With steep slopes, 9,842 feet-high peaks (3000 m) and some of Japan’s longest vertical, the Hakuba Valley is the one area in Japan most often compared to the European Alps. It is located on Japan’s main island Honshu and is filled with rugged mountains flanked by 10 resorts sporting over 200 runs, all of which are accessed with one ski pass. The region is blessed by more than 32 feet (10 m) of snow and being so vast, it offers a huge variety in every aspect from lodging to restaurants, activities and cultural experiences, and even a helicopter skiing operation. The Genki-Go shuttle bus service connects the entire Hakuba Valley. Options for eating and drinking are numerous, spanning everything from quick snacks to casual to a la carte. Natural hot springs are in abundance and there are plenty of day trips and activities available outside of skiing and snowboarding.
Hakuba lies in the heart of Nagano Prefecture, home to Hakuba Happo One which hosted many of the skiing events for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. This famous resort has 3,635 feet (1,180m) of vertical and is ranked among the best ski areas in the world for its demanding slopes and breadth of skiing and snowboarding terrain. It still hosts many FIS World Cup events earning it the reputation as a world-class ski resort. Each year sees several international ski jumping, alpine ski and snowboarding, cross-country, and biathlon competitions events. Plus, Hakuba is now also a regular stop for the Freeride World Tour.
Skiing started in the Hakuba Valley in 1911 when visiting Austrian officer Theodore Van Lech introduced the sport to the local population. It was not until 1928 that skiing officially started when Hosono ski club was formed and Happo ski resort became the centerpiece of the valley.
In more recent times Hakuba has attracted much attention from Westerners who have established businesses and hotels to cater to the area’s growing popularity with tourists and skiers, yet its authenticity and infectious appeal remain firmly intact.
Hukuba Mountain & Terrain
There are 10 snow resorts that make up the Hakuba Valley and each offers something special however most of the resorts are small and can be explored in just one day. Jiigatake Snow Resort, Kashimayari Ski Resort, Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort, ABLE Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park, Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort, Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field, Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort, Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort, and Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort.
Jiigatake Snow Resort is small and great for families. Gentle uncrowded slopes with views from the top of views over Azumino Toroika on a sunny day.
Kashimayari Ski Resort is closest to the Matsumoto and Azumino area with 15 different runs to challenge including a 3 mile (5km) downhill with a great view of Aoki Lake.
Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort is surrounded by beautiful woodlands with picturesque views of Aoki Lake. With 80% of the ski slopes for beginners and intermediates, it’s a popular spot for families. If you like your bumps, be sure to check out the mogul course.
ABLE Hakuba Goryu has 3 areas of mostly intermediate alpine skiing to enjoy Alps-daira, Tohmi, and Iimori and offers the largest night skiing.
Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park has a half-pipe, kicker, and various features in the park to play and enjoy. You can access Hakuba Goryu from the top of the mountain.
Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort you’ll need more than a few days to get to know this resort, as it is the biggest resort in the valley with a longest run of 5 miles (8km) and endless terrain options to enjoy epic turns and fun.
Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field has a 360℃ panoramic view of the Hakuba mountain range after a gondola lift ride to the top. Wide open gentle and challenging slopes and is also well known for the snow park and cross-country ski trails.
Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort offers a stunning backdrop of the North Alps and gets plenty of powder snow. The powder zone is known as “Tsuga-Pow DBD” it also has an area for kids and beginners with a long course and onsen.
Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort is located in the northernmost part of the North Alps. The wide ski slopes are beginner-friendly and offer families a chance to ski together. The steep course is at 38 degrees, and a mogul course offers a variety of abilities and a chance to try out the bumps.
Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort receives lots of powder snow, the most in the region. The snow along with the amazing tree skiing in powder conditions makes it very popular with the locals.
Lodging, Accommodation & Hotel Options
The most popular place to stay is in Hakuba Happo-one as it offers ski in ski out as well as the most accommodation options, bars, and restaurants. The accommodation ranges from western and Japanese-styled hotel rooms to pensions, with a small number of western-styled self-contained accommodations.
How To Get To Hakuba
Hakuba Valley is located on the main island of Japan in Honshu, about 270km northwest of Tokyo. The town of Hakuba is located around an hour’s drive from Nagano in the Nagano Prefecture.
Shuttle Bus (5- 6 hours). Shuttle busses operate from both Tokyo airports to Hakuba ski resorts. Best to book flights to arrive mid-day and book your departure flights as late as possible as it’s quite the bus ride.
Shinkansen Bullet Train (2.5 hours) is the fastest way but will require you to carry and manage your bags. Make your way to Tokyo train station and catch the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano. At Nagano train station find bus stop number 26 and buy a ticket to Happo bus terminal in Hakuba.
Private Taxi (4 to 6 hours) depending on traffic.
Lift Pass Options
All the resorts can be skied on the one pass plus Hakuba Valley is part of the EPIC pass program which includes 5 consecutive days of unrestricted skiing with no blackout days.
Hakuba Snowsports & Ski School Improvement Programs
There are two main ski school choices in the Hakuba Valley. The Evergreen International Ski School is one of the oldest and largest international ski schools in Japan employing highly skilled foreign and domestic ski and snowboard instructors.
Hakuba Snow Sports School is the other option that delivers a full range of private, group, and specific clinics. The school is located at the Imori Ski Resort and has one of the best areas for terrain in Hakuba for the development of skiing and snowboarding.
Things To Do, Activities & Tours
The Nagano area is rich in culture and history and there are many activities to do in and around the Hakuba Valley including a visit to the Snow Monkeys, Zenkoji Temple, Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto Art Museum, relax in an Onsen, Sake Brewery Tour, Kimono Experience and Tea Ceremony, Snowmobiling Tour, Chausuyama Zoo (Nagano), HakuBounce, True Players and a trip to the Togakushi Shrine.
Hakuba Heli Skiing
During March and April, there is helicopter skiing out of the Tsugaike Resort that takes you into the Hakuba backcountry. This can be a great introduction to the Japan Alps, for intermediates and after a big storm, it’s recommended for expert skiers.
Restaurants, Bars and Nightlife
There are many options in the quaint villages to sample the local food, bars and nightlife. Echoland is your first stop as it has the most choice followed by a stroll around the Happo Village. In peak times you may need to book. The Tsugaike village has a few Japanese ramen bars and bars. Goryu village has a low number of restaurants. Norikura and Cortina dining is isolated to the hotels and pensions. You can also catch the Genki-Go bus into Hakuba town for a more authentic Japanese experience.
There are plenty of quality ski and boar stores in Hakuba. The Boarding Co, near Hakuba Station, Rapie’s in Hakuba Village, Patagonia, The North Face, Central Snowsports have 3 stores across Hakuba, Rhythm Snowsports at the Wadano Visitor Center has an extensive range of snow sport equipment.