Hakuba Valley is a skier’s ultimate dream vacation. The valley gets more than 11m of snow yearly and has over 200 runs. Every visitor can find a Hakuba ski resort to keep themselves entertained with a wide array of terrain from absolute beginner to nail-biting backcountry.
But with nine resorts to choose from, where do you start? Selecting the best Hakuba ski resort for you is not easy. While there is information, having half of it in Japanese doesn’t make your task any easier. When planning your trip, you want to make sure you pick the right resort for you. As one of Hakuba’s premiere ski schools, we are experts on all things Hakuba. Our instructors have skied in the Hakuba Valley for years and have all the insider info. Below is our unbiased and unapologetic ultimate resort guide to Hakuba’s best ski resorts.
Best Hakuba Ski Resort
- Best Resort For Early Snow – Hakuba47
- Best For Young Kids Goryu & Iimori
- Best For Families – Sanosaka
- Best For Advanced Skiers – Hakuba Happo One
- Best Views – Iwatake
- Best For Beginners – Tsugaike
- Best For Tree Skiing – Cortina
1) Best Resort For Early Snow – Hakuba47
A solid all-rounder, Hakuba47 has suitable terrain for every ability level. Its north-facing slopes give it the longest season in the valley for top-to-bottom skiing, making it an excellent choice for those visiting early or late in the season. Its` beginner area is conveniently located halfway up the mountain, so even first-time skiers can enjoy the view over the Hakuba townsite and ski themselves down a gentle cat track to the bottom. Its other strength is the Tree Riding Zone. Popular with local riders, the steep and technical terrain is typically much less busy than other tree-riding areas within the valley. The bonus is that the high-speed quad that gives access to the area often runs when other resorts are on wind hold. To access the tree riding zone, you must take a safety course and wear a bib.
2) Best For Young Kids Goryu & Iimori
Connected to Hakuba47 at the top, Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort has many draws. The gentle slopes at the base make it well-suited for beginners, and the free snow play and sledding areas make it ideal for those with small children. Higher-up skiers can choose from shallow greens to steep moguls, while its base building Escal Plaza is a true `one-stop shop` with a cornucopia of food options. Families with young kids will find the lifts and runs at Iimori ideal for young children. The chairs are the lowest and slowest in the area, making them an ideal spot to ski with little ones. Again, all facilities are close at hand, making it extremely easy to feel at home.
3) Best For Families – Sanosaka
Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort has a local hill feel that welcomes families. Arguably Hakuba’s most underrated resort, this has not yet fallen victim to the same human traffic that others mountains have succumbed to during the busy periods. Its gentle slopes and view of Lake Aokiko make it unlike anywhere else in the valley. Its slopes vary from wide open novice slopes to intermediate and also moguls. The base area has had a chic new renovation and provides a range of eating options, making this the perfect choice for those seeking to get off the beaten track and experience something a little less commercial. The views themselves are awe-inspiring, and given a recent surge in fresh innovation – Hakuba Sanosaka snow resort is evolving in new and exciting directions.
4) Best For Advanced Skiers – Hakuba Happo One
The most well-known resort for skiing in Hakuba by both the Japanese and Westerners, Hakuba Happo One is indeed the largest in the valley in terms of slopes available. Home of the 1998 Olympic Downhill, Super G & Combined Slalom events, most of its slopes are best suited to intermediate to advanced skiers as it has no shortage of red runs, black runs, and moguls. That being said, Sakka is a good beginner area located at the base of the mountain, with all the necessary facilities, snow play, and sledding areas. From the top of the Happo’s highest lift, Mount Fuji can be glimpsed on a clear day, while `Pilar` is a fabulous fine-dining French restaurant at the top of the Alpen Quad. Pilar’s food quality and views make it a stand-out in the valley for on-hill dining. Happo is excellent for intermediate to advanced skiers looking for lots of mileage and long runs.
5) Best Views – Iwatake
Hakuba Iwatake snow field is another ski resort that is often underrated. As the shortest of Hakuba’s ski resorts, it doesn’t get as much snow and has a shorter season. However, what it lacks in elevation, it makes up for in stunning views and exciting terrain. Iwatake has some of the most enjoyable runs in the valley, especially for snowboarders looking to take advantage of natural features. The banks and side walls down the frontside are a snowboarder’s dream. For intermediates and novices, the wide, uncrowded slopes are very inviting. On weekdays it is not uncommon to find yourself skiing runs on the backside all to yourself while soaking up the most stunning views of Hakuba’s three peaks. For non-skiers and sightseers, the addition of the new Hakuba Mountain Harbour, with its freshly baked goods and great coffee, makes every moment at the top of Iwatake on a sunny day worth it. Its other strength is its gentle and easy-to-access tree and powder areas making it the perfect choice for those wanting to try – or work on – their off-piste skiing in Hakuba.
6) Best For Beginners – Tsugaike
Home to the most beginner terrain in all of Japan – Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort is Hakuba’s best mountain for beginners and novices. Its lower slopes are wide, open, and suitably shallow, with a natural progression to slightly steeper terrain as skills develop. Higher up, there is plenty to attract advanced skiers and snowboarders with its Double Black Diamond area and a vast expanse of tree skiing within the resort. Gondola laps, steep trees, and offer up new lines all day long as it typically attracts less traffic than the more well know Cortina. There is no shortage of facilities on the mountain, with a good scattering of slope-side food options at the base and cafeterias higher up. Tsugaike is also a popular access point for vast backcountry terrain – though, as always, you would want to hire a guide if unfamiliar or lacking in avalanche knowledge.
7) Best For Tree Skiing – Cortina
Hakuba Cortina snow resort is the furthest north of the Hakuba ski resorts and the closest to the Sea of Japan. Cortina receives the most snow in the valley and is world-famous for deep powder tree skiing. Its reputation is well earned with its perfect spacing between trees, steep slope pitch, and the frequency and accumulation of snow. Aside from tree skiing, it has a handful of advanced and largely un-groomed slopes before flattening into a green run with a kid’s play area at the base. Hotel Green Plaza – its quirky yet impressive base area building – is a hotel with many food options, shops, rentals, and even a great Onsen overlooking the slopes. It is an excellent choice for die-hard-off piste skiers or those wanting to keep accompanying non-skiers entertained. On the winter roads, it is 30 minutes outside Hakuba village, so it is also an excellent opportunity to see a new part of the valley. A true highlight for skiing in Hakuba.
Guide to Skiing in Hakuba
Getting to Hakuba
Getting to Hakuba from Tokyo is relatively straightforward, and several different transport options are available.
The most popular option is to take a bus directly from the airport to Hakuba. The Japanese highway buses will drop guests off at the Happo Bus Terminal. Private bus operators offer hotel drop-offs.
Chuo taxi operates a shuttle service direct from Tokyo to the Hakuba region. You must book in advance online through their website. You can schedule pick-ups to match your flight times, and they will also carry your ski luggage.
The train is the fastest way to get to Hakuba. From the airport, take a train to Tokyo Station and then a Shinkansen to Nagano Station. Then you take a bus to the Happo Bus terminal or Hakuba station.
Hakuba has only local trains that travel North and South. If you are only traveling to Hakuba, we do not recommend a Japan Rail Pass.
Hakuba Lift Passes
Hakuba offers a single lift ticket that gives access to multiple resorts. The Hakuba valley lift tickets also free you to take the local shuttle bus. If you are staying for an extended period, consider purchasing a multi-day ticket or a season pass.
Local Shuttle Bus
The local shuttle bus is convenient for travelers to transfer between their hotel and the ski resort. There are several local shuttle systems, with many resorts offering shuttles and a valley-wide system. The Hakuba Valley Lift Pass gives free access to the valley shuttle.
Hakuba Ski School
Hakuba offers a variety of English-Speaking Ski Schools that offer private and group lessons.
The Japanese Alps offer some of the best backcountry skiing in Japan. Northern Heights Guiding is our preferred backcountry tour provider. Backcountry has inherent risks, and we recommend that all skiers and boarders looking to venture into the backcountry have a certified guide who knows the greater Hakuba Valley well.
Hakuba has various non-ski activities to keep customers entertained during a very-needed rest day. Below is a list of some of the available activities.
- Snow monkeys tour
- Sake brewery tours
- Tea ceremony tour
- Snowmobiling tour
- Matsumoto castle tour
- Zenkoji temple tour
Is Hakuba better than Niseko?
We may be a little biased, but we think so. Hakuba has a couple of things that make it stand out.
- Hakuba has nine major ski resorts, and Niseko has 4
- The backcountry in Hakuba is the best in Japan.
- Hakuba village is cheaper than Niseko
- There are more bluebird ski days in Hakuba
Hakuba doesn’t get as much snow as Niseko, but we like Hakuba better. The mountains are bigger, and the village has retained its traditional feel. But to each his own; if you prefer Niseko, that’s fine too.
Is Hakuba good for beginners?
Yes, there is beginner terrain at all of Hakuba’s ski resorts. The best Hakuba ski resorts for beginners are Tsugaike and Iimori.
When should I go to Hakuba?
Hakuba ski resorts usually open before mid-December and close after the first week of May. For the best snow quality, come to Hakuba between January and mid-March.
How many ski resorts are in Hakuba?
The 9 Hakuba ski resorts use the Hakuba Valley lift tickets. The resorts are:
- Hakuba 47
- Happo One
If you’re looking for a ski resort with excellent powder conditions and plenty of opportunities to explore backcountry terrain, then Hakuba is the place for you. With nine major ski resorts and miles of unspoiled terrain in the Japanese Alps, Hakuba offers something for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn or an experienced backcountry adventurer, Hakuba is sure to delight and excite you. So why wait? Book your trip to Hakuba today and experience some of the best skiing in Japan!
Hakuba Ski Concierge is a ski school in Hakuba, Japan, offering high-end personalized lessons to small groups and private individuals. We provide great lessons with instructors who go beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible.
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