I am now currently in Japan after spending the last 3 months exploring Indonesia. The Hakuba Ski Resorts in Nagano Prefecture have been voted world class and I had to come see for myself! I have spent 2 weeks snowboarding and exploring the mountains of Hakuba Valley.
WATCH THE VLOG
GETTING TO HAKUBA, JAPAN
I arrived to Narita International Airport, which is on the outskirts Tokyo City and around 270km east of Hakuba Valley. There are a few options to get out to Hakuba from the airport;
- Train / Train / Bus – this trip includes taking a train from Narita to Tokyo (or Ueno), then a bullet train (Shinkansen) to Nagano, and then a bus to Hakuba. This is the fastest route. From the Tokyo international airport the total trip takes about 3.5 to 4 hours depending upon connection timing. The other advantage of taking the trains is that it’s a great insight into a part of the Japanese culture. This trip cost me approx $100
- Direct Transfer From Tokyo Airports – this involves getting a shuttle bus or shared taxi transfer directly from Narita Airport to Hakuba (and your Hakuba accommodation), which tends to cost a little more than the train/train/bus combo. The trip takes longer, about 5-6 hours, but it provides the advantage of not having to lug your bags around the train stations, on and off trains and buses, or grapple with train fares and timetables.
There is no shortage of accomodation in Hakuba but it is always best to book in advance, especially in the winter months, December-April, as places book out fast. I always travel on a budget and I found a cheap place to stay ($30 p/night) at Hakuba Alps Backpackers. The staff are very friendly, the rooms are cosy, nearby to shops, bars, restaurants and it is within walking distance to Hakuba Goryu Ski Resort.
There is a whopping 10 ski resorts in the valley of Hakuba and each mountain is amazing in its own way. There are free shuttle buses that operate every hour between all resorts but make sure to be on time, as the Japanese are very punctual and will stick to an efficient ‘on the dot’ schedule. Timetables can be found at your accomodation or at guest services at each resort.
Lift Passes can be purchased from the ticket counters at each resort on the day and prices can vary. I would recommend purchasing the “Hakuba Valley Pass” which allows you to ski on a different mountain each day using the one pass. Click Here to see the prices.
Rental Shops are scattered everywhere around Hakuba but I would personally recommend Spicy Rentals for quality gear at a reasonable price. You can find a Spicy store at Goryu, Happo-one and Iwatake.
TOP 5 SKI RESORTS IN HAKUBA
- Hakuba Goryu – This mountain offers wide open terrain with great grooming and some nice top to bottom powder runs. There is a small terrain park for beginners at the bottom of the gondola. Great back-country access from the top lift and easily accessible tree runs. Escal Plaza (base station) is the most modern facility in Hakuba, with restaurants, ski retail and hire.
- Hakuba 47 – Goryu and 47 are interlinked mountains giving you the option to access 2, wide open ski areas. Hakuba 47 features the best terrain park in Hakuba. 47 also has designated tree areas for club members access only. To gain access, there is a 20 min crash course available every day at Hakuba 47 sports centre, at the base of the gondola. After the course you are eligible to ride the tree areas which holds some of the best powder I have ever experienced.
- Happy-One – This is the central hub of Hakuba Valley and the most popular. The mountain is home to the largest above treeline lift in Japan. The groomed runs have a reputation for being long and fast. The only down side to Happo-one is the crowds, being the central mountain in the valley.
- Iwatake – Proudly boasts one of the most breath taking views of the Northern Alps’ Hakuba 3 peaks, including a 360°panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. All 26 courses have their own unique features. From tree runs, to long groomed cat tracks and a small terrain park. This resort has something for everyone.
- Cortina – Known for the largest quantity of snowfall in Hakuba. This is the resort to hit for some deep powder runs after a heavy snowfall. It also has the steepest inbound terrain and some epic tree riding areas. Cortina is the most northern mountain in the valley and takes longer to get here from central Hakuba, but it is definitely worth the trip.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN HAKUBA VALLEY
As you probably know by now, Hakuba Valley is a mecca of Alpine Ski Resorts attracting people from all over the world to experience the world class, quality snow! Though apart from skiing and snowboarding there are a few other activities available.
A personal favourite of mine is to visit one of the many Onsens spread out around the resorts. An Onsen is a Japanese hot spring which is natural hot water from geothermal heated springs. It is essentially a bathing house where there are indoor and outdoor springs to soak in. Traditionally, the baths are segregated between male and female and you have to enter the springs completely nude. To some, this sounds out of their comfort zone but you will get use to it after you visit once or twice. A perfect way to relax and soothe your muscles after a big day on the mountain.
There are also day tours available to go visit the wild Snow Monkeys and Zenkoji Temple. The price is a little bit excessive if travelling on a budget, but it’s also a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these majestic alpine snow monkeys face to face. Click Here for more information on this tour.
Thanks for reading this article and I hope it finds you well on your next snow adventure to Hakuba, Japan! Please feel free to drop me a comment below for any questions you may have.
Happy Adventuring 🙂