Nestled deep in the Japanese Alps, not far from the hot-spring bathing snow monkeys of Jigokudani, lies Hakuba Valley. This sprawling ski area is home to 10 resorts, and is a mecca for world-class snowsports events such as the Winter Olympics and FIS World Cup.
And it is no surprise that Hakuba has gained such prominence. Located on mainland Japan, it is easily accessible by bullet train from Tokyo in under four hours. Hakuba’s towering mountains near the Sea of Japan provide an exceptional variety of ski terrain and quality of snow.
Skiing in Hakuba Valley
Visitors to Hakuba Valley have a world of choice laid out in front of them. While many stay in one resort for the duration of their trip, the Hakuba Valley Shuttle Bus connects all resorts and the main accommodation areas. This, together with the convenience of the combined Hakuba Valley Lift Pass, makes skiing multiple resorts on one holiday a breeze. Hakuba Valley’s resorts differ so greatly that it is well worth making the effort.
In the south of Hakuba Valley at Omachi City, Jiigatake Snow Resort, Kashimayari Sports Village and Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort are three small resorts with some major draws. These resorts offer immaculate snow on gentle, quiet runs, together with spectacular views of Lake Aoya and the surrounding mountains.
Jiigatake, Kashimayari and Sanosaka are reminiscent of off-the-beaten-track ski resorts where you can experience true Japanese hospitality. The perfect location to discover the beauty of skiing in Japan away from the westernised feel of touristy ski areas. While the terrain is limited for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders, beginners and families couldn’t ask for more.
Head north up the valley to find Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort and Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park. These interconnected ski resorts are particularly suited to beginners and intermediates, offering an excellent variety of terrain and a large terrain park. With wide open pistes and vertical runs almost a kilometre long, these prime Alpine ski courses are a must for skiers and snowboarders looking for Hakuba’s ultimate groomers.
The next resort along the Hakuba Valley is also its most famous. Hakuba Happo-One Snow Resort gained international prestige after being the lead resort of the Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998. It is also the original base for Hakuba ski accommodation.
Happo-One boasts the highest elevation and the longest vertical runs of any Hakuba resort, plus the most challenging on-piste terrain. The resort also hosts annual Riesen Slalom events and ski jumping competitions. Events like these ensure it stays firmly on the map, particularly for advanced skiers looking to pit their skills against the experts.
Hakuba Iwatake Snow Resort and Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort are true gems, and not to be missed. Beginners and intermediates will love their immaculate corduroy pistes while advanced skiers and snowboarders will delight in the easy access to Japan’s famous powder snow. Both offer an authentic Japanese ski experience, brilliant terrain and stunning alpine scenery.
Iwatake in particular is becoming a world-class destination with the development of the stunning Hakuba Mountain Harbour and the announcement of a new Gondola for December 2024. These resorts are definitely on the up, and for good reason.
On the far north end of Hakuba Valley lie Hakuba Norikura Onsen Ski Resort and Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort. These small resorts receive some of the best snow in the Valley.
Cortina is great for tree skiing alongside the services of a unique ski hotel, Hakuba Green Plaza. Here, skiers and boarders can recover from a day on the slopes in hot springs overlooking the ski runs.
Norikura is a small, lesser-known resort, but with a new lift being added this winter, new powder runs will be accessible for the first time.
While ski resorts stretch the length of the Valley, Hakuba accommodation bases are concentrated in a couple of main areas.
Hakuba’s original accommodation base was Happo Village, located at the foot of the Happo-One Gondola. This quaint Japanese ski village is still the home of most traditional Hakuba hotels or ryokan. Hakuba Hifumi and The Happo (formerly Hakuba Springs) are perhaps the most popular of these. All the services you need for your ski holiday can be found here, and Hakuba Base Camp provides excellent connections with the local area.
Wadano Forest stretches that stretches along the base of Happo-One has a variety of ski-in, ski-out accommodation options. The scenic area has seen vast development in the past 10 years. One of the latest additions is Roka Apartments located at the base of the Sakka ski area. The apartments are perfect for skiers wanting to stay in Happo for the duration of their holiday – with lifts on the doorstep, it can be hard not to.
When it comes to accommodation, the main development in the past decade has been the rise of Echoland. This is Hakuba’s restaurant and main apres ski district located in between Happo-One and Hakuba 47. While most properties here require a short shuttle to the lifts, its central location and superb accessibility make it a huge draw for anyone wanting to experience a variety of Hakuba resorts during their stay.
The number of fantastic new properties here is astounding. Guests will find private chalets designed to cater for larger groups, such as Echo Rocks.
The neighbouring area of Misorano is quieter, but most properties are still within easy walking distance of Echoland’s many attractions. Misorano is becoming increasingly popular thanks to new developments like Hakuba Amber Resort which offers seclusion in an accessible location.
Outside of these key bases, are a smattering of accommodation options. Sierra Resort Hakuba is an established Japanese hotel that offers outstanding hospitality and services. The highlight is an unbeatable onsen experience in between Iwatake and Tsugaike ski resorts. The beautiful Green Plaza Hotel offers a ski-in, ski-out location at Cortina. It’s perfect for shorter stays or for powder enthusiasts wanting to concentrate their time at the northern end of the valley. New accommodation is increasingly springing due to the immense draw and untapped potential of these lesser-known resorts.
To discuss which option would be best for your group, visit Japan Ski Experience. With 15 years of experience, the travel company prides itself on expert local advice and convenient accommodation and resort service bookings.
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