The Complete Guide To Hakuba
Hakuba 2018/19 Season – What You Need To Know
Just over three hours from downtown Tokyo in the Northern Japanese Alps—Hakuba is an experience incomparable to others. The valley can claim more sunshine than its neighbours, a cluster of mountains with wide ranging terrain, delicious restaurants, great bars, huge snowfalls and the steepest runs of the country’s 600 alpine resorts. The region debuted on the world stage while hosting the Winter Olympics in 1998 and has grown to one of Asia’s most popular ski destinations. For those who have rightfully decided to tick this off their bucket list of must-ski destinations, we’ve put together the must read, insider guide on Hakuba for the 2018/19 season.
Table Of Contents
- Whats New
- Resort Guide
- Hakuba Access
- Lessons and Rental Equipment
- Off Slope Adventures
- Restaurants & Apres
- Special Events
- Day Trips
There are several big changes this year in Hakuba; Happo-One and Hakuba 47 have opened new terrain, the Hakuba Valley has joined the Epic Pass, and Hakuba Mountain Harbor Cafe opened on Iwatake.
New Terrain Happo-One and Hakuba 47
Happo-One will open new terrain this season. The “Omusubi course” which is located from Skyline course through to Panorama Course will be re-opened as the “Adventure Powder Area” from January to March.
Hakuba47 is also making changes for the 2018/19 season. They will open a new tree run called the Open Tree Zone where everyone can ski and ride. Membership in the TRZ (Tree Riding Zone) will not be required for this area.
Hakuba Valley has joined the Epic Pass for the 2018/19 season which now includes access to 55 different resorts around the world. This is great for Australians as the Epic Australia Pass gives you a full season of access to Perisher in addition to 5 consecutive days in Hakuba and heaps more resorts around the world!
Hakuba Mountain Harbor Cafe is now open in Iwatake. The cafe features a long-established bakery from New York “City Bakery” as well as an amazing sky deck to take in the incredible scenery. Mountain Harbor is open all year round so be sure to check it out if you’re skiing or boarding at Iwatake this season.
The Hakuba Valley boasts incredible variety with eleven different resorts so no matter your ability level Hakuba will be able to accommodate you and your party. If you can’t visit all the resorts in the valley, worry not I have you covered with what you need to know to have the perfect Hakuba ski holiday. All Hakuba resorts can be accessed on the one lift ticket with the Hakuba All Valley Pass.
Beginners and intermediates would be best served to start their skiing at Tsugaike Kogen. The slopes are wide, gentle, and devoid of trees making it the best place to build your confidence.
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.
“Kane-no-naru-oka” (The hill where the bell rings) is the best run for families and beginners. This mellow run is 1,200m wide, 980m in length, and has comfortable 9 degree average gradient. It also has night skiing.
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 usually gets nearly twice as much snow as neighboring resorts! The snow patrol at Coritna are quite relaxed, and off-piste skiing is not an issue. Ridgeline runs that drop into near-perfectly spaced trees will delight those wanting to earn their turns and get waist-deep in the pow.
Cortina has fewer runs compared to other resorts in the valley but it’s interlinked with the neighboring Norikura and the the lift pass gives you access to all 25 combined runs which opens options nicely if you’re looking to stay on piste.
At the foot of Cortina sits one of the most iconic properties in Hakuba, the Green Plaza Hotel. While the impressive structure may resemble something out of The Shinning, we can assure you the atmosphere is more welcoming. With a delicious fusion restaurant and a great buffet, the Green Plaza Hotel is perfect for those who wish to languish by a fire and Après all day.
GO HERE ON A POWDER DAY. You can basically ski any of the trees, and most on the front side of the resort funnel back down to the base center. It is not to be missed.
The largest and most central resort in the valley is Happo-One (pronounced On Ay), spreading across 220 hectares. Happo-One hosted several of the 1998 Winter Olympic events including the ski jump and the slalom.
The pitch is on the steeper side with a 1701 vertical meter drop and is best suited for intermediate and advanced skiers. Beginners at Happo should visit Saka where the terrain is more mellow.
Terrain park dudes are in luck, the Happo Banks Terrain Park or ‘the Banks’ as its referred to by those in the know, may be the best park in the valley.
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.
A great option for families or groups with a mix of abilities, Iwatake has terrain for every skill level. Just 10 minutes from Hakuba Station, the resort is easily accessible from Happo Village.
Once beginners build confidence, they can take an easy run from the top of the mountain all the way to the base; there are also more challenging intermediate routes that branch off from this run. Advanced skiers can stay busy as well as their are high speed runs, powder skiing and a terrain park.
Insider tip: One of the best ramen shops in town is located at the base of the ski resort. Come out from the gondola entrance and cross the road to a wooden shack with skis and snowboards out the front. The ramen here is to die for.
Connected to Goryu, these resorts sit right next to Happo One (the two have reciprocal views of each other) and are adjacent to Goryu and Echoland villages. This is another resort that’s great for the family; there’s a large variety of beginner and intermediate terrain with some challenging blacks as well. 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. It’s free to register and you’ll receive a bib that gives you access to the exclusive terrain.
From Narita Airport
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) 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), which will deliver you safely to Hakuba Station. In total this route will take no more than four hours.
Take the Nagano Snow Shuttle (¥10,250) 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.
From Haneda Airport
Take the monorail to Hammatsucho Station, transfer to the Yamanote Line (the large green circular line), and take it to Tokyo Station. There you can board the Shinkansen to Nagano Station and then the bus to Hakuba Bus terminal as outlined above.
Take the Nagano Snow Shuttle (¥9,600) from Haneda Airport straight to Hakuba. This trip will take just over five hours in total and departs Haneda twice daily at 7:30 and 1:30 P.M.
If you’re interested in travelling for a day or two during your trip, buy the JR East Rail Pass. For ¥22,000 you receive 5 days of unlimited use of JR transportation network. Check this out for more information.
Lessons and Rental Equipment
With a number of English-speaking ski schools in the area you wont have to worry if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch.
Evergreen Outdoor Center
The largest ski school is Evergreen Outdoor Center. Evergreen acts somewhat of a one-stop shop as its just around the corner from Rhythm Snowsports and the two happily shuttle customers to and from.
Rhythm Snow Sports has an enviable selection of attire and equipment to either rent or purchase, as well as a coffee bar with some of the best beans in town! The staff all speak English and shuttles are happily organized for you and your crew so you wont have to lug all your newfound gear back to your accommodation.
Next-door to Rhythm is Duke’s Bacon N’ Egg Muffin Pop up Shop– delicious at any time of day but especially pleasing after one too many Asahi’s or Sake’s were consumed the night before.
Off Slope Adventures
Driving through fresh powder on a powerful machine is one of the best ways to spend an hour off the slopes this winter. A single ride costs ¥12,000 while a tandem ride will set you back ¥18,000. Check out Lion Adventure site for more details.
Take a nice wander through the trees on the fresh untouched snow of the Iwatake Snow Fields. This guided tour leaves twice a day and includes a tea break in the forest.
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 and we recommend staying in the Echoland, Happo and Wadano areas of Hakuba as this will give you easy access to more ski resorts, more après options, bars, restaurants, cafés and shops. There are plenty of options for those who are doing Hakuba on a budget as well as those who want to take the 5 star route. Here are a few of our favourite places.
The Lab – Budget
Springs Hotel – Mid Range
Marillen Hotel – Ski In – Ski Out
Phoenix Hotel and Chalets – Luxury
Restaurants and Apres
The Hakuba Valley is blessed with an array of delicious restaurants spanning a seemingly endless number of cuisines and price ranges. It’s the type of place where you can try a new restaurant for every meal during your stay, and still have so much to discover in the Valley.
Penguin Cafe – Echoland
Roots Cafe – Happo-One
Blizzard – Happo Gondola
Lion Cafe – Happo Village
Sharaku – Springs Hotel Happo
Zen Soba – Mizuho
Hie – Echoland
Kikyoya – Hakuba Station
The Rabbit Hole – Wadano
Blizzard Pizza Bar – Happo Gondala
Cherry Pub – Echoland
Bernd’s Keller – Marillen Hotel Happo
Mimi’s – Phoenix Hotel Wadano
Teppanyaki Steak Sanno – Echoland
The Rabbit Hole – Wadano
Jack’s Bar – Happo Village
Bar Refuel – Happo Village
Mockingbird – Echoland
Free Ride World Tour
The best freeskiers and snowboard freeriders will compete on 5 of the most legendary and challenging alpine faces in the world this year including in Hakuba between January 19-26.
Happo-One will host the annual slalom race this year between February 28th and March 3rd. The competition is open to the public and costs ¥5,000. There are multiple age groups. Visit the Happo-One website for more details.
Snowball World Championship
On March 6th, teams of 7 from Japan, China, and Hong Kong will square off in a 10 by 36 meter area for an epic snowball battle. First team to eliminate all opponents or to capture the opponent’s flag is the winner.
The world famous Snow Monkeys are the only known monkeys to bathe in hot springs and they’re easily accessible! It takes about two hours on public transport from Hakuba. Tours are also available.
Monkeys not your thing? How about a trip to one of Japan’s oldest standing castles? Nicknamed “Crows Castle’ for its unique black color, it’s one of the few castles in Japan constructed in an open plain. It’s about 90 minutes on JR train from Hakuba Station.
Located 10 minutes from Nagano Station, this 7th Century Buddhist Temple is one of the most significant in Japan, and many believe it holds the first Buddha statue brought to Japan. Given its location and splendour, it’s a must see for all visitors.
Home to one of Japan’s most famous gardens, a beautiful castle, and Edo period shopping arcades, Kanazawa is a great way to experience Japanese culture and history. The trip takes 2 Hours and 52 Minutes from Hakuba Station and is all included on the JR Rail Pass.
Located on the coast of the Japan Sea in Nigata, Itoigawa boasts natural beauty, fresh seafood, and a glimpse into traditional Japanese culture which can’t be found in a ski resort or a big city.
Looking for thrills off the slope? Go ride some of the world’s fastest and most innovative roller coasters. This trip requires a car hire.
A small resort town packed with culture, restaurants, skiing, and onsens, Karuizawa is only 2 hours and 20 minutes from Hakuba by bus and Shinkansen.
Interested in a trip to Hakuba this season? You can check out our latest packages or make an enquiry here. If you are already booked to join us in Hakuba and would like to add any of these to your booking, contact your travel consultant and they will be happy to help.
This article was originally published on Hakuba.com and was republished on Liquid Snow Tours with permission. Check out Hakuba.com for everything you need to know about one of Japan’s most popular ski resorts.