Greater Hakuba Resort
The Hakuba snow fields are situated in the breathtakingly beautiful northern Japanese Alps, and the home of the 1998 winter Olympics, Hakuba is the central hub for 10 or 11 (depending on who you ask and how you count them) ski resorts with more than 200 combined runs.
Steepest: 35degrees. Longest: 8km
138 Ski Lifts, 5 Gondolas
Beginner 30%, Intermediate: 40%, Advanced:30%
This amount of choice ensures that skiers and boarders of all levels are catered for, and even when the weather comes in you can usually find somewhere to ride, tucked away from the wind. With an average annual snowfall of 11 meters it doesn’t matter what you are looking for, you will find perfectly groomed gentle runs for beginners through to waist-deep powder in steep terrain for the experts. In Hakuba we’ve got you covered. Hakuba boasts some of the longest vertical riding in Japan, more blue bird days on average than Niseko and has earned its reputation as a snow holiday destination of choice.
Each of the resorts that comprise Hakuba have different characteristics, so let’s have a look at the main ones so that you can plan your trip to maximise your riding time
Happo-One is right at the back door when you stay with us at Hotel Villa Hakuba, with Sakka lift less than 100 meters away ensuring that you can grab first runs without any hassle. Pronounced Happo-O-nay, it is the most popular of the Hakuba resorts but because it is broken up in to 4 areas (all interconnected); Nakiyama, Gondola area, Kokusai, and Sakka, outside of peak holidays, it rarely feels crowded. There is 1 gondola and 22 lifts, night-riding, a variety of on-hill restaurants, and you’ll even find an onsen on the slopes. The terrain is comprised of mostly beginner to intermediate long groomed runs but there are a few expert options too. Happo-one also provides access to the renowned Japanese back-country, so if hiking is your thing, we highly recommend you hook up with our friends at Evergreen Outdoor Centre. These guys are the experts in all things back-country and they are conveniently located just down the road from us.
Happo Banks is also located near the hotel in the Happo-One Sakka area and is a superbly crafted snow park catering to both boarders and skiers. There are jump points, banks, lip tricks, and jibbing spots and it provides an almost endless amount of options to get your groove on, you just need to change your line to mix it up each run.
Hakuba 47 and Goryu
Hakuba 47 is popular with intermediate and advanced riders because of its long steep fast runs. Because this area is a little out of the way the crowds tend to be less than Happo-One. Hakuba 47 offers night-riding and also has an excellent terrain park and half-pipe. If you want to dabble in some off-piste you can sign up at the School Centre and get yourself a red-bib (after you provide your ID into their safe-keeping, sign a waiver, and agree to abide by the rules) that will allow you to access the Tree Riding Zone where the powder is rarely touched.
Interconnected with Hakuba 47, Goryu has long wide trails, gentle slopes and is well suited to beginner and intermediate riders. This combination makes it an excellent option for families and groups where the riding level varies as it caters to everybody.
Iwatake is great for confident beginners and intermediate riders with only a few single black diamond runs where advanced intermediate riders can start to stretch themselves. It also has a terrain park for those wanting to hit it up.
With 12 lifts and the main gondola there are plenty of options here to keep the whole family busy for the day.
The views seem never-ending and whilst the whole Hakuba region is spectacular you get the best effect at Iwatake.
Iwatake is only a relatively short shuttle ride from Hotel Villa Hakuba and it is well worthwhile packing your camera for some amazing scenery shots.
There is a public onsen on the opposite side of the car-park from the ski fields so you can indulge in some relaxation before heading back to the hotel if the fancy strikes you!
Tsugaike Kogen has the best lift infrastructure and is ideal for beginners and intermediate riders with its uncrowded super-wide mellow runs, and lack of trees on the lower part of the mountain. The last I checked the Ski School did not offer English options however it’s the perfect place to teach your kids or friends if you are patient enough to take this task on yourself. Tsugaike is less westernised on and off the hill than most of the other resort options, but that also makes it perfect to get you out of your comfort-zone just a smidge and take in some of the Japanese culture.
What you will find at Tsugaike is Japan heli skiing. Now before you get your knickers in a twist and start frothing to the max, it’s not heli skiing as we’ve come to think of it. Rather more of a sightseeing helicopter trip with the added benefit of being dropped off in a beautiful part of the Hakuba Valley and you then get to ski/board back to the resort. The heli skiing only runs in March and April, is relatively affordable, aimed at intermediate riders, and kids are welcome to join in.
Cortina and Norikura
Cortina is regarded as Hakuba’s powder playground, it offers steep tree terrain and has the added benefit of off-piste riding being permitted within the resort. Powder hounds also love to seek out the side country with lift access taking the hard work out of getting amongst it. Cortina is all-but guaranteed to be a day to be remembered.
Interconnected with Cortina, Norikura has lots of beginner and intermediate runs that are often devoid of traffic. But don’t let the trail maps fool you, there are some epic runs to be had here too. Because Norikura is less well-regarded you can be riding freshies from first lifts to last, and is one of my favourite resorts in the greater Hakuba area.
When you head to Cortina it is an absolute must to pack yourself a clean pair of undies; the onsen here is sublime. I’d wax lyrical about it but that would take the surprise out of what to expect. Just do yourself a favour and get along to it. The cost of entry is included in your lift pass.