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Hakuba: Insider Ski & Snowboard Tips
The host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games certainly isn’t short on variety boasting ten different resorts within its valley so no matter what ability level Hakuba will be able to accommodate you and your party. If visiting all ten resorts is a stretch for the itinerary, worry not I have you covered with my top picks for skiing Hakuba below. All resorts in the Hakuba Valley can be accessed with the Hakuba All Valley Pass.
Beginners and intermediates feeling somewhat nervy and looking to build their confidence and ability shouldn’t go past Tsugaike Kogen – known for its gentle slopes and wide open spaces devoid of many trees the resort is perfect for those looking to find their legs. The main street at the foothill of Tsugaike has various izakayas as well as western style restaurants for you to explore. All in all a very charming experience.
Powder hounds heading to Hakuba will of course have heard the great lore of Cortina and its off-piste tree runs and unmatched side country. It receives the highest and driest snowfall in the valley and unlike the nearby resorts where heading off the beaten track is frowned upon by patrol, things are pretty relaxed at Cortina. Ridgeline runs that drop into near-perfectly spaced trees will delight those wanting to earn their turns and get waist-deep in the pow. The resort’s groomed terrain is by comparison to its counterparts relatively small but Cortina is interlinked with the neighbouring Norikura; which will open up your options nicely if you’re looking to stay on piste. At the foot of Cortina is the rather grandiose Green Plaza Hotel with its ironically coloured red roof and tudor/gothic style design. The impressive structure resembles something out of The Shining although we can promise you the atmosphere inside is less ‘here’s Johnny’ and more ‘bon appetite’ with its delicious fusion style restaurant and downstairs buffet that will more than replenish the energy you will have no doubt burned. Perfect for those who prefer to languish by a fire and Après all day.
The largest and most central resort in the valley is Happo One (pronounced On Ay), spreading across 220 hectares. The slalom and ski jumping were held here during the 98 Winter Olympics, as the pitch is on the steeper side with a 1701 vertical meter drop. Happo possesses some more mellow terrain as well – check out the scenic Panorama and Saka cat tracks; the views will not disappoint. For those who like to catch air; head on over Happo Banks Terrain Park or ‘the Banks’ as its referred to by those in the know. On a powder day our suggestion would be to check out the tree runs on Skyline. Not as long as Cortina’s but just as fun.
On a clear day, head up to Reisen Grat, the resort’s highest peak and ski all the way down through Alpen, Usagidaira and Panarama, coming onto what was once the Women’s Slalom course and finishing up at the bottom of the Kokusai area. Worked up an appetite? At the bottom of the Kokusai chair is the Evergreen run Roots Café – a vegetarian eatery dedicated to sustainability and protecting the Japanese winters (plus they have wifi).
If vegetarianism doesn’t appeal, directly facing the Kokusai 1 Chair is the warm and inviting Luce. The restaurant is a delicious combination of traditional Japanese, Spanish and Italian fusion. Lunch and dinner menus are equally mouth watering and a completely unexpected surprise is the first-rate gluhwein – common to ski resorts elsewhere in the world but hard to come by in the land of the rising sun.
Hakuba 47 & Goryu
These two interconnected resorts sit right next to Happo One (the two have reciprocal views of each other) and are adjacent to Goryu and Echoland villages. Suitable for the whole family the two resorts have a large variety of beginner and intermediate terrain with some challenging blacks thrown into the mix. A few good days could be spent here, as the tree runs are mint when the go is POW and the terrain park perfect for firmer conditions. Sign up to their “Double Black Diamond Club” and you’ll have access to the formidable off-piste and backcountry.
Just over three hours from downtown Tokyo in the Northern Japanese Alps – Hakuba is an experience incomparable to others.
If flying into Tokyo, Narita airport, you have two options for transportation to Hakuba. The fastest route requires two trains and a bus. The first train will be from Narita airport (these trains leave the airport frequently), delivering you to Tokyo Station within the hour. From there you take the bullet train – famously known as the Shinkansen – to Nagano Terminal. Pre-book the Shinkansen (8,200 yen) so you can assure yourself a seat. It will probably be the nicest train trip you’ve ever taken with scenic views of the Japanese countryside and the pure modern amenities of the train itself (wait till you see the bathroom’s, you’ll want to live in one!). From Nagano Terminal you take a one and a half hour bus (1,800 yen), which will deliver you safely to Hakuba Station. In total this route will take no more than four hours. The second option is to take the Nagano Snow Shuttle (10,250 Yen) from Narita airport straight to Hakuba. This trip will take just over five hours in total but it’s the most direct route and will save you having to lug your things around from station to station.
As ski towns go, Hakuba is definitely on the vast side and therefore has plenty of options to choose from in terms of accommodation. The valley is separated into various boroughs including Goryu, Kamishiro, Echoland, Happo Village and Wadano. There are plenty of options for those who are doing Hakuba on a budget as well as those who want to take the five star route.
When it comes to Accommodation we recommend staying in the Echaoland, Happo and Wadano areas of Hakuba as this will give you easy access to more ski resorts, more après options, bars, restaurants, café’s and shops. A few of our favorites are listed below.
Hakuba: Restaurants & Apres
With so many great places to eat and play in town, it’s just about impossible to say which are the best restaurants/bars in Hakuba because each has character and a vibe of its own. A few places we’ve had a great experience rest right in the heart of the village.
Sharaku is a traditionally styled Izakaya offering delicious share plates of Japanese cuisine all prepared with the freshest local ingredients accompanied by a wide variety of Sake and beers. The Chef here, Nakasato-san the art of Sushi making over many years and arguably makes the best Sushi in Hakuba.
If you’re looking for a wonderful Après ski experience, Jack’s Bar hosts guest DJs, live musicians and their famous karaoke and trivia night. Mockingbird is another great, quirky little bar located in the heart of Echoland offering amazing food options and excellent Japanese hospitality perfect for a quiet night to relax with friends, or a place to kick off a big night out.
Hakuba: Non-Skiing Activities
Even on days when you want to give those joints a rest there’s still lots to do and see around Hakuba. The famous snow monkey tours run daily during peak season. The tour will take you to Jigokudani Monkey Park, home to over 200 wild monkeys amongst the natural Hot Springs. The tour includes a visit to the Zenkoji Temple and a traditional Japanese lunch. For a bit of history book yourself in for the Shinshu Heritage Tour which will take you out of Hakuba for the day. The tour includes admission to the historic Matsumoto Castle, as well as the Chojiya Salt Museum.