With Olympic heritage, a mammoth 26,250 ft top to bottom run, and some of the finest powder on earth, Happo One (pronounced oh-neh) is without a doubt the most popular of all the Hakuba Valley ski resorts. The official resort numbers state that the ski area covers a total of 543 ac, but this doesn't factor in the extensive sidecountry between the runs, which provides the perfect introduction to riding powder for skiers and snowboarders who are ready to go off-piste! Enjoying a healthy 3,514 ft of vertical drop and the steepest slope coming in at 35 degrees, it’s by far the best choice in Hakuba for advanced mountain riders. With all this and much more, Happo One quite rightly earns its status as one of the best ski resorts on the main Japanese island of Honshu!
Finding negatives to a ski vacation in Happo One isn't easy, but beginners might be disappointed to find there aren’t a huge variety of runs for them to cut their teeth on. Also, when it comes to sheer quantity of the white stuff, Happo One (and Hakuba in general) is trumped by Japanese ski resorts like Niseko on the northern island of Hokkaido, though not by much. The same sub-zero Siberian winds blow across the Sea of Japan, picking up moisture and transforming it into magically soft snow. The average annual snowfall here is 36 ft, so there’s still plenty to be happy about at Happo One!
It was right here that the ski jumping, downhill, and super-g slalom events of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics were held! You can still ski the downhill and slalom courses to unleash the inner racer in you, and the annual Riesen Slalom Competition gives you exclusive access to the famous course. Perhaps due to its international exposure, Happo One is particularly well suited for overseas visitors, with many hotels, restaurants, stores, and other facilities having English speaking staff. That doesn't dampen the traditional Japanese culture one bit though, there’s plenty to surprise you here, from snow monkeys bathing in hot springs to the sake-soaked Fire Festival!
Straddling the base of the mighty 8,845 ft high Mount Karamatsu, the Hakuba Happo One Winter Resort has four main base areas, namely Nakiyama, Shirakaba, Kokusai and Sakka. They are close enough to one another for the snow quality at each to be practically identical, but the deepest untouched powder is always found at the higher extremities of the mountain. From the base elevation of 2,493 ft, lifts will take you up as high as 6,007 ft, way above the tree line where the grand peaks of the Northern Japanese Alps are a truly dramatic backdrop!
Pistes are perfectly groomed at Happo One, besides the few ungroomed areas marked on the trail map, and in general the higher up you go the steeper the runs become! The official resort numbers state that the ability level of the ski runs is a split between 30% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 20% advanced, although beginners will find better options at other resorts in Hakuba Valley. Long, continuous intermediate to advanced runs are what Happo One has a fine reputation for.
Blustery wind can close lifts on the upper part of the mountain, but the truth is that it doesn't happen very often, averaging between 5 to 10 days over the entire winter season. With practically no cover up there, gusts can quickly reduce visibility to little more than your hand in front of your face! Lower slopes below the tree line are much better protected when the seriously chilly wind does start blowing. Also, another thing to note is that the runs aren’t really named here, instead they are usually just called the same as the lift that gets you to the top of a run. This can be a little confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it!
When to Go
The slopes open as soon as the snow starts falling in Happo One, which can happen by late November! From then on it just keeps coming, with January and February the prime months for powder days. By March things start warming up a bit, with more blue bird days than white outs, but generally the ski season doesn't completely wind up until the first week of May!
Visit anytime time between Christmas and April and you’re pretty much guaranteed top quality, fluffy, soft snow, but there are a few dates you might want to avoid. The Christmas and New Year holidays, along with the Chinese New Year, are certain to have the resort working at full capacity. Also, weekends, especially after a big dump, can see the pistes get packed.
When picking your dates, it’s worth noting that from around December 20th to the end of February accommodation in Happo One, and Hakuba in general, will charge peak season prices. Any time before and after those dates could see you save up to 20% off your accommodation costs!
The variety of lift tickets on offer at Happo One is kept relatively simple, and with no connections to other resorts so you won't find yourself skiing into an area you haven't got a lift pass for! The lift pass for Happo One covers the entire mountain, plus you can also buy one way and return tickets for individual lifts, if you’re heading up the mountain for lunch (not skiing) or are off on a backcountry escapade! Another option is the Hakuba Valley lift pass, which covers a whopping ten resorts operating within the valley.
As for prices, one day at Happo One costs ¥5,200 JPY ($48 USD) for an adult (13 years old and over), ¥4,700 JPY ($43 USD) for a senior (60 years old and over), and ¥3,000 JPY ($28 USD) for a child (6 to 12 years old). If you have little ones under 6 years old they get a lift pass for free! Off peak lift passes, covering roughly the first and last month of the winter season, are a little cheaper, at ¥4,000 JPY ($37 USD) for an adult and ¥2,300 JPY ($21 USD) for a child. If you want to go for a Hakuba Valley lift pass, adults pay ¥5,700 JPY ($52 USD) for a day ticket and for a child it’s ¥3,200 JPY ($29 USD).
It’s worth checking at your accommodation whether they have any discounted lift passes for sale, as some hotels do offer these. Another type of lift pass you could come across are packages that include lunch, a visit to an onsen, and night skiing too, which cost ¥5,500 JPY ($51 USD) for an adult and ¥3,900 JPY ($36 USD) for a child. Buying up multi-day passes can save you a little, around 10%, but don't expect a refund if the lifts are closed later in the week!
We often have great ski packages going to Happo One and Japan.