An Introduction to Hakuba Valley – Japan’s Ultimate Winter Wonderland

For those who love wintertime and want to enjoy the season by skiing, snowboarding or participating in any other snow-related activities, Japan is the place to be. Don’t know where to go? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Let me introduce you to Hakuba – one of the largest and best ski resort areas in Japan. From mid-December, all ski resorts in the area have officially opened for the 2019/2020 season, so if you’re still looking for your ultimate winter vacation, then look no further!

Why Hakuba?

One of the biggest reasons people come to Hakuba is to experience Japanese powder snow (usually abbreviated as JAPOW). Powder snow refers to the high-quality snow that has recently fallen and is therefore extremely light and fluffy. Hakuba has been renowned for its powder snow and with 11 meters of snow falling annually, you’ll be able get the very best experience here.

With this much great snow, it’s no surprise that there are some amazing ski resorts in the area. Hakuba is home to no less than 10 ski resorts so you can ski or snowboard to your heart’s content. There are also many other snow-related activities available at the resorts, which is perfect for those who are looking for something else to do.

What makes Hakuba such a perfect place to be during winter besides its snow and activities is its location. Easily accessible via a direct connection from big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka as well as the airports, travelling to Hakuba is fast and hassle-free. It also acts as a perfect hub if you want to visit other places in the Nagano Prefecture during your stay. More information about transportation and timetables can be found at the end of the blog.

So, let’s dive deeper into the above mentioned reasons and introduce you to this wonderful winter wonderland.

Hakuba Valley

Hakuba Valley is the collective name of the 10 ski resorts in the Hakuba area. Each course has its own level of difficulty and features, so we’ve summed them all up below with a short explanation.

1. Jiigatake Snow Resort

If you’re completely new to skiing, Jiigatake Snow Resort is the place to go. The resort has 7 courses, 70% of which has a low difficulty level, so it’s perfect for beginners or families who just want to leisurely ski together. Jiigatake Snow Resort also has a dedicated area for children where they can enjoy sledding and riding on the special kids’ ski lift.

2. Kashimayari Snow Resort

With 15 courses, Kashimayari Snow Resort offers more variation in terms of course difficulty, so that more advanced skiers can also enjoy themselves here. The resort offers a new snow activity this season called “Tubers High”, where you’ll slide down the longest (500m) tubing course in Japan on an inflatable tube. More on this activity in the next blog!

Hakuba Sanosaka ©Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village/©JNTO

3. Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort

Hakuba Sasosaka Snow Resort is similar to Kashimayari in the way that part of its 8 courses is great for advanced skiers, while the rest can be enjoyed by intermediate and beginners alike. It’s also located in a beautiful area and boasts a spectacular view of the nearby Lake Aoki.

4. ABLE Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort

One of the most popular ski areas, ABLE Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort consists of 3 skiing areas (Alps-daira, Toomi and Iimori) and features 15 courses for all to enjoy. Its popularity can be explained in part by its long season (opened from mid-December until early May). It also has a large night skiing area that’s operated during the peak season.

Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park ©Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village/©JNTO

5. Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park

Interconnected with the previously mentioned Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park has 8 courses suited to all levels. For those who are looking for a little more excitement, the park is also equipped with a large half pipe, various kickers and other terrain items, making this the ideal resort for snowboarders.

6. Hakuba Happo-One Snow Resort

Arguably the most famous resort, Happo-One became known as the venue for the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998. Featuring 14 courses, it is aimed mostly at intermediate/advanced skiers, with only about 30% of the runs fit for beginners. It also has an area called “Happo Banks”, that has banks laid out along the slope for you to enjoy.

Hakuba Happo ©Nagano Prefecture/©JNTO

7. Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field

If you’re looking for lots of different courses, Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field has got you covered as there are no less than 26 courses. Like Happo-One, Iwatake is best for intermediate/advanced skiers. There are various other activities besides skiing available in the area though. Snowboarders can also enjoy DC Park, an area with lots of terrain items.

8. Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort

With 14 courses and lots of gentle slopes, Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort is ideal for beginners and families alike. Of course, there are also more challenging runs, as well as plenty of exciting non-skiing activities to try. One of the resort’s distinctive features is its gondola which stretches almost to the top of the park and covers a distance of 4,000m.

9. Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort is located in a great area with a wonderful view of the Japan Alps. It has 16 courses with wide slopes that can be enjoyed by skiers of all levels. Snowshoeing is an activity that’s very popular in the Norikura area and we’ll explain more about snowshoeing in the next blog, so keep an eye out for that.

10. Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort

As one of the more popular resorts, Cortina is mostly known for its heavy snowfall. Actually, the highest annual snowfall records are all from this area. Its 16 courses are evenly divided in terms of difficulty, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Also, if you want to try your hand at tree skiing, Cortina is the best place to go.

Hakuba Valley Pass

With so many wonderful ski resorts, it might be difficult to choose which one you want to go to. If you can’t decide and kind of want to try them all out, then you should definitely get the Hakuba Valley Pass! Also called the Hakuba Valley Lift Pass or Hakuba Valley All Mountain Lift Pass, this pass gives you access to all lifts of the 10 ski resorts in Hakuba Valley as well as the Hakuba Valley shuttle bus. You can purchase the pass for a specific period depending on how long you’re planning to stay.
Click here for more information on the pass.

Getting There

Now that you’ve got your itinerary all planned out, let’s talk about how to get to Hakuba!
There are several means of transportation you can take to get here, such as the train, bus and taxi. Depending on various factors such as the amount of people in your party, the amount of luggage and your budget, you might prefer to take a direct taxi to Hakuba (available from any of the places listed below, for other places please inquire). For taxi reservations and inquiries, please click here.

Narita & Haneda Airport

Nothing beats direct transport between the airport you arrive at and your desired destination. Especially if you’re carrying a lot of luggage or large ski equipment. During the winter season, ALPICO operates special Hakuba-bound buses from both Narita and Haneda Airport. The bus features wide 3-row high-quality sofa seats that help you relax during your journey and also has free Wi-Fi so you’ll stay connected. Easy, affordable and hassle-free – the best way to get to Hakuba.

Click one of the routes below for more information.
Narita Airport – Hakuba
Haneda Airport – Hakuba

Shinjuku (Tokyo)

If you’re coming from the Tokyo area, there is a direct bus you can take from Shinjuku Station. You can also take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano. However, while the trip is a bit faster, you will have to transfer at Nagano Station to get to Hakuba.
Shinjuku – Hakuba

Osaka & Kyoto

In case you’re flying in from Kansai Airport, you can take the direct bus from either Osaka or Kyoto. As the Kansai area is quite a bit away from Hakuba, the bus travels at night, which means that you won’t lose a day travelling. During the trip you can get some sleep and when you wake up you can enjoy Hakuba to your heart’s content.
Osaka & Kyoto – Hakuba

Nagano

Already in the Nagano area? It only takes about an hour to get from Nagano Station to Hakuba. There are two types of buses running from Nagano Station to Hakuba Station during the winter season. One bus requires reservations while the other is non-reserved. You can book a seat for the reserved buses online, while the non-reserved bus tickets can be bought at the Shinanoki Souvenir Shop (at the East Exit of Nagano station) on the day itself.
Nagano – Hakuba

Matsumoto

During wintertime, there is a direct bus between Matsumoto and Hakuba going once a day. Whether you’re coming from Matsumoto or you’re visiting on a day trip, this direct bus getting there a lot easier.
Matsumoto – Hakuba

More to Discover in Hakuba

There are so many things to do in Hakuba that we couldn’t possible fit everything in one post, so we’ve decided to divide it into several parts. If you’re interested, please click any of the links below to discover what other wonderful things you can do in Hakuba.

As you can read, there’s a lot more to come, so stay tuned!
PART 2 – Exciting Snow Activities
PART 3 – Food, Drinks and Onsen
PART 4 – Side Trips from Hakuba (coming soon)

Not a fan of winter?

Hakuba is wonderful in the other 3 seasons as well due to its luscious nature, great hiking spots and many adventurous activities. Last autumn we went hiking in Hakuba’s Tsugaike Nature Park and the mountains were painted in the most beautiful fall colors (our blog).

To find out more about the Hakuba area, be sure to check out our Hakuba Tourism Guide!

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