Hakuba Ski and Terrain
Written by Jack Lee • Last updated Aug 25, 2017
Where to Ride - Beginners
If there’s one resort that’s better suited for beginners than anywhere else in Hakuba Valley, it’s Tsugaike. Newbies won't find gentler or wider pistes than here, and practically all the runs on the lower half of the mountain are greens! To get started, head to the immensely wide Kane-no-naru-oka Slope, 3,938 feet wide to be precise. There’s more than enough space for everyone here, and it’s a great place to learn the basics without any chance of encountering terrain you’re not quite ready for yet.
Another excellent option for first-time skiers and boarders is the dedicated beginner area at Happo One. Called the Sakka ski area, there are a couple of short chairlifts and a magic carpet to whisk you up the wide mellow slopes at the base of the mountain. Over at Goryu, you’ll also find the splendidly named Merry Land Course, a green run providing the perfect pitch to practice keeping your skis parallel while facing downhill!
Iwatake takes the trophy when it comes to the best intermediate terrain throughout Hakuba Valley, with around 70% of the marked runs falling into the intermediate category! Hop aboard Gondola Noah and enjoy the amazing views on your way up to the peak, then turn left as you exit. A wide open groomer awaits for you to ratchet up as much speed as you can handle! To step it up a notch, take the 5sen South chairlift back up and you’ll have the choice of two runs, View A and View B, great powder stash trails which lead into a natural halfpipe!
Cortina also serves up some excellent intermediate terrain for skiers and boarders willing to go the extra mile. For something challenging take the Cortina No.3 Quad Lift up to the start of the Rabbit Course, a red run, and the Snake Course, a gentler green run. Try the Snake before attempting the Rabbit! Both get quite narrow and wind between the trees, with sharp turns necessary, but some easily accessible off-piste sections to the sides of the runs give you a great opportunity to test yourself on some powder!
The ski resort most highly regarded for its advanced terrain in Hakuba Valley is undoubtedly Happo One. After all, this was the mountain chosen for the Olympic downhill ski events back in 1998! Take Gondola Adam, the Alpen Quad, and lastly the Great Quad to reach the resort summit, then pitch your skills against the Riesen Grat Course, which offers non-stop rides straight down to the base at Nakiyama. If you want shorter but steeper, take on the intense vertical served up at Olympic Course 1 and 2, both reached by hopping aboard the Kokusai 1 chairlift.
At the neighboring resort of Hakuba 47, there are also a few choice advanced runs that will give accomplished skiers and boarders a run for their money. Take the 47 Express gondola up the mountain, then ride down a little to connect up to the Quad Lift Line C. Once you slide off this chairlift there are three trails to pit your skills against. The longest is Route 1, a downhill racing run, steep, straight, and icy in some sections, but at least it’s groomed! The other options, Route 2 and Route 3, are a black and a double diamond black respectively. Both are gnarlier than Route 1, and after a big dump you could find deep powder here as these runs are often left ungroomed for days on end. If it hasn’t snowed for a while expect monster moguls to bounce between!
Off-Piste & Backcountry
Where do we start here, Hakuba Valley is a veritable paradise for skiers and snowboarders who are confident off-piste and ready to ride backcountry terrain! Many resorts have put in place dedicated off-piste zones within the ski resort boundaries, great for getting a taste for powder riding. Hakuba 47 has a couple of awesome tree riding off-piste zones to try out, easily accessible from Quad Lift Line C, just remember to register before entering.
At Happo One, the Kurobishi off-piste zone offers some of the deepest powder on the mountain above the tree line, just make sure you’re up there quick when fresh powder starts falling!
Goryu also has great off-piste either side of the Grand Prix Run, and you can use the Alps 4th and Alps 3rd chairlifts to scope out the terrain and choose your line as you head up to the top.
One resort that deserves a special mention when it comes to off-piste, sidecountry, and backcountry is Cortina. Much of the mountain here is open to riding, unlike other Hakuba Valley resorts where going off-piste could get your lift pass revoked. Amazing off-piste tree skiing can be had off the No.4 and No.5 chairlifts, just follow the cat track around and drop in between the widely spaced out trees wherever you like, the further you go along the track the more likely it is you’ll find freshies!
Most of the resorts in Hakuba Valley have backcountry gates that open up huge swathes of the mountains for those adventurous enough to take the plunge! On Goryu there’s a gate nearby the top of the Alps 2nd chairlift, leading over the back of a ridge and serving up countless possibilities for lines down the mountainside! One of the most renown backcountry areas in the valley has to be Happo North Faces, where exhilarating alpine gullies and rocky overhangs are blanketed in deep snow.
If you're serious about a backcountry expedition it’s a wise move to hire a guide, easily organized at Evergreen Backcountry Guides. Either way, make sure you take full avalanche gear including a snorkel and a buddy along with you. Any search and rescue operations to find you will have to be paid for in full by you!
Freestylers are very well catered for in Hakuba Valley, and if there was a contest between the resorts for best terrain park Hakuba 47 would surely win gold! The R4 Snow Park features the biggest tabletops, rails, and kickers than any other park in the valley, with its crowning glory being a truly mammoth superpipe. Frequently the stage for pro contests throughout the winter, this terrain park is not somewhere to practice your first jumps, but luckily the nearby R8 Snow Park offers something for all levels of ability. There’s also a beginner terrain park over at Goryu that’s perfect for kids, just a short ski or board away.
As for the rest of the valley, there’s still plenty more to explore! Happo Banks offers a surf-style course, with rolling banked quarterpipes and smooth bumps carved into a mellow corduroy slope. It’s totally original, a refreshing change from regular terrain parks, so you have to check this place out (jibbers be warned, there’s not a single rail here). At Iwatake, you have the Love Snow Park, perhaps a little small when compared to others in Hakuba Valley, but still well worth a look. A variety of rails, hips, and banks await, along with kickers that range from 10 feet to 32 feet! Over in Tsugaike, there are three terrain parks to choose from, Hannoki, Tsuganomori, and Right Park. All have a selection of rails, boxes, and kickers, but Tsuganomori holds the record of being the highest terrain park in Hakuba Valley!
There’s plenty of night skiing to be had in Hakuba Valley, which might come as a bit of a surprise when hearing that the average nighttime temperature is 14 degrees Fahrenheit! Tsugaike is arguably the best resort in the valley for night skiing, with most of the lower mountain runs open along with the more challenging Shirakaba red run slightly further up the mountain.
As for other resorts in the valley, at Happo One the lower slope next to the Nakiyama 2 chairlift is kept open after dark. Over at nearby Goryu, the Toomi Sky Four Lift also stays open once the sun drops, where you’ll actually find more slope to play with and far less people than at Happo One.
If you're staying in Cortina, the resort lights up the main central run here, the Ikenota Slope, and keeps the Cortina No.2 Quad Lift running into the night. Hakuba 47 and Iwatake don't offer night skiing, but it’s not far to Goryu or Tsugaike from these resorts if you really want to put in an extra hour or two on the slopes!
The only place to offer heli-skiing in Hakuba Valley is Tsugaike, where you’ll be choppered up to 7,220 feet, enjoying jaw-dropping views on the way, before shredding your way down an 8.7 mile long mountainside and back into the resort! It’s a fairly tame experience when compared to heli-ski operations in North America, but it’s still a bit of fun and you don't have to be an expert to give it a go. The only downside is that the helicopter drops skiers and boarders off at the same spot each time, so you’ll need to be first up after fresh snowfall to make first tracks!