I had heard some good things about Cortina so, with fresh snow forecast, I added an extra day onto my Hakuba trip to check it out.
Based in Happo-one, I took the first (8.50) bus from Happo Information Centre but everyone else had obviously had the same idea and some people couldn't get on the bus! The journey takes about 40 minutes, so you can be on the bottom chairlifts inside an hour of leaving Happo, which isn't bad but first tracks will be harder to come by unless you go off-piste.
On the day I went there was about 20-30cm of fresh snow and much (though not all) of it had been tracked out by the time I was boarding the no.2 quad lift at about 9.45. One exception was the Giant Course that ski patrol were still checking out when I glided by, but a long lift line had already formed (for the no.5 pair lift) so I decided to continue on up to the top instead.
Riding solo at a new resort, I reluctantly decided against going through the top gate alone and instead headed along the Mt Hieda Ridge Course and down what turned out to be the Sky View Slope in Hakuba Norikura! There was a good foot or so of powder here so I lapped that a few times before heading down to what I thought was going to be the Cortina base. I soon realised that it wasn't but still had no idea that I was in Norikura so unwittingly went back up the Norikura lift (Alps No.9 pair lift) and did another top to bottom run. This time the Norikura liftie pointed out my mistake and stopped me from using the lift, so I had to traverse across to the Cortina lifts (no.s 6,7 & 8) which share the same lower slopes. As is turned out, this wasn't a bad thing because I found a large area of untracked powder between the no.6 lift and the no.1 pair lift/Ipponmatsu Course which runs back to the Cortina base. Nothing gnarly but no-one else was doing it, so that kept me going for the rest of the morning.
After lunch I went up the other side (skier's left) of the mountain but by that time everything had been tracked out and the sun had gone in, so I decided to call it a day. I can't finish this review without mentioning the Hotel Green Plaza, which is the huge, red-roofed, northern European-styled hotel that dominates dominates the base of the resort. Love it or hate it, it certainly gives the place an alpine feel, which I quite liked in a Colditz way.
So, overall I enjoyed Cortina and that was without venturing into the off-piste areas that everyone raves about. I will therefore have to return there another time with someone who knows the mountain. If you haven't got a car, I would recommend staying near the slopes to secure first tracks but unless you've got money to spare, not at the afore-mentioned Hotel Green Plaza but at some of the smaller and I guess cheaper places at the bottom of the slope where the no. 6/7/8 Cortina lifts meet and run parallel to the Hakuba Norikura lifts - I think it's called Warabidaira.
You could then access the main Cortina pistes from that side or buy a joint ticket and enjoy both resorts, which is what I will try to do next time.
From 30 December, 2011
Snow condition on visit:
20-30cm of fresh powder
Things I liked:
Reasonably-priced tickets and lots of off-piste fun to be had, if you know where to go
Things I didn't like:
Limited public transportation, accommodation and restaurant options, easy to stray in Hakuba Norikura!