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Skiing in Hakuba, Japan: Uber chic chalet

Aside from prettifying so many homes here in Singapore, Design Intervention’s Nikki Hunt is also turning her attention to a different – and much colder! – part of Asia for her renovation projects. We asked Nikki about her work on the Hakuba Mountain Lodge, an über-chic chalet in the ski-fields of Japan.

Where is the lodge and how do you get there?
It’s at Hakuba, one of the venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Hakuba has over 200 ski-runs with 139 lifts, and probably the widest variety of terrain in Japan.

While Niseko on the northern island of Hokkaido is quite a trek from Singapore – it involves taking another flight from Tokyo – Hakuba is on the main island of Honshu, just two and a half hours by train from Tokyo. You can take an early morning flight and be in the lodge for dinner (and, for those who are really keen, a spot of night-skiing after dinner!).

How did the opportunity for this project arise?
I was first introduced to Hakuba by a client who had bought a rundown ski lodge in Japan and came to Design Intervention to help coordinate the renovation. After just one visit, I fell in love with the place. I bought a lodge, too.

Hakuba Mountain Lodge was originally a small, Japanese-style guesthouse. The Design Intervention architectural team fully remodelled it to create a luxurious private ski chalet with all the comforts of a 21st-century ski lodge while retaining a Japanese feel. So, the chalet is decorated with original Shoji screens, wood panelling and rough-hewn wooden pillars and beams.

How did the project unfold? Was it a positive experience?
As this was my third project in the area, I already had a good relationship with a local builder. Working with Japanese contractors is a dream; their attention to detail and pride in their work is amazing. It was easy managing this project from Singapore. The Design Intervention architects would do the drawings from here so I could have complete control over the project; we would email the drawings across and the local builders would follow our intentions to the letter. Each week, they would send photos and questions. Actually, I visited just once during the construction process and that was mainly to remind myself of the light before picking the final colour scheme for the furnishings. 

Give us a brief “walk-through” of the lodge.
The chalet has five spacious bedrooms (all en suite) and ample rooms for après-ski relaxing – a large living room and separate dining room to seat twelve, plus a cinema room and an additional Japanese style ofuro bathroom, perfect after a hard day on the slopes. The kids are happy relaxing in the cinema room while my husband and I retreat to a pair of tubs with a nice glass of wine.

What about location?
The lodge is about 400 yards from the base station (the largest ski base station in Japan), but comes with a complimentary eight-seater vehicle to explore the surrounding mountain resorts. It’s a seven-minute drive to Happo One, famous for hosting the Alpine skiing events during the 1998 Winter Olympics. But some of the lesser-known mountains are probably my family’s favourites.

What do you like most about Hakuba?
The sunny days. There are few things nicer than being out on a snowy mountain with sunshine and blue skies. The temperature doesn’t get as cold as it does in Japan’s northern resorts, making it more fun for the kids, too. During last Chinese New Year holiday (and despite my Singapore conditioning), I was actually hot and had to remove layers!

And the snow?
With an average annual snowfall of over twelve metres, you are practically guaranteed snow at Hakuba. There were several occasions this season when we had to dig the car out. Japan’s powder snow is legendary, but you have to feel it to believe it; it is drier, softer and lighter than the snow I had been used to in Europe.

Hakuba is actually made up of nine different resorts, each with its own character, so even though we’ve been visiting for several years, there’s still so much to discover. The lodge is near Goryu-47 base station, home to a ski school with probably the best English-language ski instruction in Japan. Instructors pick the kids up and they are off for the day and in very good hands.

This resort has probably some of the best beginner slopes in the world, with a chairlift just for the bunny slopes so that learners are not constantly dragging themselves up the slope for the short traverse down. I first learnt to ski in Meribel, France, and I remember how laborious it was to repeatedly sidestep up the mountain.

For the more adventurous skier, the resort has plenty of black and mogul runs, along with probably the best snow park in the area – it’s a regular site for the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup.

For more information, visit www.hakubamountainrentals.com. Design Intervention clients can enjoy a 10 percent discount off lodge stays.

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