The directions to Hakuba House took us along expressways, tiny streets, black wing-tipped castles, snow-dusted valleys, all the way along known and unknown roads to Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture. We bisected the five-hour drive with a stopover at Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto City. It’s the second-oldest castle in Japan and is more than 500 years old! The black siding and traditional winged eves give it the nickname ‘crow castle.’ Really, really cool! Ice everywhere and abundant water meant someone was bound to suggest a 15-second challenge. Success!We knew we were in Hakuba when the van stopped making forward progress…so we stopped and the guys put on the snow chains. We checked in and skied over to the slopes. By the time we all scrambled uncoordinatedly through the fresh powder the lift was only open for another hour. Should we buy a two day ticket for about $85 just so we can go up once this evening?? What to do…what to do….then we saw a sign. Single lift tickets are only 400 yen. So instead of a 3800 yen afternoon lift ticket, or an all-day 5200 yen ticket, we can pay as we go for way less. A perfect solution, given how long it takes us to get down the mountain!! And a fine time was had by all!