A Hakuba Ski Resort Guide for Western Skiers & Snowboarders

Hakuba Ski Resort, located in the in Nagano area of Japan, is a very popular ski resort for skiers and snowboarders from western countries. You can find a variety of terrains fitting everybody’s need, ex-Winter Olympic Games competition venue, nice Japanese food, various culture and sightseeing activities here. This is a perfect ski resort for those skiers and snowboarders who want to experience more about Japan.

I have personally been to Hakuba Ski Resort many times. So in this article, I am going to talk about everything you need to know for planning your Hakuba skiing or snowboarding trip. In fact, you’ll find me talk a lot more about snowboarding because I’m a snowboard instructor. Anyway, I hope you find the information in this article helpful.

Basic Information

Hakuba Weather & Snow Report

The weather of Hakuba is a mix of different weather situations. For powder lovers, the best time to go would be from the start of January to end of February, during this period, it is very likely to have snowfall every single day. Other than these days, it’s kinda like a mix of sunny and snowing weather.

When Hakuba snows, the snow quality is very good, powder, fluffy, although not as light and dry as the Hokkaido champagne powder, but then still much better than loads of places in Europe or the United States, for sure, much better than loads of other resorts in Asia too. There are more and more Australian and New Zealand people going to Hakuba for skiing and snowboarding in the last few years.

In my opinion, if the powder snowing index of Hokkaido area is 9 out of 10, then Hakuba is around 6-7 out of 10, while European ski resorts are generally getting a 3 to 4 out of 10.

Sure, this is subject to the actual weather conditions. I realized the weather had been kind of weird since 2014. We experienced one year with really heavy snowfall, like from mid-December there would be around 30 cm snowfall per day till mid of March, but there’s also a year that we could see the green grass on quite a few parts of the ski resorts even on New Year’s Eve. (of course, it’s not just the problem of Hakuba, all resorts in Japan were having the same issue.)

The average snowfall of Hakuba is usually from 5 cm to 15 cm per day on a typically snowing day in January. For daily snow report, you can check this website. Most of the time they update their report 8am by Japan Time in the morning.

Map of Hakuba Ski Resort

Hakuba Ski Resort is indeed a valley with several ski resorts: Happo One, Iwatake, Tsugaike Kogen, Cortina, Norikura, and Goryu. Hakuba47 are the main Hakuba Ski resorts while Sanosaka, Kashimayari, Yanana and Gyosei Village are smaller scale resorts.

Happo One is probably the most popular ski resort and the best choice to stay if you have never been to Hakuba before, there is a reason for this resort to be chosen as the competition venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Game: pretty large, with a variety of terrains, and kinda steep in terms of Japan standard. This is a resort suitable for all ability riders and special English speaking riders (because there is an English ski school there) but then honestly, you may need a stronger riding ability to enjoy the whole mountain because some of the terrains are kinda steep.

Iwatake is around 5 – 10 mins away by car to Happo One ski resort, around one-third of Happo One, this is a relatively small resort suitable for all ability riders, park lovers will love their park terrains. In my opinion, this is an even better training center for intermediates because of the wide open run and the shape of the mountain. In the 2017-18 season, this was the venue for Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI ACMS) exam. Evergreen Outdoor Centre (The English speaking ski and snowboarding school in Happo One) has opened a branch here too.

Hakuba 47 and Goryu are 2 linked resort, 47 is probably the heaven for park lovers, it comes with steep long runs and excellent park facilities and half pipes, together with the moguls are making 47 a great challenge for advanced riders. While Goryu is offering something suitable for beginners and intermediates with their long wide trails. Both resorts are within 10 mins by car away from Happo One.

Tsugaike Kogen, most of the websites or information said this is a great place for beginners. Honestly, I would say if you are a beginner snowboarder, try to stay away from Tsugaike until you can ride on a flat surface because the slopes are too flat!!! Especially at the bottom area, it is very likely that you will have to take off your board and walk a lot. Bear in mind most resorts are setting their standard with a skier’s view. A flat slope is good for beginner skiers but could be very difficult for snowboarders. A beginner snowboard rider always needs a gentle slope. So yeah, I would say based on a snowboarder’s view, Tsugaike Kogen is more a place for confident beginners to intermediates, advanced or expert riders love some difficulty may find this resort a bit too flat, but the size is pretty big, so still, this is a great resort that you can easily spend a day there.

Cortina is my favorite ski resort in Hakuba area because this is the resort with Hokkaido grade powder snow! On a snowing day, the bus going to Cortina is always full as everybody is heading there for powder snow. The tree runs, sidecountry and steeps runs are very fun for advanced and expert riders though. For beginner to intermediate riders, you may consider purchasing the ticket that’s including Norikura (a ski resort with loads of beginner and intermediate suitable terrains) because they are connected with each other.

Most riders go only to these mentioned resorts because they are the biggest and with direct bus connection. The smaller resorts like Sanosaka and Kashimayari, although there is public transport going there, then they are still not that convenient. I have only met people driving there by themselves until now.

Opening & Closing Dates/Timing

The Hakuba ski resorts have different exact open and close dates but they usually open by late November to mid-December and close by early April to May. We will update the exact opening dates of Hakuba ski resorts for 2018/19 winter once they’re available.

Happo One and Goryu offer night ski by 2017/18 winter, hopefully, it’s the same for 2018-19 season though!

Hakuba Ski Resort Guide

Accommodation (Hotels, Homes, etc)

For first time visitors, it is probably the best for you to stay at Happo One area, there are several restaurants, bars, shops and supermarket there. The Happo One bus terminal is actually the final destination of almost all shuttle bus and outbound bus to Nagano, Tokyo and Tokyo Airport; So yeah, accommodations within walking distance to the Happo One bus terminal are always the most convenient options.

There are less luxury accommodation like house or apartment there in Hakuba but more traditional hotels. But then I can see more and more development is happening there so probably in around 3 to 5 years this will become the “Niseko in Japan Main Island”. Currently, the accommodation types in Hakuba are a mix of westernized style and traditional Japanese style. Depending on your personal preferences you can pick one that you like.

Ecoland, which is around 1 – 2 bus stop(s) away from Happo One bus terminal, is my new favorite accommodation choice since there are loads of restaurants nearby and normally the price is cheaper than those near the Happo One ski resort. Plus quite a few of Ecoland accommodations do offer pick up and drop off services from Happo One Bus terminal so you can save the walk upon arrival and leaving!

The best thing about staying in Happo One and Ecoland is English is more popular here so it’s easier for English Speakers. Cortina is another place many westernized riders love to stay probably because it’s with the best powder snow! Thanks to the increasing number of foreigner staying there, the staff there speaks very good English too, the downside is that there is nothing nearby, no shops, restaurants… but if you don’t mind eating all meals in the hotel, this is a great place to stay, and their onsens are very good too!

Iwatake, 47, Goryu and Tsugaike Kogen come mainly Japanese style accommodation. So I would say – if you have never been there before, you may want to consider the accommodation choices in these places as your plan B unless they offer pick-up and drop-off service at the Happo One Bus terminal upon check in and check out.

Tips:

  • Always ask for how far away is it from the hotel to the bus stop, always grab a copy of the bus timetable and check the bus stop position. Hakuba is really big and you don’t want to miss the bus so you need to take a taxi back to your hotel!
  • Do check for Airbnb if you have a big group too. Once I booked a house there and it was super nice, but then do check for the number of bathrooms because traditionally Japanese prefers to have only one big bathroom in the house even they have 3 to 4 rooms.

Tickets

You can either purchase an all mountain pass or individual ski resort pass, again, as I’ve mentioned in my Niseko Ski Resort Guide, it would be cheaper if you can pre-book your ticket. I usually purchase an all mountain pass if I have planned to visit different resorts every day; Because I can take the ski resort shuttle bus for free with my all mountain pass, or else sometimes I need to pay around 300 – 500 per ride. There is some free bus, I just always can’t tell their difference…

Packages

Most accommodations offer a discount on lift pass, so do remember that you ask your accommodations first before going to the ski resorts, there are also some specialists offering tailor-made ski holiday to Hakuba, for more details, please click here.

Trip Planning Advice

Recommended Transportation Means

For family or a group of friends, I would say driving there is probably the best option. One of the reason is, this offers you the maximum flexibility. No need to rush for the bus, no more timetable check, less trouble, not happy with the snow quality in Goryu today? It’s ok, just go to Cortina after lunch then! You can stock up at the supermarket so you can save some dining cost.

Plus, driving to Hakuba is much easier than driving in Hokkaido, so I really think it is a good idea for you to drive if you have like 4 persons in your group. For sure, as I mentioned in my other articles in SnowboardHow, please drive only if you are an experienced snow and icy road driver in your own country. The downside is the driver cannot drive until you guys are home.

For public transportation options, the easiest way would be taking a direct bus, the Nagano Snow Shuttle from either Narita or Hakuba airport to Hakuba directly. Click here for more details. According to my experience, the whole journey takes around 6 hours with 2 breaks in between.

If you would like to do a bus of sightseeing before or after your Hakuba skiing/snowboarding trip, you can choose to take the highway bus running between Shinjuku and Hakuba, more details are here. The whole journey takes around 5 to 6 hours with 2 breaks in between too.

Tips: If you are planning to take these buses, do make sure you make reservations first, especially if you are going on peak days like Christmas, New Year holiday, Chinese New Year holidays…It is very likely the bus will be full.

Looking for shorter transportation hours or you just simply can’t make a reservation? Don’t worry, you can take the high-speed bullet train (2 hours) to Nagano station then take the bus from Nagano station to Hakuba bus terminal (1 hour). This is the quickest way and very likely, the most popular way. You can click here for the details about the Nagano Hakuba bus.

If you are planning to take the “Train + Bus” option, do take a look at the JR East Pass, because you can save loads if you plan your trip well with this JR Pass!

So this is what I did with my friend once: We landed in Tokyo Airport, took the Narita – Hakuba Bus to Happo One, spent 5 days on the mountain, then sent our snowboards and gears to Narita Airport with the very famous Japanese Courier Yamato Transport (also known as black cat express) on the morning we left Hakuba, then with a small hand carry luggage, we took the bus to Nagano station, then used the JR East Pass we’d pre-booked while we were still in Hong Kong, started our sightseeing journey, for example, we took the Genbi Shinkansen, visited the Sake Museum in Niigata, visited Tokyo and surrounding areas. Then went back to Narita International Airport, picked up our luggage and gears and headed home! We’ve saved at least 15000 yen on transportation cost at least!

Ok, so that went a bit too far… the last transportation method I would recommend is taking a Chuo taxi to Hakuba if you don’t want to wait for the bus. This is a more private transportation to Hakuba, and the best part is they will drop you off right in front of your accommodation. For snowboarders who are not driving to Hakuba but want to save the walking trip from Happo One bus terminal to your hotel? This is probably the best option for you.

What about taking a train to Hakuba station? Hum…. honestly this is not a popular method because there is only normal train going to Hakuba train station and there are more changes… with all your gears and luggage, I don’t recommend this method.

Travel Insurance

Since you are going skiing or snowboarding, make sure your insurance plans support dangerous activities too, if you are planning to drive in Japan, they may ask if you want to purchase insurance for your journey. So make sure you call your travel insurance company and check if there is any overlapping. If your travel insurance already covers it, just get the basic plan with only compulsory protection. You can save like 500 USD for a 5 to 7 days trip!

Please, make sure you have purchased travel insurance before your snowboarding trip and make sure they cover skiing/snowboarding. Some plans could allow you to purchase extra coverage for injuries. So just check the details and make sure they fit your needs.

Language Barriers

According to my memory I don’t remember seeing any stairs on the road in Hakuba, so from the bus terminal to most hotels, you would be walking on flats, but then since it is very likely the part of the road would be covered by snow and ice, just make sure your luggage is waterproof and with good wheels!!

Also, some accommodation may have only stairs, it is a good idea for you to check with the hotel about the ski and snowboard storage access as well as the layout of your hotel.

Additional Tips for Your Hakuba Snowboarding Trip

  • Spare a day for snow monkey, it’s very famous there!
  • Try out the Japanese hot springs (onsen) or public bath, it’s an unforgettable experience!!
  • Check the weather and plan your days in the resorts, at least make sure you go to Cortina on a snowing day so you know why everybody is heading there!
  • If possible, take the night shuttle and go to the area near the Hakuba train station for dinner, there are very nice restaurants there, not that packed, and cheaper too!
  • Pre-book the restaurant! Those famous one are always full!!!

Final Words

So that’s all I want to say about Hakuba Ski Resort till now. Yes, the snow quality may not be as nice as those resorts in Hokkaido, but then just only the mountains here are so much more exciting than those Hokkaido resorts!! Although it is getting more expensive to go to Hakuba but still it is much cheaper than going to Niseko (at least flying to Tokyo is very likely to be cheaper than flying to Sapporo). So I would say, pick this as your second Japan skiing/snowboarding trip destination. You can experience more Japanese culture in Hakuba and yet still easy to get everything you need coz English is very popular here.

I hope you enjoy reading this article, and please do kindly drop me a message or comment if you have any trip planning questions or comments.

Enjoy the snow and be safe! Cheers!!

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