Hakuba

Ski Resorts in Japan

Introduction

Hakuba (白馬村 Hakuba-mura), is a skiing resort in Nagano Prefecture, in the Chubu district of Japan. The name Hakuba which means white horse was derived by the shape of a horse of snow on the mountain side during spring time. Set in the splendid Japanese Alps, Hakuba is made up of eleven separate resorts with a charming village providing a range of brilliant shops and facilities. It is one of the country’s larger skiing areas and has developed a strong international reputation, partly thanks to the amazing on-site Olympic Ski Jumping Stadium.

During the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Hakuba gained world wide recognition as it hosted several olympic competitions, including alpine (downhill, super g, and combination) and nordic (ski jump and cross country) events. Today some of the olympic facilities remain in use, such as the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium. There is also the Hakuba Olympic Village Memorial Hall, a small but interesting museum, located within walking distance of the ski jump.

Set in the splendid Japanese Alps, Hakuba is made up of eleven separate resorts with a charming village providing a range of brilliant shops and facilities. It is one of the country’s larger skiing areas and has developed a strong international reputation, partly thanks to the amazing on-site Olympic Ski Jumping Stadium.

The individual resorts in Hakuba are Cortina, Norikura,Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Happo-One, Hakuba 47, Goryu, Sanosaka, Kashimayari, Jigatake, and Minekata, each with their own individual charm. Happo-One is the most family-friendly, with plenty of activities for children to enjoy.

Hakuba can be reached relatively easily not only from Tokyo, but also from the Nagoya and Kansairegions. While it is possible to do a day trip from Tokyo, Hakuba is best enjoyed overnight. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, there are hot springs (onsen) available around town.

Hakuba info card

  • Average Snow Fall: 11 metres
  • Ski Resorts: 9
  • Vertical Drop: 1071 metres
  • Gondolas: 5
  • Lifts: 115
  • Trails: 151
  • Terrain Parks: 7
  • Ski Hours: 07:30-22:00
  • Ski Season: early Dec – early May
  • Longest Run: 8 km
  • Beginner Terrain: 30% - Plenty of beginner-friendly gentle open runs across Hakuba's 10 ski resorts
  • Intermediate Terrain: 40% - Vast green and red runs for improving and progressing. Powder on the sides of the pistes for those trying it for the first
  • Advanced Terrain: 30% - Challenging steep groomed pistes and extensive off-piste and tree-skiing
  • Backcountry Terrain: Extensive backcountry terrain options and backcountry guiding in English available
  • Tree Skiing: Yes
  • Half Pipe: Yes
  • Night Skiing: Yes
  • Snow Monkeys: Yes


Hakuba Ski Resorts

The Hakuba Valley incorporates 11 ski resorts that offer an expanse of terrain. The Hakuba ski resorts aren’t interconnected via the slopes (except for Hakuba 47 and Goryu, and Cortina and Norikura), but they can be accessed off a common lift ticket and there are free shuttle buses to get around to the different ski areas. The ski resorts from north to south are: Cortina, Norikura, Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Happo-One, Hakuba 47, Goryu, Sanosaka, Kashimayari, Jigatake, and Minekata is on the opposite side of the valley from the town of Hakuba. Check out the Ski Hakuba page for an overview of each of the ski areas to help you decide which resorts you want to go to.

One major advantage of Hakuba is the terrain size on offer with 960 hectares of skiable terrain which equates to 137km of piste and 200+ courses, 135 lifts (5 gondolas) and at least 9 terrain parks.

The Hakuba skiing is varied across the resorts but it’s generally very well suited to beginners and intermediates with many long perfectly groomed runs and fantastic fall-line. Advanced skiers and snowboarders will also love the steep groomers at a few of the resorts, and if you’re into bumps you’ll be in heaven. You can join many of the Japanese who just adore moguls! Freestylers are also well catered for.

Expert riders may get a little frustrated with the uptight approach to tree skiing at many of the Hakuba ski resorts. Some of the resorts are old-school strict whereby off-piste skiing is completely banned and heavily policed, a couple of resorts may tolerate a little bit tree skiing, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, Cortina is a relaxed freeriding powder mecca.

On the plus side if you’re prepared to earn your turns, the Hakuba backcountry skiing and snowboarding can be phenomenal, and powder hounds should consider doing a backcountry tour.


Hakuba Accommodation

Hakuba covers the full spectrum of lodging from backpacker hostels to luxury accommodation. There are lots of Hakuba hotels, some Japanese style pensions where you can sleep on the floor, and uniquely Hakuba also has self-contained apartments and lodges. Hakuba accommodation is situated in various villages near the ski areas, some of which is ski-in ski-out or only a very short walk to the slopes. Happo and Wadano are the two most popular villages to stay in.


Snow conditions in Hakuba

Hakuba’s high altitude benefits from excellent snow coverage and the season runs from December to April, giving skiers plenty of time to explore all the delights the resort has to offer. Ski resorts in Japan are famed for their legendary powder and consistent mass snowfalls each season. Hakuba averages 11m of snow each winter.


Facilities & Services

Hakuba has lots of infrastructure and facilities. Some of it is archaic and stuck back in the bubble era, but recent years have seen upgrades to many lifts, shops, and other amenities.

Hakuba ski rental shops are abundant in the main villages (Happo, Wadano, Echoland) and the staff speak English. There are lots of restaurants and the nightlife is very vibrant (for a Japanese ski area). Childcare and ski and snowboard lessons are also readily available for children or adults.


Apres ski, restaurants and other activities in Hakuba

There are plenty of amazing restaurants available to choose from in Hakuba, offering some extraordinary Japanese cuisine. One of the top eateries is Hummingbird, where skiers can enjoy fresh food in a wonderfully charming atmosphere.

As well as this, travellers can visit the Olympic ski jumping hill to enjoy breathtaking views of the Japanese Alps, while tobogganing, snow-rating and the excellent hot springs are other great options.

Transportation - Get In


By train

Hakuba is a stop on the JR Oito Line.

From Shinjuku in Tokyo, there is one daily Super Azusa limited express service that runs to Hakuba. The ride takes 3 hours, 45 minutes and costs ¥8070 each way. As of November 2009, the outbound service leaves at 07:30, and the inbound service (to Shinjuku) departs from Hakuba at 14:57. There is also an additional Azusa service on certain dates, making the run to Hakuba in about 4 hours.

Otherwise, you will have to take an Azusa or Super Azusa to Matsumoto and take one (possibly two) Oito Line local trains, increasing the journey to 4 1/2 hours.

The fastest route from Tokyo is by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Station to Nagano: 105min./8,170yen. Then by bus from Nagano to Hakuba 65min./1,500yen. Trains run every half hour or so, buses every hour. Note that the last bus from Nagano Station to Hakuba is 8:30PM. This whole trip takes just over 2.5 hours, 9,700yen one way.

These trips are useful for Japan Rail Pass holders, or else it is probably cheaper to take the bus.


By bus

From Tokyo, Buses run from Shinjuku every two or three hours and stop at several places in the Hakuba region. The trip takes around 4 and a half hours and costs ¥8500 return for adults or half that for children. Timetable is online [www]

Buses run every hour during ski season from Nagano and cost ¥1400/¥700 for adults/children. The journey takes just over an hour. Timetable is online [www]

Narita Airport - Hakuba Shuttle - Daily service from Narita Airport to Hakuba during the winter season. Fully licensed under Japanese travel and transport laws. Hakubus [www] Tel: 81-261-75-5360 Email: [email protected]

Transportation - Get Around

  • Outside of the winter months, there are plenty of bike trails and walking paths to get around the area. Many hostels have bike rental which helps if you are a little bit outside of Hakuba proper.
  • If you are based around Kamishiro station, you are on the main rail line and road so a trip into Hakuba proper is only five minutes by JR or by Bus.
  • The Shuttle Bus "Genki-Go" runs from December through March in the evenings from 17:00. Three lines run throughout Hakuba for 300yen a ride.

Hakuba - Ski resorts


Happo one

The Happo One Ski Resort and the Happo Village that sits below it are the tourist and skiing hub of Hakuba Japan. Happo One (pronounced Happo “On Ay” as opposed to the number “one”) is the most popular of the Hakuba ski resorts, and many visitors to Hakuba only ski or snowboard at Happo. The Happo Village has lots of accommodation, and of the Hakuba villages, it has the highest concentration of shops, restaurants, bars, other amenities, and local transport options.

Happo One Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Happo One is a stand-alone resort that is fairly large by Japanese standards, although the official statistics of 13 courses and 220 hectares of piste terrain significantly under-represents the size of the resort. The ski area has a decent amount of vertical (1,071 metres) and a reasonably steep pitch, which made it ideal as the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics slalom and downhill events, as well as the ski jumping.

The ski resort is incredibly well suited to intermediates with lots of groomed runs, and it’s a great place to be a speed demon. Happo also has some beginners’ terrain near the four base areas and piste runs for advanced skiers and snowboarders that are commonly covered in well formed moguls (for those lucky enough to have enough cartilage left in the knees).

Historically Hakuba Happo had a strong reputation for the prohibition of off-piste skiing. The powder police used to be out in force and with lots of deciduous trees, it limited the ability to be sneaky and remain camouflaged. Thankfully the patrollers have relaxed a little about off-piste riding, yet despite this, Happo doesn’t have that much good off-piste terrain in the upper reaches of the resort where the snow quality is optimal.

Where Happo really excels is the access to the Happo North Faces (that I like to call the Happy Faces!), the highly famed alpine backcountry with steep bowls and gnarly lines that sits above and behind the ski resort.

Facilities

Happo One has various on-mountain eateries as well as restaurants at each of the base areas.

You won’t have any difficulties finding ski and snowboard rentals in the Happo and Wadano area .

There are a few options for ski school. Of note, Evergreen provides ski and snowboard group lessons in English for children and adults as well as “English speaking” child care (both a rarity in Japan). Evergreen are located at the Kokusai base and if you’re not staying within easy walking distance, they provide transport.

Season

  • Late November to early May

Lifts

  • 32 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day 5200 yen
  • Half day 4200 yen
  • Nighter 2000 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train - 6 minutes by bus from Hakuba Station.
  • Car - 2.5 kilometers west of Hakuba village center.


Hakuba Goryu

Goryu is one of the Hakuba ski resorts and it shares a common lift pass and is interconnected at the top with the Hakuba 47 Ski Resort. The Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort and Hakuba 47 are good to visit as a day trip from other areas of Hakuba, or there’s a village at Goryu offering a peaceful and family friendly option for a Hakuba holiday.

The nearby Goryu-dake (Mt Goryu) is named after dragons and/or diamonds that can be seen up on the mountain, possibly only by tired skiers whose goggles are fogged up a little?!

Hakuba Goryu Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Goryu Ski Resort is a little larger than neighbouring Hakuba 47 but it’s still modest in size with only 16 courses and 13 lifts (including a gondola and 3 quad chairs). The elevation is from 950 to 1,676 metres, with 726 metres of vertical drop.

The Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort has three skiing zones, two of which have corresponding base areas. The Goryu Toomi Zone is largely for beginner runs and night skiing, and the Iimori Zone primarily has beginner and intermediate runs. The Alps-Daira Zone in the upper reaches of the resort provides mostly intermediate runs.

The official trail stats are 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 25% advanced, yet as is often the case, the statistics don’t quite reflect reality. Goryu has an abundance of great intermediate terrain, but the amount of beginners’ terrain is underestimated. There is loads of space for beginners to learn near the Iimori and Toomi base areas, and the latter extends a decent way up the mountain and is super wide. For fine days there’s also a more challenging green run at the top of the gondola.

Goryu only has 3 black piste trails; a short groomed run that is often icy (so perfect for racing!), and the Champion Expert and Adventure Course that have an undeserved double black diamond status. Mind you, I’ve seen these runs covered in bullet-proof icy moguls much higher than your nipples (depending on where they are?) when the runs are worthy of triple black diamond status. Give me powder any day!

Unfortunately off-piste skiing at Goryu is prohibited and whilst very tempting, the areas around the avalanche fences is understandably really frowned upon. There is some good off-piste skiing to the skiers’ right of the Adventure Course and some great “sidecountry” on the other side, but you’ll probably need to appear invisible or risk losing your lift pass. Goryu also has some great backcountry access above the resort.

Season

  • Mid December to early May

Lifts

  • 13 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day 5000 yen
  • Half day 3980 yen
  • Nighter 1900 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train - 5 minutes by shuttle bus from Kamishiro Station.
  • Car - 4.5 kilometers southwest of Hakuba village center.


Hakuba 47

The Hakuba 47 name originates from the concept of 4 seasons, 7 days a week, but it’s most well known for being the Hakuba 47 Ski Resort, a great Hakuba ski area to head for the day to enjoy the peak of winter.

Hakuba 47 shares a lift pass and is interconnected with the Goryu Ski Resort which is generally much mellower than 47, and what sets it apart from its other Hakuba ski resort counterparts are the fantastic terrain park and the snow quality. The snow gods send down plenty of manna from heaven (11 metres on average per season), and Hakuba 47 has the added bonus of having largely north facing slopes so the snow generally stays in divine condition. Get on that white horse and ride til you get your powder fix!

Hakuba 47 Ski and Snowboard Terrain

By itself the Hakuba 47 ski resort is rather small with only 6 lifts (including a gondola and a fast quad chair), 8 official runs, and 80 acres of piste terrain, yet combined with Goryu it’s a decent sized resort.

Hakuba 47 has a little bit of terrain for the different ability levels. The official trail stats are 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 30% advanced although there are 5 different levels of trail difficulty on the trail map (2 levels of green, red, and 2 levels of black) but the resort is confused as to whether to be European or North American because in reality there are also blue runs!

Hakuba 47 Ski Resort is not the best Hakuba ski resort for beginners, with only a little bit of green terrain. The little powder pups can have lessons near the base where there’s a magic carpet. At the top of the gondola is another small beginners’ area and there’s a difficult green run that snakes down the full 794 metres of vertical.

For intermediates there are a few long steep runs, whilst for advanced riders 47 has a couple of piste runs including the R-3, which is typically covered in really large moguls.

The Big Snow Park is not particularly big in size but some of the kickers are big! The terrain park also includes a half pipe and rails and it’s close to the lifts so it’s great for big show ponies!

Off-Piste Skiing Hakuba 47

To say that the patrollers are uptight about going off-piste would be an understatement, with massive fences and seemingly hundreds of signs to indicate that powder fun is prohibited. This could be very frustrating for the average powder punter and the many deciduous trees make it rather difficult to be discrete. However it is possible to ski off-piste if you’re willing to take the risk of losing your pass, or you wait for low vis days or wear a white outfit! There are some steep trees to the skiers’ left of the quad chair (just don’t drop too low to the creek) or easy trees between the green trail that weaves down the mountain.

The resort also generously offers a very tiny area where you’re allowed to head off-piste if you’re a member of the “Double Black Diamond Club”. To become a member requires that you have the patience of a saint to make it through the arduous Japanese-esque processes.

In the same vein as Happo One, Hakuba 47 provides access to some awesome backcountry terrain above the resort.

Facilities

Most of the ski resort amenities are housed at the base of Hakuba 47. Hakuba 47 Sports Shop has ski and snowboard rentals and sells basic accessories. The Hakuba 47 School Centre offers ski and snowboard lessons in English. Snowboarders can have group lessons in English, but for skiers this is only provided in a private lesson format. Child care is offered in the same area for 2-6 year olds (9-noon and 1-4pm).

The base area has quite a few options for food and drinks including a large cafeteria, a pizza joint, an izakaya, a bar, and a taco outlet.

Season

  • Early December to early May

Lifts

  • 6 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day 5000 yen
  • Half day 3980 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train - 10 minutes by shuttle bus from Hakuba Station.
  • Car - 4.5 kilometers southwest of Hakuba village center.


Hakuba Norikura

Hakuba   Norikura   is   not   much   visited   by   foreign visitors  due  to  the  distance  from  Hakuba.  Norikura  is a   medium   sized   resort   next   to   Cortina.   It   lacks Cortina's  tree  runs  and  it  also  tends  to  be  spread across  the  mountain,  rather  than  up  it,  making  most of  the  runs  fairly  short.  It  is  still  big  enough  to  be interesting  for  most  people  and  it  has  a  great  terrain park,   including   a   very   popular   half   pipe.   As   for powder  most  of  the  powderhounds  will  be  next  door at  Cortina,  often  leaving  Norikura’s  runs  untouched so can be a great place to get some freshies.

Season

  • Mid December to early April

Lifts

  • 10 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day3500 yen (4000 yen on weekends and national holidays)
  • Half day2700 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train20 minutes by bus from Minami-Otari Station.
  • Car10 kilometers north of Hakuba village center.

Hakuba Cortina Kokusai

Cortina Hakuba stands out from the other Hakuba ski areas as the best resort for powder hounds. Firstly the off-piste policy at Hakuba Cortina is very relaxed, unlike at the restrictive nearby resorts where you have to be very sneaky or risk losing your lift pass. The tree skiing is loads of fun, the terrain is steeper than at the other Hakuba ski resorts, and Cortina receives more snow. The only downside for powder hounds is that the “secret” of Cortina is out and it’s not quite the powder skiing mecca it once was, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Powder hunters flock from Happo to Cortina Hakuba for day trips, but a multi-day stay at the very striking Green Plaza Hotel or other Cortina accommodation also has many benefits including the convenience of ski-in ski-out accommodation, family friendliness, and a chance to get away from the somewhat westernised hub-bub of Hakuba.

Cortina is also a major drawcard for the real powder hounds (ie the ones with four legs) because next door to the Green Plaza Hotel is Paw Paws, a hotel for the pampered pooches of Japan. And they are pampered! If you think the Japanese love Hello Kitty, wait until you see how much they adore their dogs.

Ski and Snowboard Terrain

The Cortina ski area is reasonably small with only 124 acres (50 hectares) of terrain (which is probably measured as the piste terrain), 503 metres of vertical, 7 lifts and 17 trails. Cortina is interlinked with the Hakuba Norikura Ski Resort (which can be accessed via a combined lift ticket), and in recent years they purchased two little lifts from Norikura which opened up the terrain a little, although it still feels rather small.

With the exception of the former Norikura terrain, the Cortina terrain is enclosed within one bowl. The grooming is exceptional on the highway-wide beginner run through the middle of the resort, the intermediate runs, and the advanced runs which are rather pitchy for a Japanese ski resort. A couple of “ultimate courses” are even steeper and one of the Hiedayama courses has an average pitch of 36 degrees and a maximum of 42.

The real treats for freeriders are in the off-piste zones (aka self-responsibility areas) and the tree skiing is an absolute ripper! There are a myriad of fantastic lines off ridgelines that drop into well spaced trees with moderate to steep gradients. The sidecountry provides even more delights for powder hounds, and the nearby backcountry is also great for stormy days.

Season

  • Mid December to early April

Lifts

  • 9 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day 4000 yen
  • Half day 3000 yen
  • Nighter 1500 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train20 minutes by bus from Minami-Otari Station.
  • Car12 kilometers north of Hakuba village center.


Hakuba Iwatake

Iwatake is one of the ski resorts of the Hakuba Valley. Many of the Hakuba ski areas offer amazing views, but Iwatake is a cut above the rest when it comes to spectacular vistas. From the top of Mt Iwatake there are 360 degree panoramas across to Happo One, the dramatic Japanese Alps, and the Hakuba Valley.

Hakuba Iwatake can be characterised as a great ski area for intermediates. Iwatake Ski Resort also has some steep green runs for confident beginners, a popular terrain park, and a smattering of bumps runs and powder lines for experienced riders, although there’s definitely no terrain that’s a sphincter shrinker for experts.

There is a little bit of Iwatake accommodation but the resort is probably only worth visiting for a couple of days. With lots of regular free buses to Iwatake Snow Field from various Hakuba villages, it’s ideal to visit as a day tripper.

Hakuba Iwatake Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Iwatake is a medium sized resort (by Japanese standards) with 15 courses and a short vertical (539 metres) relative to the other main ski resorts in Hakuba. The ski area is divided into a Village Side and a Mountain Side, with the latter having multiple lifts that converge at the summit of Mt Iwatake so you can ski or snowboard off the top onto various aspects.

Iwatake isn’t as pitchy as Happo One, Hakuba 47 or Cortina, and finds a nice happy medium between steep and mellow that intermediates really enjoy. For those wanting to snort some powder, there are a few open areas that are quasi off-piste. The “view” zone is probably the best for powder where there are some black pistes as well as some trees, although off-piste skiing is not tolerated so you’ll need to be rather discrete.

One potential drawback of Iwatake is that the top of the ski resort has low altitude relative to the other main Hakuba ski fields. The impact on snow quality is particularly apparent during the margins of the season.

The main lift at Iwatake Ski Resort is a gondola called Noah (what is it with the biblical named gondolas at Hakuba?!). There is a decent quad chair and a triple chair, otherwise the other 11 are pair lifts (that they spell “pear”) – perhaps so Noah’s animals can all travel up the mountain in pairs (or is it pears?). Even during peak times not all the lifts run, and it’s a bit of a museum with various defunct lifts as well

Facilities and Activities

The ski resort has good facilities including a large cafeteria at the summit serving a range of typical Japanese ski resort fare. It’s called Restaurant Sky Arc, which is where Noah must keep all the pears of animals! The cafeteria also has a ski-osk, or there’s a larger retail shop at the base selling simple ski and snowboard accessories, snacks, drinks and souvenirs. A popular spot for an après snack is the take-away creperie near the base area.

If you haven’t rented your equipment elsewhere there is a Spicy Rentals shop at the base, or a dodgy looking ski shop across the road from the ski resort if you’re game.

Although not catering to English speaking guests, Iwatake also has a ski school and child care services.

Activities in the area include the Iwatake No-Yu onsen, snow-shoeing on the trails near the picturesque summit, or cross country skiing on a 3km or 5km course.

Season

  • Mid December to early April

Lifts

  • 16 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day4200 yen
  • Half day2900 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train - 15-20 minutes by bus or shuttle bus from Hakuba Station.
    Served by express buses from/to Nagano.
  • Car - 3 kilometers north of Hakuba village center.


Tsugaike Kogen

Tsugaike Kogen is one of the ski resorts of the Hakuba Valley, and it takes the crown of the “Queen of Green” with a massive beginner area and no gnar. The Tsugaike Ski Resort doesn’t offer ski lessons in English, but it’s the ideal spot to teach the kids yourself on super wide mellow slopes without the fear of running into anyone else.

The associated Tsugaike Village is a great spot to stay if you’re looking for a peaceful ski holiday where you can absorb yourself in a Japanese ski village, away from the westernised hub-bub of Happo. Or if you want a holiday with vibrant nightlife and the ease of being able to speak English, stay in Happo Village and just visit Tsugaike for a day trip or two.

Tsugaike Ski and Snowboard Terrain

Hakuba Tsugaike is a decent sized resort with 156 hectares of piste spread across 880 metres of vertical (800 – 1,680 metres). The lower part of the mountain consists of the gigantic beginners’ area that is serviced by multiple chair lifts and is about 350 metres wide. The area is largely devoid of trees, so that only leaves one big bell for novices to potentially run into! More green runs can be found further up the mountain as well as wide groomed red (intermediate) slopes.

As is often the case, the trail stats are rather misleading. Supposedly 20% of the piste is advanced (black), but there are only 1.25 black runs and the quarter run doesn’t deserve its single diamond status. So those who love bashing their knees on steep moguls will want to head to Happo One or Goryu.

Advanced powder hunters might find some fun off-piste in the trees, particularly off the Tsuga No. 2 lift. Ski patrol have a reputation for being rather strict and confiscating lift tickets for those who dare to chase the pow, but when we visited they just seemed to turn a bit of a blind eye to it. So if you want to head off-piste, perhaps find a happy medium between being respectful and being discrete, and be prepared for the associated risks.

Tsugaike Kogen is well reputed for the backcountry access. Backcountry riding is permitted by the ski patrol, except in one zone where it previously avalanched onto the ski area.

The Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort is also popular for the terrain parks that are scattered across the resort. The best hit park is located at the top of the resort, although sometimes it doesn’t get into full swing until later in the season when the weather is kinder.

Lifts

Tsugaike Kogen has rather impressive lift infrastructure. The Tsuigake gondola takes a while to get from the bottom to the top, but it travels at a decent speed to cover the lengthy distance. The resort has another 22 lifts including lots of fast quad chairs and an assortment of other chair lifts.

The Panorama Ropeway rises from above the top of the gondola, but during winter it is teasingly closed. From mid March onwards the ropeway (cable car) usually opens up, making the access to the true backcountry Kogen (highlands) much quicker.

Tsugaike Hakuba Heli Skiing

Or if you really want to get up into the backcountry quickly there’s always a helicopter! Japan heli skiing is a bit of a rarity, so the Tsugaike heli skiing which starts in spring time is rather popular. It’s reasonably affordable so it’s worth going solely for the thrill of the helicopter ride and the amazing scenery, or if you’re new to heli skiing and are happy to ride a mellow slope. But don’t go if you’re dreaming of steep and deep virgin snow. This is an unusual heliski operation where they use the same drop zone and route, so unless you’re lucky enough to be the first down, fresh tracks are far from guaranteed.

Facilities

In addition to a cafeteria near the top of the resort, many of the hotels and pensions that sit alongside the green slopes near the base double as restaurants for lunch, so there are choices galore for Japanese fare. Other options include eateries with western food such as pizza or the obligatory crepes. Or if you feel you’ve absorbed enough Japanese culture, you can always sacrilegiously retreat to KFC.

For the kids there’s a snow park with tubing and play equipment. There is also a day care centre if you need child minding, but don’t hold high hopes for the staff being able to speak English.

At the base is a small ski shop with basic ski and snowboard equipment rentals. The shop also sells some ski and snowboard accessories and a few sundries.

Tsugaike has an onsen near the base of the gondola as well one a little down the road; perfect for a therapeutic soak after a big day on the slopes. Or if you can cope with the supposed “onsen flowers” (that suspiciously just look like gunk!) you can bathe your tootsies in the foot onsen.

Season

  • Late November to early May

Lifts

  • 26 lifts

Tickets

  • Full day4900 yen
  • Half day3900 yen
  • Nighter2000 yen

Access

  • Bus/Train - 30 minutes by bus or shuttle bus from Hakuba Station.
    Served by express buses from/to Nagano.
  • Car - 7 kilometers north of Hakuba village center.

Ski Area

The skiing at each of the Hakuba resorts offers something unique, and getting a taste of multiple areas is one of the attractions of Hakuba Japan.

The Happo One ski resort is the most popular of the resorts and for many visitors to Hakuba it’s considered the Hakuba ski resort. It’s fairly large, has a lot of vertical, and is reasonably steep. Happo One is best known for the many long groomed intermediate slopes, the bumps, and the access to the renowned alpine backcountry.

Possibly the next popular is the combined Hakuba 47 and Goryu ski resorts. Hakuba 47 has terrain suitable for advanced riders with steep long fast runs and an excellent terrain park and half-pipe. The terrain at Goryu is mainly beginner and intermediate, with long wide trails and gentle slopes.

Iwatake features wide open runs and is well suited to intermediates and confident beginners, and is also popular for the terrain park. It’s also best known for the 360 degree views that are a fraction more spectacular than at the other Hakuba ski resorts.

Tsugaike is superb for beginners and ideal for intermediates, and is also known for access to the relatively mellow backcountry and the spring heli skiing.

Cortina is generally the favourite of powder hounds and provides steep tree skiing fun and lift-accessed sidecountry. Sometimes it’s a bit like a zoo on a powder day though!

Interconnected with Cortina is Norikura which has lots of beginner and intermediate runs that are often devoid of traffic.

Sun Alpina consists of 3 interconnected resorts (Sanosaka, Aokiko, and Kashimayari), although Aokiko has been closed recently which has affected the interconnection of the resorts. Kashimayari is renowned for the night skiing, whilst Sanosaka is a bit of an all-rounder.

Minekata is just a wee little resort that has mostly intermediate terrain.

Hakuba Skiing and Snowboarding

  • Best beginner terrain: Tsugaike*
  • Best intermediate terrain: Happo One
  • Best advanced on-piste terrain: Hakuba 47/Goryu
  • Best expert terrain: Cortina
  • Off-piste terrain: Cortina
  • Best tree skiing Hakuba: Cortina
  • Best sidecountry (easily accessed backcountry): Cortina
  • Uncrowded slopes: Hakuba 47/Goryu
  • Best lift infrastructure: Tsugaike
  • Best terrain park: Hakuba 47/Goryu

Hakuba Snow

  • Best powder: Cortina
  • Highest likelihood of freshies: Iwatake, Tsugaike

Ski lifts & pass

Hakuba Lift Tickets

There are a few variations on lift pass combinations that might save you a few dollars, if you absolutely know you’ll ski or snowboard every day. One advantage of multi-resort tickets is that you’re not left wondering if all ski resorts will accept your credit card or not. Nevertheless our recommendation would be just to buy them as you go, because you don’t quite know what the weather will do and there are so many other activities you might want to partake in. Ticket prices for individual resorts vary a little, with Happo-One being the most expensive and Cortina being an example of a cheap resort. The big resorts have electronic chips for tickets that require a small refundable deposit, whilst places such as Cortina have the old fashioned paper tickets.

Many of the Hakuba hotels sell discounted lift tickets.

The Hakuba All-Mountain lift pass offers access to Happo-One, Hakuba 47, Goryu, Iwatake, Tsugaike, Cortina, Norikura, Minetaka and Sanosaka. Pass coupons have to be exchanged daily at each of the resorts, and you can even ride multiple resorts in the one day.

The Hakuba Alpen 3 pass covers Happo One, Iwatake and Tsugaike for non-consecutive days and offers small discounts versus paying as you go.


Day tickets

Peak seasonLow season
AdultSeniorTeenagerChildAdultSeniorTeenagerChild
Day ticket
JPY5,000 ($44.20)
JPY4,000 ($35.36)
JPY4,000 ($35.36)
JPY2,500 ($22.10)
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
2 Days
JPY8,800 ($77.79)
JPY7,200 ($63.65)
JPY7,200 ($63.65)
JPY4,500 ($39.78)
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a

Season tickets

Season ticket

Dec 10, 2016

-

Apr 30, 2017
Pre-selling
AdultSeniorTeenagerChildAdultSeniorTeenagerChild
Season ticket
JPY67,000 ($592.28)
n/a
JPY64,000 ($565.76)
JPY32,000 ($282.88)
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a

Activities & Things to do


Hakuba Backcountry Ski Tours

The Hakuba backcountry is a highlight of the area for those willing to earn their turns. The pinnacle is the Happo backcountry, which has some easy bowls as well as lines of gnar. There are quite a few Hakuba backcountry tour operators, but choose wisely if you want longevity on earth. We’ve seen a couple of tour groups who’ve seemed a little too eager to get out onto the Happo Faces straight after a massive a snow storm.

There are various backcountry and off-piste tour operators. They can cater for varying abilities and the distance hiked or skinned, and they can rent you backcountry gear if you don’t have your own. Tours typically go from the top of Cortina or Tsugaike on stormy days, or Happo-One when the snowpack is adequately settled.


Hakuba Heli Skiing

Alternatively, the Tsugaike Kogen resort offers spring heli skiing. This isn’t typical heli skiing as the terrain is all national park and there are various restrictions on where helicopters can land, so they repeatedly land at the same place. The “backcountry” is very mellow and sign-posted in places (!) so it’s more like tracked out piste than the virgin snow you’d expect from heli-skiing (unless you are lucky to be amongst the first few riders after a fresh dump). It’s still worth it though, just for the thrill of the helicopter ride and the scenery.


Japanese Snow Monkeys

Not far from Hakuba and Nagano is the Jigokudani Monkey Park where the 200 odd “wild” Japanese snow monkeys warm themselves in the hot springs. The monkeys are used to the tourists, and you’ll get very close to these absolutely fascinating monkeys.

Make sure you have an empty memory card and fully charged batteries on your camera, as there will be endless photo opportunities as the monkeys perform very cute activities such as somersaults in the water. There’s a 25 minute hike each way along a scenic path from the bus parking, so wear sensible shoes.

The monkey tour is often combined with a trip to the Nagano Zenkoji Temple which is very enjoyable. This temple is designated a national treasure and has a very long history, which includes the first Buddha image brought to Japan in the 7th century. As to be expected, you have to take off your shoes in the temple, so wear really warm socks or you’ll get frostbite. You can also take a short tour under the temple which apparently provides some spiritual value, but the real fascination is walking around a small tunnel in complete darkness. The streets surrounding the temple demonstrate “traditional” Japanese architecture and have gorgeous lit lanterns.


Other Sightseeing Activities

If you want a break from skiing or boarding, there are various other day tours available where you can take in some history and culture.

One tour is to see the Matsumoto Castle aka the “crow castle” because of its black exterior. The Matsumoto Castle was built about 400 years ago and is the oldest 5 tiered donjon castle in Japan. The Matsumoto castle tour is commonly combined with a tour of the Daio wasabi farm, which provides an opportunity to taste wasabi in many forms including yummy ice-cream.

There are lots of opportunities in Hakuba for touristy Japanese experiences such as soba noodle making, origami folding, sake tasting, and samarai evenings. For the ladies, organised cultural experiences include wearing a kimono, Japanese paper craft, and participating in a tea ceremony.


Other Hakuba Snow Activities

At Happo-One you can visit the ski jumping stadium and take an elevator up to the top of the jumps to appreciate how crazy the ski jumpers must be. Admission is fairly cheap.

Other snow alternatives can include evening fondue snowshoe tours, day time snowshoe tours, or snowmobiling. There’s even a little bit of cross country skiing with trails maintained at the Snow Harp Olympic Cross Country Stadium and the Iwatake Snowfield.


Hakuba Onsens

Of course, an essential part of any Japanese skiing holiday is to go to one of the onsens (hot springs) to soothe any aching muscles. In this mountainous region of Hakuba, the hot springs flow abundantly.

Onsens such as Juro No-Yu and Tenjin No-ju are off the main drag a little, but offer great views of the mountains that make your soak a little more therapeutic. Otherwise there are various options near the main village areas. There are various Hakuba hotels with their own onsen (e.g. Ryokan Shirouma-so, Mominoki Hotel, Tokyu Hotel), some of which are also open to the public for a fee. When you arrive in Hakuba, pick up an onsen guide at the Happo Information Centre.

Sights & Landmarks

Near Hakuba, during the green season (i.e. spring, summer & autumn), there are three freshwater lakes that are so clean that you can swim in them. In order from south to north, they are called Aoki-ko, Nakazuna-ko, and Kizaki-ko. The use of engines and outboard motors is banned on Aoki-ko, making it the quietest and nicest of the three. Popular activities include boating, sport fishing, and windsurfing. Nakazuna-ko is very small and only really attracts fishermen. Kizaki-ko is the most developed, and since engines are allowed, sports like wakeboarding are popular.

During the summer, most of the ski resorts operate some of their lifts to allow access to higher elevations. At Hakuba 47 and Aokiko (in nearby Omachi), the lifts allow access for mountain biking. Hiking or simply enjoying the views are popular at Happo, Goryu and Tsugaike. Above Happo, an easy trail extends for 40 minutes to a small pond in which the local alpine peaks are reflected. A couple of hours further up the trail lies the peak of Mt. Karamatsu on the main ridge of the North Alps. The top ski run at Goryu becomes an alpine garden in summer and another trail leads further upward to a viewpoint (around 50 minutes) or the peak of Mt. Goryu itself (around four hours). Above Tsugaike, a further ropeway takes you to a wetland that is designated as a national park. A trail from here takes you up to Mt. Shirouma, after which Hakuba is named. Shirouma and Hakuba are different readings of the kanji for "white horse". The smaller ski field of Iwatake uses its pistes to grow thousands of lilies in summer and also has a dry ski slope if you're desperate for turns.

Like all mountain areas in Japan, temperatures in Hakuba stay much cooler than in the cities on Japan's Pacific coast. That alone makes it worthy of a visit.

Hakuba, located in Nagano Prefecture, equally central to Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo and nestled at the base of the Northern Japan Alps is towered over by the Three Peaks which provide a stunning backdrop year round. While Hakuba is world famous for it's snow and boasts more than 10 resorts, the green season offers plenty to those craving an escape from the confines of Japan in general.

Restaurants & Nightlife

One of the great advantages of Hakuba Japan is that there are various villages, each with a unique personality and vibe. Spread out across the villages and hamlets, there are lots of Hakuba restaurants and bars to sample a great range of Japanese cuisine and to do a little kanpai.


Hakuba Restaurants

When you arrive in Hakuba you can pick up a good restaurant guide from the Happo Information Centre or your accommodation. During peak times you may need to make a booking to get into your chosen restaurant, although some places don’t take reservations so you’ll have to take pot luck. Hakuba restaurants pretty much cover the full gamut of cuisine. Some of the big hotels have buffet feasts if you’re hungry after a long day on the slopes. There are some western eateries, and an array of Japanese fare from sushi to noodle restaurants. Hakuba is also renowned for the many izakayas, the traditional Japanese bars that serve lots of snacks that generally have a very authentic and inviting atmosphere.

Happo Village has the highest concentration of restaurants. One example is Uncle Stevens (a little down the road from the Adam gondola) which is a festive Mexican restaurant with fantastically dangerous margaritas. Another is Ohyokkuri (bus stop 8), a little Japanese restaurant named after a local soup with dumplings in it. The restaurant is a gorgeous made-to-look-old building, with traditional wooden shared tables and some tatami seating.

It’s worth catching the Genki-Go bus into Hakuba town for dinner to get away from the touristy areas somewhat and experience some “real Japan”. There are a handful of restaurants near the train station, otherwise they’re a bit spread out. In downtown Hakuba you’ll find some variability in the amount of English spoken and potentially have fun with picture menus. Our favourite was the little cheap and cheerful Soba-jin (near bus stop 11) that specialises in noodles and tempura.


Hakuba Bars & Nightlife

The Hakuba nightlife is sometimes rather vibrant, which is rare for a Japanese ski area. It’s not like an Austrian-type party scene, but the nightlife can get going nonetheless.

Après drinking doesn’t appear to be a favourite pastime in Hakuba. There are restaurants that serve alcohol in the late afternoon, but many of the specific bars don’t open until later so you might as well go and have an onsen instead!

The bars vary somewhat from Japanese style to the more western Jacks Sports in the heart of Happo Village, or some late night dancing in Goryu Village at the Tracks Bar. A lot of international visitors pay a visit to “The Pub” next to the Mominoki Hotel in the Wadano Village for some western food, some Guinness, plenty of other bevvies, and some pool. Refreshingly they also accept credit cards.

Surprisingly there aren’t that many options for karaoke in Hakuba (damn it!!); an entertaining and quintessential Japanese pastime. A couple of the hotels have karaoke booths or there is a karaoke bar down near Hakuba station where you can sing your lungs out.


Hakuba Cafes

If getting a great coffee is a priority then make sure you visit Bamboo, the only cafe in Hakuba specializing in Starbucks style coffees. They offer a selection of cakes and snacks and offer free wifi internet. Bamboo is also a bar with a great range of après drinks and daily happy hours! There are two locations, just down the hill from the Happo gondola and right outside Hakuba station.

The Roots Café at the Kokusai base of Happo-One is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re there for child care or ski lessons with Evergreen. They serve up real coffee (which is sooo hard to find in Japan), an abundance of yummy vego food, and they have wifi.

Shopping

Hakuba shopping is mostly centred around the Happo Village. Gone are many of the old Japanese souvenir shops selling strange looking produce (which is popular with the domestic tourists), sake, and lots of Japanese trinkets, and up have popped some new and shiny ski shops. Don’t be too disappointed; you’ll still be able to find sake and adequate Hello Kitty souvenirs!


Hakuba Ski Shops

Hakuba has seen a recent mini-boom of ski and snowboard shops that are owned by westerners, and an improvement in the quality and range of gear and apparel on offer. Many of the outfits on sale are now even fashionable which is possibly why the locals have stopped wearing their 80s outfits! And nowadays there are even quite a few Hakuba ski shops with backcountry equipment, technical gear, fat skis and split boards. Generally prices are about the same as what you’d find in Australia and more expensive than gear in the USA.

Rhythm Snowsports is the largest ski and snowboard shop in Hakuba, located in the old information centre at Wadano (next to the Mominoki Hotel). In addition to a good range of outerwear, inner wear, and accessories, they have lots of skis, snowboards and boots for sale. Rhythm provides ski boot fitting from experts, including a podiatrist, and they can even cater for big foot westerners! Other retail items include après boots, souvenirs, and lots of backcountry gear such as backpacks, powder skis, touring bindings, beacons, shovels, probes and backcountry poles.

There are a few other Hakuba ski shops dotted around the villages, although the highest concentration can be found in Happo Village.

Pro Ski has lots of apparel from Spyder and RH+, and lots of fat skis and boots. Three Peaks (based in the Springs Hotel arcade) has lots of Obermeyer outerwear, Liberty skis and touring bindings. The Kjus Performance shop has upped the ante on ski fashion in Hakuba, with lots of Kjus ski clothing as well as Black Crows skis.

And if you head into downtown Hakuba, check out The Board Store near the Hakuba Station and the post office. This little gem specialises in split boards and backcountry gear.


General Shopping Hakuba

Hakuba 47 has a souvenir shop in the base area, and the Escaru Plaza at the base of Goryu has a couple of souvenir shops. Ditto for Cortina, Tsugaike and Iwatake, but most of the souvenirs tend to be rather basic or garish.

Happo also has some souvenir and gift stores, but not as many as it used to have. The “I Love Hakuba” shop in Happo is probably your best bet for souvenirs and sake.

If you need some new après boots to wander round the sloppy road of Hakuba, there’s a shop not far from the Hakuba station which is solely dedicated to boots. The only catch is that they don’t have too many boots in big sizes. Girls with big feet would have to bind them to get the shoes to fit!


Grocery Shopping

There’s a convenience store called Lawson in Happo (on the main intersection) which sells alcohol, snacks and basic groceries. There’s also a 7-Eleven in the Echoland area and in Iwatake.

For more substantial purchases head into one of the supermarkets in Hakuba town. There’s a big supermarket behind the post office, or check out Max Valu (bus stop 12). In addition to lots of groceries and alcohol, the supermarket has a bakery and a 100 yen section where you can pick up some Japanese crockery and souvenirs super cheap.

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