This phenomenal snowbound valley in the spectacular Japanese Alps offers some of the steepest, expansive and panoramic terrain in Japan.
Hakuba is the catch-all name for an endless skier's wonderland spanning Japan's highest mountains. Ski adventurers, we defy you to get bored! The Hakuba Valley lift pass provides access to not just one but ten individual ski areas and although there’s liberal snowfall, the mountains of Hakuba also enjoy a good number of clear, sunny days: win, win. Hakuba is foreigner-friendly and the accommodation options are as varied as the skiing – whether staying in vibrant Happo Village, hiding away amongst the trees in pretty Wadano, or hunkering down elsewhere in a mountain cabin.
You could combine Hakuba with other resorts in the Japanese Northern Alps, and also easily build in time to experience Tokyo, Kyoto and Takayama.
Skiing in Hakuba
Hakuba encompasses a mind-boggling catchment area, with over 200 pistes, numerous terrain parks, and backcountry for days. The powder is plentiful and fluffy and it's a haven for cruising, with well-groomed pistes and good fall line opportunities. That said, the steepest mountains in Japan also offer some of the most challenging piste and backcountry skiing in the country. Popular areas such as Happo One and Goryu / Hakuba 47 can get busy, but you can normally make fresh tracks further out – in Cortina and Norikura for example. Night skiing is offered from December to the end of March in four of the resorts.
In Japan, powder often proves a challenge even on groomed runs, and there are deeper stashes to be found across Hakuba. You should make for Cortina and get up high if you want to be free to tackle it, though, as most of the other mountains have a very conservative attitude towards off-piste and tree skiing, and are patrolled religiously. It all boils down to safety: there’s a world of backcountry and heli-skiing to be enjoyed as long as you’re with a reputable guide. We’re particularly fond of the mellow backcountry in Tsugaike.
Big old mountains mean challenging steeps; try Hakuba 47 – which connects conveniently with Goryu (home of the moguls) – and the runs from the top of Adam Gondola on Happo One. While there, we recommend getting up high for the powder fields of Reisen Grat, and following in the footsteps of Olympians at Kurobishi Olympic Downhill. Smaller Cortina, further out, is worth the schlep for deep powder, jagged terrain, and good tree and backcountry skiing serviced by efficient lifts. There are several terrain parks dotted about the valley.
Long, uninterrupted skiing days are the norm, with most of the mountains geared up for intermediates. Heavenly sweepers part the forest of popular Happo One, where you’ll also have fun racing down the Olympic Women’s Downhill course, or taking a stab at the powder off-piste. Iwatake is known for well-groomed, scenic runs; and Tsugaike has appealing, gentle backcountry skiing.
The sheer scale of Hakuba makes it great for beginners – there’s no need to ever get bored of treading the same old tracks. We’d head to Minetaka and the Sakka area of Happo One first, before exploring the top of Goryu Mountain in the during following days. You can test yourself a little more in Iwatake, and escape the crowds in Norikura.
The valley offers great variety for boarders, from Hakuba 47’s exhilarating terrain park and half pipe to the cylindrical, sweeping powder bowls atop Cortina. Long and winding slopes make cruising easy – especially on Happo One – and all of the resorts are accessible if you’re new to the board. A word or two of warning, though: keep your eyes peeled for moguls, and observe the rules regarding off-pisting as Hakuba’s officials don’t go easy on deviants!
While the village at the base of Happo is the main hub, each of the areas have their own personality and are well connected by shuttle. The general trend is an early evening onsen (a traditional hot spring bath) before dinner and drinks, so bars tend to open later than you may be accustomed to; we say make the most of onsen time – your muscles will thank you. At dinner time, you’ll find everything from international staples – Italian, Indian, American – to relaxed izakayas serving tapas-style Japanese; you might need to book if you have your heart set on a particular place. Dining in nearby Hakuba town proper is great fun and much more immersive – be prepared to point to your pick! The bars are lively, but dancing until the wee hours is the preserve of Echoland’s bars and clubs.
Hakuba is a great choice as there is simply so much variety: children will be kept entertained at the ski school, or by qualified child-minders; Mum and Dad can cruise the upper mountain runs or tackle the powder; and teenagers can join them, or head to one of the terrain parks. If you need to recharge or reconnect, we can arrange a variety of tours, and the accommodation gives you plenty of options: take your pick from facility-packed hotels, private chalets or a small, peaceful ryokans.