Hakuba Valley – Everything You Need for an Unforgettable Skiing Experience - MountainWatch Travel

Hakuba Valley – Everything You Need for an Unforgettable Skiing Experience

 Original Source: Mountainwatch |  Reggae Elliss. Located in the north of Nagano prefecture and just a one-hour drive from the city of Nagano, the Hakuba Valley is one of the world’s great ski destinations.
It boasts 10 different resorts, 135 lifts, terrain for everyone, great tree skiing and some of the best and steepest backcountry terrain in Japan. One thing I learned after spending a season there is that it has everything you need for an unforgettable snow holiday.



Snowboarder on an open Hakuba powder bowl with plenty of room to move.
An open Hakuba powder bowl with plenty of room to move. Photo: Oliver Godbold

Hakuba Valley averages 11 metres of snow annually. The valley lies in the shadow of the spectacular Northern Alps, some of which reach an altitude of 3,000 metres, providing a spectacular big-mountain backdrop. It is an incredibly beautiful place, distinctly rural Japan with local villages dotted between the rice paddies and small farms.

Hakuba also has a long heritage in Japan’s snowsports’ culture. The first ski lifts were built in Happo-one resort in 1952 and Hakuba also hosted a number of events during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. These included the men’s downhill and Super G at Happo-One resort and the ski jump and Nordic events.

Sunrise over the mountains in Hakuba, the ski jumps built for the Nagano Olympics to the left.
Sunrise in Hakuba, the ski jumps built for the Nagano Olympics to the left. Photo: Oliver Godbold

The Resorts

The resorts in Hakuba Valley run from Cortina in the north, to Jiigatake in the south. The others being Norikura Onsen, Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Happo-One, Hakuba 47, Hakuba Goryu, Sanosaka and Kashimayari. The resorts in the valley vary in size and terrain. The smaller ones are suited to beginners and intermediates, while the bigger resorts are higher with more vertical drop and terrain to suit all standards, from beginner to expert.

Sanosaka: one of the smaller resorts in the Hakuba Valley with beautiful views over Lake Aoki and perfect intermediate terrain.
Sanosaka is one of the smaller resorts in the Hakuba Valley with beautiful views over Lake Aoki and perfect intermediate terrain.

The four major resorts are Cortina, Tsugaike, Happo-one and the interconnected Hakuba 47/Goryu. Each have a mix intermediate runs, off-piste tree-areas, open powder bowls, steep leg-burning groomers and a number of terrain parks.

Tsugiake Kogen

Tsugiake Kogen has a good mix of terrain and the long, gentle, slopes of the lower mountain are perfect for beginners and intermediates. The resort also has a huge terrain park which has been improving every year and is perfect for those looking to progress their freestyle skills.

For advanced skiers and boarders, the upper mountain has some great tree skiing with a number of access gates at the top of the Tsuga No 2 chair. Tsugaike also has a policy of having a special pass to access the gates for its tree-run area. You’ll need to do a short info session and then carry a DBD (double black diamond) pass with you.

A skier enjoying a bluebird powder day in Tsugaike
A bluebird powder day in Tsugaike. Photo: Oliver Godbold


Cortina is located north of Hakuba, receives more snow in a storm and is renowned for its dry powder, awesome tree skiing and steeper off-piste terrain. The resort also has a more relaxed attitude to skiing off piste than the other Hakuba Valley resorts, which makes it the go-to on powder days. Rest assured, a deep powder day in Cortina is a day you will not forget. While the area of groomed terrain is relatively small in Cortina, the resort is interlinked with the neighbouring Norikura, which increases your options nicely if you’re looking to stay on piste.

A powder day in Cortina
A powder day in Cortina is a day you will not forget. Photo: Oliver Godbold.


Happo-One (pronounced “On Ay”) is the largest and most central resort in the Hakuba Valley, with 220 hectares of skiable terrain. It has a peak elevation of 1,831 metres and with a vertical drop of 1,071 metres it also has the longest and steepest groomed runs. When it is not a pow day, an early morning top-to-bottom run on the perfectly groomed corduroy is a great way to start the day.

Happo also has plenty of intermediate terrain and a large beginners’ areas near the Sakka lift. The off-piste options are good with good tree skiing around Skyline and upper Sakka. The gated Omusubi zone is awesome on a powder day.

Perfect groomers on a perfect day at Happo-One.
Perfect groomers on a perfect day at Happo-One.


The trees in the Skyline area at Happo-one.
The trees in the Skyline area at Happo-One. Photo: Oliver Godbold.

Hakuba 47 and Goryu

Hakuba 47 and Goryu are interconnected resorts located a few kilometres south of Happo-One. You can access them by regular buses from Happo Village and Echoland. The two resorts have a large variety of beginner and intermediate terrain with some challenging black diamond runs thrown in the mix. The tree skiing can be exceptional on a powder day. However, you’ll need to sign up for the “double black diamond club” at the base of 47 to access the gates. 47 also has a good intermediate terrain park, usually with three jumps and a fun jib line.

Multi-resort tickets are available with the Hakuba Valley pass, which gives you access to all of the resorts except Sanosaka. These tickets are very useful if you want to ski two resorts in one day. You’ll also save time not lining up for tickets each morning. Epic Pass and Australian Epic Pass holders can enjoy five consecutive days of complementary skiing with their Epic Pass. Just head to a designated ticket office, show your epic pass and ID and you’ll be handed a 5-Day Hakuba Valley Lift Pass.

There are a number of ski schools in Hakuba, with lessons available at all resorts and English-speaking instructors are available at Hakuba Snowsports, Hakuba Ski Concierge and Evergreen Outdoor Centre.

Amazing Hakuba backcountry hike to the summit
The Hakuba backcountry is impressive. Photo: Hakuba Back Country Tours

The Backcountry

Hakuba is home to incredible backcountry terrain, the high elevation of the Northern Alps’s delivers quality powder and long, steep lines. Much of this terrain is advanced to expert and avalanche danger is real, so heading out with a qualified and knowledgeable guide is a must. There is also some easily accessible side country off the major resorts, but once again knowledge is key, so head out with a guide. There are a number of experienced guiding operations including Evergreen Outdoor Centre, Good Guides and Northern Heights guiding.

Steve Lee, finding some deep powder in the Hakuba backcountry.
Steve Lee, finding some deep powder in the Hakuba backcountry. Photo: Konrad Bartelski


There are three main locations to stay in Hakuba – Wadano, Happo Village and Echoland. Wadano is the more “upmarket” area and is located next to the Sakka Base at Happo-one resort. There are a number of ski-in ski out hotels and lodges, both western and Japanese-style and modern, well-appointed self-contained apartments. Wadano also has a variety of bars and restaurants to keep you fuelled and entertained with The Rabbit Hole a favourite. You’ll also find the Mountainwatch retail store just 100m up the road from the Rabbit Hole.

Self-contained modern apartment interior in Wadano
Self-contained modern apartments in Wadano

Happo Village is a great place to stay if you want to be amongst the action, offering an awesome snow town vibe. The Happo, formerly known as the Hakuba Springs Hotel is Hakuba’s newest hotel and is centrally located.


The Happo, central located in Happo-One Village.
The Happo, central located in Happo-one Village.

Another popular area is located at the Nakiyama base of Happo-One. It has plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets, including the ski-in ski out Marillen Hotel and the Goryukan which is a short walk to the lifts and has one of the best onsens in Hakuba. Happo Village has the biggest selection of restaurants, bars and clubs in Hakuba and buses and shuttles are available to get to the other surrounding ski areas.

Live music at Blizzard in Happo Village
Live music at Blizzard in Happo Village. Photo: Oliver Godbold.

Echoland is a 10-minute drive or 20-minute walk from Happo Village and there are regular buses from various pick-up spots to get you to the resorts each morning. Echoland has a number of locally owned guest houses, self-contained accommodation and lodges. The main street has a good mix of retail, restaurants and bars and a lively nightlife.


One of the highlights of a visit to Hakuba is the huge variety of quality food available in each area, including Hakuba Village, near the railway station. There are plenty of small local, restaurants and izakayas serving excellent Japanese cuisine with ramen, yakiniku (BBQ grill), teppanyaki and udon on the menu.

Woman outside a small Japanese restaurant in Hakuba.
There are small restaurants on every corner

Table of traditional Japanese cuisine.
Many serving traditional Japanese cuisine. Photo: Kate Allman

A must visit is Kikoya restaurant, near Hakuba station, which is renowned for its sushi and sashimi. If you’re after soul-warming food, Blizzard in Happo Village has the best pizza in the valley. Mimi’s Restaurant & Bar, at the Phoenix Hotel in Wadano, is also renowned for its western-style fine-dining experience.

Off snow Activities

There’s plenty to do off-snow in Hakuba, including snowmobile tours, and exploring the village’s shrines and temples. There are also some amazing onsens in Hakuba where you can soak up the natural hot springs and relax after a big day on the mountain.

Views of the onsen at the Hakuba Highland Hotel.
The onsen at the Hakuba Highland Hotel. What a view!

Day tours are available to the Jigokudani Monkey park and the 16th century Matsumoto Castle, which is considered a ‘National Treasure of Japan’. Located about an hour and 20 minutes from Hakuba, you can hire a car or take the train to get here. If you’re keen to experience another city during your stay, a visit to Nagano is another great way to spend a day off-snow.

Skier in the powder in Hakuba
Hakuba has it all for the perfect ski holiday, including epic powder. Photo: Oliver Godbold

Over the past few years the Hakuba Valley has been attracting more and more international visitors. Drawn by the reliable snow, huge variety of terrain and cultural experiences it is somewhere every snow lover should visit. Throw in the views of the majestic Northern Alps and the endless backcountry and you’ve got one memorable holiday.

Getting there

Hakuba is easily accessible by train from both Narita and Haneda Airports.  Take the airport train to Tokyo Station and then transfer to the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano. From Nagano Station head out the gates to the Alpico Bus and take the bus to Hakuba. This will take around 75 minutes. For most accommodation it is best to get off at Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal (in the centre of the village). The JR East (East Japan Railway Company) offers a convenient train pass. The train map can be found here.

If you’re ready to experience this powder paradise for yourself, complete an enquiry form, and our team will happily create a custom package for you. Or discover our packages below:

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