We left the the city of Nagano (a piece of Olympic history) behind on a relaxing 75-minute bus ride through the foothills of the Japan Alps. Arriving at the Hakuba Happo bus station, we changed buses for a final 20-minute ride to the Green Plaza Hotel at Cortina.
An Instagram-worthy building all by itself, the Green Plaza’s fanciful, larger-than-life architecture whisks you away from reality into a surreal fairytale experience. Our massive two-story hotel room offered plenty of space to spread out all our ski gear to dry after a day of skiing. The big advantage of staying here comes early in the morning, when you're able to get access to the first runs of the day. After breakfast dressed in our traditional yukatas that came with the room, we grabbed our skis from the lockers and walked out in our slippers to put them first in the lift line. We walked back to the hotel room, got dressed, had a second coffee, and ten minutes before the lift opened, walked down to our skis that were now first in a 100-meter line. The trick is to get your skis in line before the buses arrive from other resorts around the valley.
Depending on the day and how many people showed up in the morning, we made our decision on where to take the first run. If less people were around, we took a run straight under the top lift. On big crowded days, we took a left off the lift and ducked the rope for some of the best tree skiing that Hakuba has to offer. A sidecountry run off the back of the resort takes you down to a creek leading around to the neighboring ski resort of Norikura, where you can jump on another lift to get back where you started.