Overview of Hakuba Ski Resorts
Written by Jack Lee • Last updated Sep 21, 2017
Incorporating an astonishing total of ten stand-alone ski mountains, Hakuba Valley quite rightly earns its reputation as the largest snowsports resort in Japan! There’s literally something for every ability of skier and snowboarder, making it an incredibly versatile ski destination. Freeriders, freestylers, racers, and even mogullers will all be equally at home here, so it should come as no surprise that Winter Olympic athletes once battled for medals in these exquisite mountains. Each year a glorious 36 feet of world-famous japow falls in Hakuba Valley, with the fresh powder staying light and fluffy for days on the many north-facing slopes shielded from the sun. Guess it doesn’t hurt that there’s bountiful backcountry to explore on plenty of north-facing mountainsides in the valley too!
The sheer size of Hakuba Valley does bring with it some drawbacks, namely the fact that the ski resorts are quite spread out and only a few offer skiable mountain connections. For the most part you’ll be traveling by road to reach all the different terrain on offer, but there is an extensive shuttle bus operation to get you around. Also, the smaller resorts in the valley can be rather quiet and lack some amenities you might expect, but this isn't all bad. You’ll find that experiencing authentic Japanese culture is easier here than in the country's other more westernized ski resorts, like Niseko.
It’s no secret that most of the action on and off the slopes gravitates towards the most popular resort of Happo One, but you don't have to stay in the tourist-friendly center for your whole trip. Branching out to the outer reaches of Hakuba Valley will reward you with truly unique experiences! The beauty of this snowy paradise doesn’t just lie in its extraordinary skiing and snowboarding potential, it’s also an intriguing region of Japan that’s steeped in history. There are amazing sights to see if you can drag yourself away from the mountains for a day, like the ancient Matsumoto Castle and the fascinating Jigokudani Monkey Park!
Stretching along a variety of mountainsides in the majestic Japanese Northern Alps (also known as the Hida Mountains), Hakuba Valley is home to many stunning snow-capped summits, some reaching over 9,840 feet high. While there’s no lift access beyond 6,560 feet throughout the valley, thanks to the high elevation of the mountain range the white stuff falls by the bucket load here, blanketing the lower mountain slopes with fresh soft powder throughout the winter months. The spectacular alpine scenery you’ll enjoy while riding the groomed pistes is truly a sight to behold!
Generally speaking, the ten ski resorts in Hakuba Valley are stretched out in a line from south to north, along the base of different peaks within the mountain range. If you started at the southernmost ski resort in Hakuba Valley and drove up to the northernmost, you'd pass each resort in the following order… Jiigatake, Kashimayari, Sanosaka, Goryu, Hakuba 47, Happo One, Iwatake, Tsugaike, Norikura, and finally, Cortina! The main village of Hakuba is pretty much in the middle of this line, and each ski resort offers something uniquely different from one another. When you put all their individual characteristics together, the valley provides incredibly diverse skiing and snowboarding terrain.
Hakuba Valley statistics put the total number of runs between all the resorts at 139, and the total area of skiable terrain at just over 2,325 hectares, more than enough to keep you busy for weeks on end. However, these figures don't account for the extensive sidecountry and dedicated off-piste areas found within the resorts themselves, or the amazing backcountry spread out across the valley. When you factor in all this, along with creative terrain parks and even heli-skiing for a guaranteed powder fix, the true potential of Japan’s mainland ski mecca becomes all too obvious.
When to Go
The winter season gets stretched out as long as it can at Hakuba Valley, largely due to the fact that there are so many different spots in the mountains to choose from. Ski slopes can open as early as the last week of November, and the final run to close in the first week of May! That said, for the best chance of scoring maximum powder days during your trip visit during January and February. You should find all the ski resorts and lifts open during these prime months, unless windhold grinds things to a halt on the upper sections of some mountains. Late March onwards, you risk slushy conditions as the temperatures warm up.
If there was ever a time not to come to Hakuba Valley, it has to be over the Christmas and New Year holidays, along with the Chinese New Year. Accommodation prices are hiked up, plus the slopes and lifts can get very crowded. If you’re flexible with your travel plans you can benefit from the flip side of peak season, which is generally the first weeks of December before Christmas and any time after February. Hotels, lodges, chalets, and apartments usually drop their prices by 20% during these times, so March can be a great choice for a cheaper trip with bluebird days and still great snow!
The lifts in operation across Hakuba Valley are a mixed bag really, with some being relatively new and fast, while others are dated and rather sluggish. Surprisingly, when comparing all of the resorts the one that probably comes out worse is the most popular, namely Happo One. While the older lifts here are being slowly upgraded, there are still a few rickety chairlifts creaking up the mountain. That said, Happo One has more lifts than any other resort, so it’s no wonder a few old ones are still being used. This is also where the highest lift in Hakuba Valley is, the Grat Quad chairlift, dropping you off at 6,007 feet!
If one resort is leading the pack when it comes to a modern lift system, Goryu would probably take the trophy. It has a speedy gondola that connects close to the highest point in the ski area, and plenty of chairlifts to keep you moving around the mountain without delays. For Hakuba Valley in general, the lifts run just fine throughout the season, particularly the ones servicing the lower parts of the mountains. Windhold does happen, but very rarely (5 to 10 days each year), and it’s usually only for the lifts located at the top of some ski resorts. Also, half of the Hakuba Valley resorts don't have a gondola, so expect to be riding a lot of chairlifts while you’re here!
There’s one lift pass to rule them all, the mighty Hakuba Valley Ticket! This empowers skiers and snowboarders with all-encompassing access to the ten ski resorts in the region. Prices are pretty straightforward, starting with the one day ticket at 5,700 yen for an adult and 3,200 yen for a child. For two days, an adult pass costs 10,000 yen and a child pass is 5,600 yen, while a three day pass will set adults back 14,900 yen and children 8,300 yen. Multi-day passes cater for days off the mountain too, with the three day ticket valid for three out of five days, starting from the day you buy it!
This all mountain area pass is free for children aged 5-years-old and under, welcome news for families with young ones. One thing that won't come as welcome news is the fact that all tickets are non-refundable, so do think twice before buying a lift ticket to last the whole week or longer. An injury or adverse weather that keeps you off the mountain will mean wasted cash.
Each of the ski resorts in Hakuba Valley also have their own lift pass, so it’s an option to arrive at a new base area each day and buy a single day ticket for that mountain. It’s also worth noting that a recent addition to the accessibility of Hakuba’s ski mountains comes with the partnership between Hakuba Valley and the Mountain Collective. If you hold a Mountain Collective Pass you can enjoy a free two day pass to ride the mountains across the valley! We also have some great deals for going to Hakuba and Japan.