Hakuba, situated in the heart of the Japanese Alps, is the best and largest ski area on the main Japanese island of Honshu. As well as being great for families, it offers some of the steepest skiable terrain in Japan, and endless hiking opportunities. The valley is actually home to 10 ski resorts but the three main ones are Happo-One, Goryu and Hakuba47.
Most people will arrive into Nagano Station from Tokyo by bullet train. We then recommend either catching the express bus, taking a private transfer or hiring a car to get to Hakuba, as the local trains require 3 changes and take 3.5 hours compared to 1 hour driving. Hiring a car becomes a more viable option if you are staying in a more remote accommodation or plan on skiing many of the resorts available on the Hakuba Valley Lift Pass.
The majority of visitors will stay in accommodation close to Happo-One (pronounced Happo On-ay), which is the largest of the resorts in the valley. This offers the best mix of terrain, and is also where most ski school students will take their lessons. Spend most of your days skiing Happo-One, but make sure to take advantage of the lift pass covering all other ski resorts which are also connected by a ski shuttle.
Goryu and Hakuba47 are two interconnected resorts just a 10 minute drive away from Happo-One and can be skied in one day. Stick to the Goryu side of the hill for freshly groomed runs, and visit Hakuba47 for its famous park and superpipe.
If you are looking for challenging off-piste then Cortina is known for its tree-skiing and is one of the most popular resorts for locals to visit on a powder day. Just be wary of the ski patrol as you are technically not allowed to ride off-piste here and your pass could be confiscated.
We would highly recommend lessons and guiding with a local company, who can ensure that you make the most of your resort experience. Off-piste guiding and backcountry trips are a great way to explore the terrain in a safe manner and ensure that you find the best spots - from the ridge lines on impressive peaks of Happo-One to the rolling hike-to terrain of Tsugaike Kogen.
Off the Slopes
Hakuba is the destination of choice for those who want to see the incredible snow monkeys who bathe in the hot pools at the Jigokudani Monkey Park. There are day tours available from resort to visit the park and a number of other cultural attractions in the local area including a temple and sake brewery.
Non-ski activities off the slopes include snowshoe tours, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Then there are the many wonderful Japanese onsens to visit – most hotels will have their own or there are public onsens throughout the resort too, some of which offer fabulous views of the mountains from the rotenburos (outdoor bath).
The variety of food in resort is exceptional – head to Kikyo-ya for the best sushi in town. Cuisine ranges from Japanese and French to Chinese and Indian, and as well as Japanese izakaya bars which serve lots of tapas-style snacks there are even a few English-style pubs about.
The majority of our accommodation is located in Wadano, near Happo-One, or down in the village by the Hakuba Gondola. Echoland is also an option for more reasonably priced accommodation, and has a good selection of restaurants and bars, but would require either a car or using the resort shuttles to get to the skiing.
These areas offer a great range of accommodation from western style hotels, to Japanese ryokan, to self-catering apartments at a variety of standards meaning there is something to suit most requirements.
Just in case all those resorts weren’t enough for you, you can also add on skiing in Nozawa Onsen and include some time in the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo with our Nagano Safari.