to hang out and meet people. Its the unoffocial hub of the international community in the area. They bring in djs and bands throughout the season keeping teh place buzzing along nicely. Theres loads of other restaurants up and down the mountain and plenty of places you can score rentals (including a shop if i remember right where you can rent top quality gear instead of the usual fare which is pretty rare for japan). Finally accommodation is pretty much easy to score. The place has a very international friendly vibe so you wont be tripping over your nihongo like you might in a few other places. Its also incredibly cheap since it has plenty of dorm options :) You will easy score places from 4000per night and less for longer stays.

Anything else?: Yeah, beware of ye olde shuttle buses. They shut down after the lifts close from 47 side, and the walk back to goryu is looooooooooong (ive stupidly done it, including trying to take a short cut through a building site that turned out to have a decent amount of quicksand). They also dont start operation properly until mid-late december. So if you turn up early or late in the season keep that in your considerations.

On another transport point. It IS accessible by rail, but really only if you are coming from nagoya, osaka or kyoto. If you are coming from tokyo its much faster to get the shinkansen to nagano and then the bus rather than getting the shinkansen to nagoya then the limited express to matsumoto then the train to kamishiro (Kamishiro is the stop for hakuba Goryu, NOT Hakuba by the way).

Season:Potentially early december to mid May. Peak, like everywhere else in japan is january and february though drops still often occur in march. 47 is north facing and therefore lasts a fair while.

Further afield:A shuttle bus runs between hakuba central and goryu, as well as a train. In hakuba you can get buses to all the other resorts with little difficulty. This means if you get bored of goryu you wont feel stuck. There's a LOT to see and do around just this one area (happo1, iwatake, tsugaike, and cortina as well as little tiny yanaba that if you want somewhere to hit up at night, might be your very best choice).

But wait, there is more! If you find yourself bored with all that (including the best terrain in japan for backcountry by the way), you can hop on the express bus to nagano and then catch a train or bus to 1) nozawa, 2) Myoko, 3) Shiga kogen and all the other satellite resorts around those. This is one of the primary selling points of hakuba for people looking for a long easy stay in japan. It would take you a good few years to really feel bored with quite how much diversity you have on offer in and around the area. And the fact you get to stay in a place thats very much english speaking makes these trips away all the easier to organise.

Summary: International vibe, cheap, great resort, lots of facilities, plenty of home comforts, a sick park, excellent access to everywhere nagona has to offer, and pretty much all round one of the best and easiest places to base yourself in japan.

The review:

It's funny, because when I think about it, I realise only now that riding hakuba has gone hand in hand with my general progression. In year 1 I primarily sat at the base of iimori, in year 2 I finally conquered R1, and in year 3 I started hitting everything in the mountain including the awesome adventure course that threw me around like a pair of socks in a tumble drier (as well as the god awful championship run which had me almost break my ankle). :) At the time of riding there was still a lot I couldn't really ride with confidence, so it might be nice to pop in there now and see how it feels with almost two full extra seasons of snow miles under my belt.

I mention this for a few reasons. The first is of course as a disclaimer on the review itself. But the second and more interesting reason is because it draws out just how much this seemingly little mountain has to offer to someone in the different phases of their progression, and how each year opens up different aspects letting you see the mountain with fresh eyes.

It's not big. Lets just get this out of the way. Its a medium sized japanese resort. And when i look at trail maps for places like steamboat or whistler, I'm reminded that japan seems to exist on a different scale. Its 1000m vertical, but it does cram this into some pretty decent gradients so almost every course aside a few beginner ones down towards the base are around 20 degrees plus. The max is around 35 though, so dont let me oversell it. There are plenty of things to do for all ranges though, so because i have experience of being in two of those three relative stages, lets try and explain it on those grounds.

Beginners:

For beginners you have the base of toomi and iimori. These are both found near escal plaza and are AWESOME places to learn to snowboard. I found toomi was often a bit crowded, so in my first year spent my time on iimori side and had a ball. The runs arent huge or anything, but they're not that challenging, and incredibly friendly to beginners. As i say, toomi can get a bit crowded, so maybe if it is your first time, head across to iimori. Very few people bother with it so you have lots of space to just do your thing.

Once you progress though to the point you're linking your turns, you really really HAVE to get on the gondola. The reason is this: goryu/47 has one of the most serene and beautiful little paths you'll run. Its called the panorama course and runs along the edge of 47 side. Its a gem. When you are on this nice mellow winding path with trees at one side, and on the other these majestic white mountains, you'll think you died and went to snowboard heaven :) I rode it in my first season with two friends. we made sure we were the last ones riding down and just took it really gently. It was a stunning moment. No noise, no idiots flying up behind you at a 100mph, just us, and these massive mountains looking over us. It was a moment of absolute serenity. (Of course it led to us arriving at the base of 47 after the buses stopped and us having to trek back to goryu with all our stuff not realising quite how far it was :)) Still, it was a ride that will stay with me until i die and it's the reason I can't and won't ride that line ever again lest i end up sullying it :)


(not the path, but a beginner snowboarder (although a long time skier) riding with the alps as her backdrop).

Beginners won't feel like they're excluded from this mountain. Once they do start progressing they'll quickly find new challenges to overcome all over the mountain which obviously means they won't be getting bored here for quite a while. Indeed my aim at the end of season 1 was to get my ass back to hakuba the next year and hit up r-1 without splatting on my face! There is A GREAT DEAL for beginners to sink their teeth into.

Intermediates.


(looking up near the base of R-1)

Intermediates will love goryu/47. It's like the entire mountain was created purely for the enjoyment of the intermediate snowboarder. The beginner terrain is quickly bypassed with a trip up the gondola providing you access to some really fun and decently longish runs. Another short lift up and you're at the top. Here you get to decide which side you come down the mountain. Both sides are good old fashioned perfectly crafted red runs. None of this beginner runs masquerading as red runs, these are proper kick your teeth in runs that can spank the unwary about a bit.

Both sides have very different styles. The 47 side is a semi-steep bomber with side activities. That is, it's pretty much a straight charge to the bottom with a few hairy moments and some detours to more difficult/easier lines ultimately still coming back around to that R-1 course. R-1 is a pure ripping course and very fast. People who want to improve their carving or stability at speed are going to love it. It doesn't just hand you your turns on a plate. If you want to let go of the brakes it will either kurb stomp you, or lovingly push you into speeds that make your peripheral vision go sheer grey scaring the pants off you (season 1 true story).

Alongside the park, it really characterises that side of the mountain and helps illustrates why 47 is considered the really strong part of goryu/47. The terrain is superb in the alpine downhill sense and will easy have you dropping huge carves if you honestly have the nuts for it.

Speaking of the park: Again, japan scale versus everywhere else, its not long, but the features (cut into three lines for ability going from simple for beginners to bloody insane for experts) are fantastic and probably the best in Nagano if not japan. It's only got a few hits, but they're pretty much top notch (as i understand it). When i think of incredible park riders in japan, the first place i honestly think of is hakuba 47.


(the IMMACULATELY maintained park in the middle of april).

******

On the goryu side you have a clean face leading into either a twisty turny pseudo green run path or a mogul field from hell. Now why this is different is simply this: whereas the 47 side is a little on the chargy side, the goryu red runs are more about choppy gnarly bobbly terrain that wants to kick the living crap out of you. When i think of the 47 side I think of the sheer joy of just charging at ridiculous speeds. When I think of the goryu side i think of my face smashing into the snow. :) Its a sneaky jerk. The face is decent and steep, but gets chopped and cut up to crap and will spank you around. Its a great place to learn to deal with chop is what i'm trying to say. On a non powder day its not all that fun. In fact i'd dare say it moves rapidly from a red to a double black diamond from the sheer hell involved in riding it, but really that's not where this side comes into its own.

It comes into its own on a drop. When this place gets hit, it gets seriously dumped on and comes spectacularly to life. (I guess this doesn't just apply to intermediates). This face suddenly turns from a straightforward choppy course from hell into a nice and relatively steep playground. Its great fun just running up and down the chair lift walls and trying to take on all the cut in bumps and bobbles without any worries for your own safety. If it's dumping in hakuba and you're riding around 47, chances are you're probably doing it wrong. Sure, 47 is fun and indeed its so much fun that i almost never discovered this little fact because it had loads of powder too, but when its dumping, get to the top of goryu and regress once again into a 10 year old (or if you're a ten year old, become a 6 year old).


(playing in the pow at the top of goryu - though the dude in the pic has a very different interpretation of that particular moment :))

One last place to mention is the deceptive little monster at iimori serviced by the cosmo chair 4 lift. You can pick your line here, there's three or four different runs. 'It looks a bit steep, but probably doable' you might think. But honestly, I've seen WAY too many people come a cropper in this area :) Its tougher and steeper than it looks. Throw in some standard choppy conditions (sorry hakuba fans when i think of hakuba the word chop always comes into my head), and this run will hurt you. As i say, possibly due to it being the easiest to access red run area from the base it may just be too many people trying one of the toughest red lines on the mountain and getting chewed up by the conditions, but i see more people on their arse and face than riding the straight whiskey course (who the hell gave it that name) than anywhere else i've been. This one area is utterly merciless. I've definitely been spanked about by the hardpack mountains stealthily hiding under the snow so i know just how evil this little place can be.


(top of iimori looking down, courtesy of bugs).

Basically what hakuba 47/goryu has in spades is genuinely challenging intermediate rides. We've all ridden lines that state they're intermediate and thought "you cant be fekkin' serious?" Shiga kogen for instance has LOADS of them. Hakuba (and this might be clouded by the fact i still couldn't ride them confidently by the time i left) really feels like it tells you the absolute objective truth and not just some silly designation system grading their runs based on the difficulty of the other runs surrounding it. Intermediate runs here really feel like they're a decent challenge and will kick you about a bit if you're not on point.

Advanced:

Here's the weakest link in the goryu/47 chain. I'm not going to include the park, since if you're a park rat clearly you're going to decide based on features that i wouldn't dare hit if i went through another 6 lifetimes of riding. The park either stands or falls based on what you want out of a park, and i honestly have no idea what that is.

So i'm sticking with the groomers.

And that's part of the problem. Goryu/47 has some great lines in the off piste, but bloody hell dont bother mate. Chances are you will get nicked by ski patrol and its zero tolerance. If youre nabbed out of bounds, the pass is taken off you and you're kicked out of the resort.

No one i know who enjoys a bit of rope ducking has not had their passes taken off them from hakuba ski patrol. There is however a new policy in effect. If you attend a safety lecture and pay a small fee (1000yen) you are allowed apparently to ski a few unmarked areas out of bounds. There are snags in this, in that the lecture is all in japanese and you cant just ski out there on your own. If youre pulled by patrol you may get bollocked for not being a group. You can find some details half way down this page:
http://www.hakuba47.co.jp/winter/en/school/activity.php

Hakuba goryu/47 has always been pretty strict, i heard a rumour a few years back that this is because they expect someone to create an avalanche one day that rips through toomi. I dont really know how true this is, but i like salacious gossip so i'll happily continue the rumour. :p

The upshot is that if you really want off piste snowbording, chances are this won't be the place for you. Cortina and some parts of happo are a much better choice, and tsugaike and iwatake also have a slightly less enforced policy if i recall. They will find you on goryu. Oh yes, do it a few times and it's all but guaranteed you're getting nabbed.   

So what of the in bounds lines? Well really theres only three specific lines. Obviously some of those intermediate lines are technical enough and can rapidly change from red to black based on the snow conditions, so it's not exactly barren. The firthest out is R-3 on the 47 side. It's your standard steep mogul affair. A short course, but miserable if its hard pack. Unless you love your moguls, it's probably not going to be too much fun. Similar on the goryu side is the championship course. Only its longer, steeper, and deceitful. I say deceitful because it tricks you into thinking it's soft pack and fun for a bit before launching into these deep miserable hellish iced up foot torturing mounds of sheer brutality. I'm not bloody kidding. I rue the ONE TIME i decided to ride it. I RUE IT!!! :)

That leaves the adventure course. The adventure course is FUN. It's not huge by any means, and its a tiny little gate that you wouldn't entirely notice if you weren't looking for it. The course itself reminds me of a lift run in that it's full of powder, bobbles and mayhem. It's a nice little ungroomed spot where you get to muck about in a bit of (usually chopped up) powder unless you're super early. Ski patrol often close the course around 2pm if i remember right, and isn't always open since they make daily decision on it. As i say, when it's open it's a lot of fun though, and gave goryu/47 something fun and interesting for advanced riders to play with outside of mogul fields, park, DBD club, praying for powder, or hitting another resort altogether.

Conclusion:


(the alps as backdrop (taken late november by the way) and a bit of a sense of the scale with all the teensy people)

This review has been a teensy bit more extensive than i anticipated. I didn't think there would be all that much to say about the resort, but as ever my yammering found yet another outlet. This of course means i'm likely going to repeat myself in the conclusion. So instead, here's some highlights:

1. Hakuba goryu/47 is MADE for intermediates.
2. The park and its facilities are top notch, though it will be considered a bit short by worldwide standards.
3. On a pow day hakuba explodes.
4. On a non pow day it gets chopped up bloody quick.
5. Out of bounds skiing/boarding will more often than not result in you losing your pass.
6. It's a brilliant little place with lots of life.
7. Conditions change everything around here. Since most of the terrain is red, and the average is somewhere around 20-28 degrees, the mountain can go from super fun and easy to ride, to super challenging based entirely on how cut up or powdery it gets. I know that's true of a lot of places, but few are so heavily intermediate as this place.   
8. the 47 side has arguably the more difficult and interesting terrain. But the goryu side feels like it gets hit better in a dump.
9. No one is going to have a shitty time here if you come for a few days. Advanced riders might start feeling a bit penned in after a few days though.
10. Its not just all about the mountain. The whole atmosphere of the area makes this a top place to visit. Its easy access for foreigners, has a great community vibe, is cheap, easy to organise, and is just a great place all round for a twenty-thirty something snowboarder and their mates (it definitely has a young snowboarder vibe to it).

Overall the place is pretty much one of the first in Japan you're likely to hit up and with good reason. Although happo1 is the apparent jewel in the crown of hakuba, 47/goryu is not just basking in happos sunshine. It defiantly shines its own little light admirably, and anyone who just wants a nice vibe and good times is going to love the feel of this place. Definitely a top resort in Japan if a little on the pokey side for you BIG MOUNTAIN!!!! Americans out there.

Oh and did i mention that this place gets puked on fairly regularly? No? Silly me. This place gets puked on. And when it dumps, it goes proper mental :)

****************

I wanted to fit the pics into the review, but honestly they don't really link in well to the points i made, so instead, here's some remaining ones all mashed up :)


(keep your browns and blacks at home - park rats clipping in).


(it is quite pretty eh :))


(finally, me, my scope, and some hakupow :)).
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 1:59am
Don't get what all the hype is over this place. It's so-so...I would much prefer nozawa or shiga kogen(not to mention those 2 places are usually way less crowded). It does have a pretty nice park though.

Meh, maybe it's because I havent been there on a nice pow day but my opinion of the place is pretty low.

Good review though. Do one for Cortina ... that and Hokkaido is where I think I'll hit for sure next year. I'll probably do Nozawa again too. I really do love that place. (even with the shatty flats)
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 2:27am
id love to do cortina, but i kept failing to get out there. :) Still maybe you can save me the bother of a nozawa review. I want to write one, but it was two days, i was just cruising so i doubt i covered enough of it to do a decent review of it. Id LOVE to do a review of zao but almost teh same story and also tinged with getting in a huff about the lifts and the feeling it was more catering to skiers or tourists than snowboarders. I really need to hit that place again i think.

If youre still up for a ride remember 47 is still running and the park looks stunning for mid april. Heres the thread on snowjapan about it.

http://www.snowjapanforums.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/408311/How_does_Hakuba_47_manage_to_k.html#Post408311

Whats yoru quiver looking like now? Hero, artifact, reverse crew? Oh, and since youre here, do you mind if i steal that pic showing the top of iimori from your facebook. I like that it really captures the steepness of it. If no, thats cool, I know not everyone wants their pics any old place :)

(ps. nozawa is way better, and shiga is way more diverse - though i think its terrain is pretty rubbish :))
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 9:08am
Haha, I'll shoot myself before I write a review.

And I'm done for the season so I'm selling almost everything I have in preparation for next season. Reverse crew I got rid of 2 months ago and I just got rid of the hero and custom v few weeks back. Going with a quiver of 2 next season. I really don't go enough to justify having 3 or more boards. I think I rode my RC like once...Mostly used the custom v and hero. Anyway, next season will just be my artifact plus my new all mountain freestyle board whatever that will be. (leaning towards rome agent rocker or mod rocker)

Oh, and np about using the pic!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 9:54pm
excellent review ippy. I went there twice in japan and i loved it!

i learnt to snowboard on toomi and iimori and i thought i managed to pick it up pretty quickly.. didn't have any complaints over goryu and 47 was great on the powder day when we got there early and had so many fresh tracks!

on our last day we trecked it all the way out to cortina, spent 6000 yen on a cab and all the lifts were closed! just our luck hey!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 11:18pm
I've got quite a few photos of 47/goryu, but the sites saying the pictures are way too big at 4 times the allowed Kb to be uploaded here, and i don't know how to resize them.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 11:34pm
facebook auto resizes pictures. But if you can be bothered just pop into ms paint and you can edit them there pretty easy. All pics are welcome since i looked at my pics last night and maybe 2 are salvageable :/
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/16/2011 at 11:43pm
okay i'll give paint a go. mine aren't particularly good either to be honest, there's a few decent ones though.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Apr/17/2011 at 5:11pm
pics up :) Mine are the crappy ones, the two really nice ones are 1. the park pic from snowjapan, and 2. Bugs pic looking down on iimori.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Dec/26/2011 at 2:04am
am going to hakuba in late feb is it possible to visit all 8 resorts in the valley in 8 days
<a target=_top href=http://sessions.searchpluswin.com/?cmd=sb-register&rb=439235> <img alt=Search & Win title=Search & Win border=0 src=http://prodegebanners.sitegrip.com/images/sessions-468x60.jpg></a>
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: Dec/26/2011 at 2:55am
yes. buses go to them all from outside the main train station. The furthest one out (cortina) is about 30 minutes away. 
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