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Hakuba Valley

Tokyo Haneda Airport
bullet-train, shared taxi or private transfers
987 metres

This phenomenal snowbound valley in the spectacular Japanese Alps offers some of the steepest, expansive and panoramic terrain in Japan.

Hakuba is the catch-all name for an endless skier's wonderland spanning Japan's highest mountains. Ski adventurers, we defy you to get bored! The Hakuba Valley lift pass provides access to not just one but ten individual ski mountains and although there’s liberal snowfall, the mountains of Hakuba also enjoy a good number of clear, sunny days: win, win. 

Hakuba is foreigner-friendly and the accommodation options are as varied as the skiing – whether staying in vibrant Happo Village, hiding away amongst the trees in pretty Wadano, living it up in Echoland or hunkering down elsewhere in a mountain cabin. Each of the areas have their own personality and are well connected by shuttle.

The general trend in Hakuba is for an early evening onsen (a traditional hot spring bath) before dinner and drinks, so bars tend to open later than you may be accustomed to; we say make the most of onsen time – your muscles will thank you. At dinner time, you’ll find everything from international staples – Italian, Indian, American – to relaxed izakayas serving tapas-style Japanese. The bars are lively, and dancing until the wee hours is the preserve of Echoland’s bars and clubs.

Hakuba Valley

Resort Card

Beginners:
Intermediate:
Advanced:
Snowboarders:
Après Ski:
Families:

Our Opinion

"This valley is the epicentre for Japan’s ski culture and the big, big mountains deliver more on and off piste than anywhere else. The best skiing in Japan? Quite probably. Certainly the most extensive, and with some of the most challenging terrain. Off the mountains? Well, too many Australians can make the main village a little boisterous during the early season (December through to the end of January), but they are easily avoided by staying up in the pretty Wadano Woods area."

Nick Coates Founder
Hakuba Valley
36.6982°N 137.8619°E

Skiing & snowboarding in the Hakuba Valley

The Hakuba valley, when considered in its entirety, encompasses a mind-boggling catchment area; 10 ski mountains, over 200 pistes, numerous terrain parks, and access to backcountry which can go on for days and days. Throw in the plentiful and pristine powder snow, and this is paradise found.

Staying on the pistes, most mountains are a haven for cruising, immaculately groomed and often with an amazing fall line. These are the steepest mountains in Japan, which admittedly is not saying much, but you will find some of the most challenging piste and backcountry skiing in the country in the Hakuba Valley.

Off Piste & Backcountry

The Hakuba Valley has some of the best, if not the best, side- and backcountry skiing in Japan. These are big alpine peaks (over 3,000 metres) and terrain similar to what you would find in Alaska or European Alps...but without the need for a helicopter! The snow in January and February is best for powder and deep snow, lots of storms and snowfall. However, even in early to mid March, the Hakuba Valley serves up the goods.

There is no mechanised (cat skiing) operations in Hakuba, so all backcountry is using skins and skis / splitboards/ snowshoes. However, there are many off-piste areas to access right off the resorts with little to no hiking involved (though more skiers hit up these spots due to easy access). Touring can access steeps, open bowls, gladed tree runs and alpine zones., again with little to no hiking. (of course, snow and weather conditions permitting)

Safety is vital – we always suggest you seek the good stuff with one of our qualified, professional and knowledgeable guides. And it is paramount to have proper avalanche safety equipment before venturing into the backcountry - this includes a beacon, probe, and shovel in your backcountry pack, as well as the knowledge of how to use it properly.

Experts

Big old mountains mean challenging steeps; try Hakuba 47 – which connects conveniently with Goryu (home of the moguls) – and the runs from the top of Adam Gondola on Happo One. While there, we recommend getting up high for the powder fields of Reisen Grat, and following in the footsteps of Olympians at Kurobishi Olympic Downhill. Smaller Cortina, further out, is worth the schlep for deep powder, jagged terrain, and good tree and backcountry skiing serviced by efficient lifts. There are several terrain parks dotted about the valley.

Intermediates

Long, uninterrupted skiing days are the norm, with most of the mountains geared up for intermediates. Heavenly sweepers part the forest of popular Happo One, where you’ll also have fun racing down the Olympic Women’s Downhill course, or taking a stab at the powder off-piste. Iwatake is known for well-groomed, scenic runs; and Tsugaike has appealing, gentle backcountry skiing.

Novice skiers & snowboarders

The sheer scale of Hakuba makes it great for beginners – there’s no need to ever get bored of treading the same old tracks. We’d head to Minetaka and the Sakka area of Happo One first, before exploring the top of Goryu Mountain in the during following days. You can test yourself a little more in Iwatake, and escape the crowds in Norikura.

Where to stay in the Hakuba Valley?

Choosing where to hole up in the Hakuba valley can seem like a challenge, because there are actually too much choice and, consequently, quality can be a real issue. We've inspected hundreds of hotels, ryokans, pensions, chalets and apartments and not always come away impressed. Following is a hand-picked selection of a few (not all) of our trusted favourites in the Hakuba Valley.

 

The main hub is Happo Village – a good choice if you wish to have the bulk of restaurants and the bars within striking distance. Staying in nearby Lower Wadano means you can bed down amongst the trees but won’t sacrifice convenience; while Upper Wadano is the place for ski-in, ski-out access. Echoland has plenty of options also, though staying here does feel a bit betwixt and between.

 

 

Hotels & Ryokans

The friendliest place to stay in Hakuba is a timber lodge within the Wadano forest.

First Class
Wadano Woods

An authentic, friendly inn delivering the Japanese experience in the heart of the village.

Medium
Happo Village

East meets West in our favourite hotel in Hakuba. Stylish & comfortable.

Deluxe
Wadano Woods

The largest and most exclusive hotel in Hakuba, in a great location in Wadano.

Deluxe
Wadano Woods

A cosy and affordable little hotel that is almost ski-in, ski-out.

Budget
Upper Wadano Woods

Hiding in plain sight in the heart of the village, an excellent hotel with spacious rooms.

First Class
Happo Village

A luxury ryokan, offering traditional Japanese hospitality. But availability can often be an issue....

Deluxe
Happo Village

Centrally located, with plenty of facilities including one of the best onsens in Hakuba.

Medium
Wadano Woods

A super-convenient budget option, nestled amongst the trees of Wadano.

Budget
Upper Wadano Woods

The grand old dame hotel of Hakuba - classical elegance and impeccable service.

Deluxe
Wadano Woods

Apartments, Chalets & Houses

A stand-alone two-bedroom chalet, with trendy furnishings plus a 4WD vehicle for your exclusive use.

Deluxe
edge of Happo Village

A small complex of luxury, ultra-chic apartments with stunning views and ski-in, ski-out access.

Deluxe
Wadano Woods / Sakka Lifts

A four-bedroom ultra-luxury chalet, with all the toys.

Opulent
Wadano Woods

Splendid hotel rooms and 2, 3 and 4-bedroom apartments right next to the Sakka lifts.

First Class
Wadano Woods / Sakka Lifts

The sexiest place to stay in Hakuba, as featured in interiors magazines across Asia.

Deluxe
Goryu

A stunning self-contained chalet, state-of-the-art and all rather exquisite. If it's available, we ...

Deluxe
Wadano Woods

Nestled in the Wadano trees behind the main road are these brand new, modern apartments.

First Class
Wadano Woods

Fully-equipped apartments offering total comfort next to the Phoenix Hotel.

First Class
Wadano Woods

The homeliest apartments (two, three and four-bedroom) in Hakuba are also the most lavish.

Deluxe
Wadano Woods / Sakka Lifts

Ski Guiding & other activities

The backcountry opportunities are without compare; wonderful back-bowls, deep open powder fields and pretty gladed runs lower down. However, you may need to venture further afield to find fresh tracks during busy periods (i.e. early in the season) and the guides we use know how to get you to the deep pow'. 

 

Whilst there is enough on the mountains in the Hakuba Valley to keep you going forever, a visit to the region in the heart of Nagano Prefecture needn’t be all ski. The surrounding area is alive with Japanese magic, and we can suggest self-guided day trips or alternatively book you on a few small group tours. 

On the mountain

Hire an experienced, qualified, locally-knowledgeable private ski or snowboard guide.

Join some like-minded souls and head out with a guide to seek powder, wherever it may be!

Skiing in the powder snow requires a different technique - once learned, paradise awaits.

Off the mountain

Head to Japan's oldest still standing castle and explore in this picture-perfect city.

Full day off the slopes to see the famous snow monkeys, a major local temple and more...

Holidays featuring the Hakuba Valley

These suggested itineraries will give you a starting point for what your ski holiday to the Hakuba Valley could potentially entail. Sometimes we combine ski resorts and we often cherish the opportunity to explore and experience Japan beyond the ski slopes.

 

We hope these itineraries will inspire, excite and inform you as we begin the planning process. But note: they’re not set departures or tours, as every holiday we plan is completely tailor-made for you - consider these itineraries as inspiration only.

 

Japan Alps Explorer - Itinerary
Itinerary

Japan Alps Explorer

Bullet-trains, snow monkeys, atmospheric villages, shrines, neon cities and...snow.

16 days
Tokyo - Nozawa Onsen - Hakuba Valley - Kyoto
Find out more
Honshu Powder Extravaganza - Itinerary
Itinerary

Honshu Powder Extravaganza

The deepest, untracked powder snow on the most challenging and diverse terrain? We got this.

two weeks
Hakuba Valley - Myoko Kogen (or Arai) - Tokyo
Find out more
The best of Japan - Itinerary
Itinerary

The best of Japan

Japan two most famous ski destinations, followed by time in the capital. Perfection.

2 weeks
Niseko - Hakuba - Tokyo
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Ski Concierge

Hakuba Valley can get complicated, with 10 mountains in a single valley the logistics can be challenging. This is where our local know-how will prove invaluable. We've skied all the mountains, we've explored the region and we've had a cheeky beer in most of the villages, therefore we know the lay of the land.

Different Snow can include transfers from the nearest airports and back to Tokyo (or Kyoto), we know the best equipment hire shops, work closely with the most reputable two ski schools, and buy the all-valley ski passes cheaper than what you would be able to access locally. And in Hakuba, it is wise to have everything booked in advance – it is a popular resort and availability often is a problem.

Lift Passes

The Hakuba Valley All Mountain Ski Lift Pass covers most of the resorts – Happo One, Hakuba 47, Goryu, Sanosaka, Iwatake, Tsugaike, Norikura, Cortina, Minekata, Jigatake and Kashimayari. Due to the size of the valley and number of different resorts included, there are a number of conditions attached to their use:

  • One resort per day – it is not possible to exchange a ticket to another ski resort on the same day, so you can only ski one resort unless you use two coupons.
  • Night skiing is not included.
  • A 1,000 Yen deposit is required at the ticket window of most ski resorts, as you exchange your lift pass coupon for the IC Chip for the day. This is refunded at the end of each day.


Lessons

We can organise ski lessons – either group or private – in several of the resorts. However, most will want to focus on Happo One, for this is where your accommodations most likely will be and the mountain itself offers the most terrain – easy slopes to learn the basics, steeper slopes to practice carving, moguls, deep powder just off-piste and a well-maintained snow-park. Therefore, we'll focus on the best ski school working in Happo.

Native English-speaking instructors are the norm and they offer both group and private lessons (max eight persons). The school is the ideal ski-in ski-out set-up with an office, meeting area, public toilets, rest area, day-care room and cafe.

Equipment Hire

There is one rental company better than all the rest in Hakuba and we are fortunate enough to enjoy excellent rates. It is invariably better to pre-book, thus guaranteeing availability of the best kit and reducing the palaver once you are there. They'll even pick you up from your accommodation when you arrive (we'll give you the number to call) and allow you to then simply leave it at your accommodation when you leave. And service is all English speaking. They also offer unlimited equipment changeover, swapping out piste-skis for fatter powder-specilaist kit when the conditions warrant.

If you want to try 'the other side', you can swap your ski gear in for snowboarding (or vice versa) during your rental period.

Transfers to and from the Hakuba Valley

Getting from either Tokyo Haneda or Tokyo Narita airport is a bit of trek - it takes about five hours, either by road or by rail. Most conveniently after a long-haul flight we tend to use shared taxi transfers (max 7 people per taxi), though we can organise private vehicle road transfers also.

The shinkansen (bullet-train) connects Tokyo with Nagano City, and we can pre-book tickets on what are ordinarily very busy trains. From Nagano Station to the Hakuba Valley, it's either coach or private pre-booked transfers. 

Don't worry - we've got all the options covered, and have done this countless times ourselves. This is our meat and potatoes.

 

What our customers say

4.5 star rating

Our customers rate us 'Excellent'

Terrific

Very knowledgeable, patient and organised. Enjoyed all of my chats with Nick who offered a fantastic personalised service. Itinerary, accommodations and transfers all exactly as planned, loads of useful info to accompany the trip. Would definitely use again and recommend.

Patricia O'Donnell  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

We had a trip of a lifetime holiday

Different Snow presented us with an excellent itinerary to suit our budget and accommodated specific requests. We had a whistlestop tour of Tokyo followed by great powder skiing in Hakuba then a cultural exploration of Kyoto. A fascinating and rewarding trip!

S Macquaker  ·  TrustPilot (verified review)

Please visit our TrustPilot page to read the full reviews.

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