Destination Guide: Hakuba

If you have been there done that in Niseko, the next destination to explore in Japan for the ski and snowboard activities would definitely have to Hakuba.

Located in Nagano prefecture and in the northern Japan alps, Hakuba was the main event venue for 1998 Winter Olympics and is home to 8 ski fields. The vastness of terrains are suitable for skiers and boarders of all levels, and the wide trails are perfect for practising and leveling up!

Hakuba Destination Guide
View from Happo-One

Introduction

Hakuba has 8 ski resorts, so you are really spoilt for choices when you are in the ‘hood. The difference between Hakuba and Niseko does not just reside on the size of the ski resorts. I find Hakuba less commercialised and the area offers more authentic dining options. Even the cafeterias at the base camps serve delicious meals – compared to the expensive and lackluster options at Niseko.

The largest ski resort is Happo-one, which is the arguably the most popular one in Hakuba and has interesting terrains even for the green run.

Hakuba Destination Guide
Hakuba Ski Map [Credit: Hakuba Tourism]

Happo-one

Hakuba Destination Guide
View from the Kurobishi Quad Lift at Happo-One

If you are in Hakuba, you definitely need to visit Happo-one. This is after all, the largest ski resort in town and there are 13 trails for different levels. Even for beginners, you get to enjoy green courses from close to the top of the mountain (the Sakka and Kokusai course).

Being the largest resort in Hakuba, Happo-one is easily accessible with ski-in, ski-out resorts and numerous shops as well as restaurants. For those who don’t intend to drive – although we highly recommend renting a vehicle – you could consider staying near this area.

Hakuba 47 and Goryu

Both ski fields are linked, and there are ski schools operating there. I attended lessons from Hakuba Snow Sports and couldn’t recommend them enough!

Hakuba Destination Guide
In front of the Gondola at Iimori Goryu Resort

Iwatake

You will be rewarded with the panoramic view of the Alps at the summit of Iwatake. This resort is small but easy to navigate, and they have a few interesting trails suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers.

Hakuba Destination Guide
Before gliding down this red slope at Iwatake. The view was amazing!

Tsugaike Kogen

Tsugaike Kogen has a good number of green courses that allow skiers to practice. Additionally, it is not as crowded as Hakuba 47 or Happo-One. You get to go up to the summit via the gondola and go through some green and red courses to the base.

Hakuba Destination Guide
A forest trail at Tsugaike

Cortina

Cortina is a great place to spend the entire day because the resort offers an all-in package of all day ski pass, lunch and onsen at an affordable price (4300 JPY in 2017)! The official hotel, Hotel Green Plaza, boasts an European architecture that is extremely photogenic and Instagram-worthy.

For lunch at Cortina, we highly recommend going to “Tea Lounge Lyrical” at Hotel Green Plaza for the make your own pizza. You could add as much topping as you want on your pizza base, which is value-for-money and just perfect a morning up on the slopes.

Entrance of Hotel Green Plaza - the ski-in-ski-out hotel of Cortina.
Entrance of Hotel Green Plaza – the ski-in-ski-out hotel of Cortina.

Norikura

Norikura is located near Cortina and is considered the little sister of Cortina, because of its scale relative to the latter.

Sansosaka

Located at the southern region of Hakuba, Sansosaka is a distance from the central region such as Happo-One, but boasts a number of short runs suitable for family and beginners. This is the only ski field that presents a lake view!

How to go?

Hakuba is about 5-6 hours ride from Tokyo or Nagano. You could take a direct flight to Tokyo or Nagano, and either take a Shinkansen or direct coach to Hakuba. Alternatively, you could also rent a car and drive directly to Hakuba.

For direct coach services, you could look at Alpico or Nagano Snow Shuttle.

Hakuba Destination Guide
Always keep a shovel to clear the snow on the windscreen and windows of the car before driving off in the morning!

Tips

  • The best time to visit Hakuba is from mid January to February, when the snow condition gets better in the season.
  • Hakuba is well connected with shuttle buses to various resorts. However, if you prefer not to walk around in your heavy boots and gear while waiting outdoor for the shuttle buses, renting a car would be ideal. You could rent the vehicle from Tokyo, or within Hakuba via Windy Car Rental.
  • If you are driving in winter, it is advisable to opt for 4WD and snow tires.
  • You need not purchase ski passes before hand. In fact, most ski resorts in Hakuba offer an all-day pass and lunch package, sometimes inclusive of onsen discount, which is cheaper and more value for money. The food at the resort cafes and restaurants are decent (compared to what I have experienced in Niseko). I also find it more efficient to have lunch break at the ski resort, before I get back to the slopes again in the afternoon. Always visit the ski resort’s website and download the coupon before you purchase your ski pass.
  • You have to visit the onsen at Hakuba Highland Hotel as it offers the best view of the mountains from its outdoor bath.
  • If you have an off day from snow activities, consider taking side trips to Jigokudani Monkey Park or Matsutomo Castle. There are tour operators in Hakuba that offer daily bus tours to these attractions. Alternatively, you could drive there for your own free & easy excursion.
  • The selection of food in Hakuba is amazing but a number of the operators are not proficient in English. Do prepare your Google Translator when in Hakuba.
  • Recommended eateries in Hakuba include: Zen Soba, Izakaya Hie, Emu (Okonomiyaki), Sounds Like Cafe, Kikyo-Ya (Sushi)
  • While the dining scene in Hakuba is more laidback compared to Niseko, dinner reservations are still highly recommended.

Hakuba Destination Guide
Scenic view of Matsutomo Castle



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