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Emerging from a sea of lush green forest Yamazaki-san and his wife Kuniko-san stepped out to discover the magnificent hidden beauty below. There he first gazed upon two stunning lakes; Penketo and Panketo (meaning “upper lake” and “lower lake”) sheltered in the vast tree-filled landscape of Akan National Park in Hokkaido Japan. His eyes had never witnessed such natural beauty. He stood there to breathe it all in and a powerful sense of peace overcame him. He knew at that moment he was home.

Mixing pleasure with business Yamazaki-san moved from Yokohama in 1979 to pursue his dream of building a ski lodge. The lodge he had designed boasts a unique style, featuring floor to ceiling doorways that convey a spacious cathedral-like feel when entering a room. When conceiving a name Penke Panke immediately jumped to mind as it was the perfect match to the astonishing natural beauty of Hakuba, his new home.

Lush Hakuba Valley in Summer

Panketo Lake, the namesake of the Lodge

Justin St. Baker and Yamazaki-san

It wasn’t long before Penke Panke turned into a sensation around the village through its legendary parties.  The reputation continues today and has intensified significantly with the opening of the Penke Bar in 2011, one year following Yamazaki-sans’ agreement to sell his much-loved lodge to Justin St. Baker.

Lucky for us, Yamazaki is Penke family and remains in close contact with the lodge. Be warned if you bump into him today and ask for help carrying your bags he will turn you down because (as he puts it) he has a broken heart. Traditionally this type of information conjures something quite different for North Americans. During the height of the ski season, Yamazaki-san’s 26th in business, he suffered a severe blood clot in his leg. A heart disease diagnosis followed and soon a pace maker with the forced need to slow down. Not an easy undertaking for the spirited proprietor, who made breakfast for the guests, took reservations, rented gear, taught ski lessons, and was handy man to fix-ups in all areas of the lodge. He may claim to have a broken heart but we know he is now turbo charged! 

Japan’s booming economy leading up to the Nagano Olympics was echoed through the impressive growth in the area. Mimicking the ski philosophy, what goes up must come down, the economy crashed in 1999 and Hakuba Ski vacations took a big hit as did Hakuba’s off-season development. You may have noticed the numerous tennis courts in the area. Rumor has it that the Emperor was planning a visit. Due to his love of tennis over 30 tennis courts soon popped up. That’s right, 30. The emperor played for two hours and on one court only. Happily Japan’s excellent reputation grows as one of the best ski destinations in the world today adding to its blossoming economy in Hakuba.  We certainly will be ready for when tennis enthusiasts make Hakuba their summer stay!

Justin (known as Juzzi) shares Yamazaki-son’s hands-on work ethic as you can witness in the on-going growth of the lodge. First year (2009) Juzzi was jumping with renovations while in newly found mode of running a lodge. The Penke Bar was introduced and with it live music, movies, and fun theme parties. This year’s focus is on extensions to facilitate a second dry room and the grand opening of the Penke Bistro currently under construction for the up-coming ski season!

The ski hill at Penke Panke's door was
used for the Nagano Olympics in 1998

So how did an Australian end up in Japan? Juzzi has been hitting the slopes since the tender age of 6 when his father first strapped him into a pair of skis. Snow was not an easy find growing up in sunny Sydney Australia where the nearest mountain was a 5-hour drive from home but it wasn’t long before he was hooked.  

As a student Juzzi stretched out his education for 6 years in order to take full advantage of Student Visas abroad. He worked nights and snowboarded by day at Heavenly Ski Resort in Tahoe California and Beaver Creek Colorado attending to guest services as well as giving lessons for new snowboarders. Eventually Juzzi graduated with a B.Com in Applied Finance and secured a position as a junior planner at the prestigious National Australia Bank, one of the four largest financial institutions in the country. Within two years Juzzi was promoted from team manager to division manager, overseeing a large team of employees and contractors.

Never one to hang up his ski equipment for long, ski vacations to Japan turned into hanging up his business suit for good! Combining his talent with numbers with his passion for snow sports he met with Yamazaki-san’s high standard to take over as proprietor of Penke Panke. His years being a student snow bum paid off as the experience he gained abroad helped to prepare him for the next chapter in his exciting new life in Hakuba. To top it off nicely Juzzi enjoys lying on the beach in beautiful Vancouver BC during the off-season while taking advantage of the lush landscape through hiking, biking, camping, swimming and boating. Like many Auzzie’s, he has an adventurous soul with a great sense of play.

In July 2012 Panketo lodge was purchased next to Penke Panke with fellow Auzzies Chris Dalan and Wesley Opie, past guests of Penke Panke. The new lodge will maintain the same level of excellence as Penke Panke yet has a sweet Ski Chalet charm all its own.

Come visit! 

Panketo Ski Lodge, the latest addition to
the Penke Panke family of properties.