Choosing the Best Ski Resort in Hakuba, Japan
When choosing ski areas in Hakuba, there are plenty of options. Each resort offers a unique ski experience, and getting a taste of more than one ski area is the reason many skiers from all around the world flock to Hakuba. The area is renowned for great powder, with an average of 11 – 13 meters of snow each year. While the quality of powder is good, it is not as light as the famous Hokkaido powder. Yet Hakuba skiing brings magic all its own, and the season typically starts in early December, running through April and in some cases into May.
Get the Hakuba Ski Pass, which will give you access to all of the resorts mentioned here, and more. You can even ski or ride an unlimited number of resorts on any day. The pass is available at the ticket windows at the resorts.
The following are the top 4 ski resorts in Hakuba:
Happo One Ski Resort
This is perhaps the most popular of the Hakuba ski resorts and many consider it to be THE ski resort in the area. Indeed, it is the biggest and oldest resort in Hakuba. With its large size, lots of high vertical jumps (at 1,000 meters) and reasonably steep slopes, Happo One is best known for its long-groomed, intermediate slopes, bumps, and access to the alpine backcountry. What’s more, it offers incredible views from the top of the Grand Northern Japan Alps. The best powder here is at the Omusubi course.
Beginning skiers are not left out, as there are some beginner slopes. However, Happo One does cater to the more advanced skier. The children’s area offers tubing courses and even trampolines. There are 4 main access points to the resort:
1. Nakiyama area – has plenty of free parking and is where most of the shuttle buses stop. Good for night skiing.
2. The Gondola area – popular on wet or cold days. There is limited paid parking and is good for immediate skiers.
3. The Kokusai area – has a steep moguled (bumps on ski slopes) slope, perfect for skiers who love a challenge.
4. The Sakka area – caters to the beginner skier.
This the best ski resort in Hakuba for beginners, thanks to its gentle, wide slopes. But there is an abundance of intermediate slopes, as well. It can be said this is the largest, underrated ski resort in Hakuba. The beginner’s area located at the base of the resort is quite large, while up top, there are steeper runs that will suit the more advanced skier. Those looking for a challenge will find the double back diamond tree runs great fun.
Tsugaike is usually less crowded than other ski resorts. That makes it a good choice for those that want to avoid crowds and long ski run lines. This resort has one of the best parks for kids at the base of the mountain. The 50-meter-long moving sidewalks allows them to ride to the top where they can either slide down or learn how to ski. There are also indoor play areas for them to play, and a daycare area if the adults wish to ski on their own.
When you need a break, there are great restaurants and izakayas (Japanese pubs) at the foothill of the resort on the charming main street.
During March and April, intermediate skiers will appreciate a heli-ski operation from the top of Tsugaike into the national park – a spectacular scenic flight (at extra cost) offering an experience you won’t forget.
Iwatake Ski Resort
This is a great resort for snowboarders, due to the wonderful park and half-pipe facilities. There are many intermediate slopes, but not a lot to offer for the beginning skier. Most of the terrain here is intermediate and will challenge most skiers and boarders, with fantastic 360-degree views of the Japan Alps and a great snow park. With its high altitude, the snow level may not be optimal early and late in the season. Iwatake’s DC Park is one of the better parks in Hakuba, with several tables, kickers, boxes, and rails.
There are several good tree runs, which is an excellent way to spend a snowy day. Powderhounds will appreciate the “View” courses at the backside of the mountain, with View A holding a large gully and the best one. Reach it by gondola and go straight ahead past the bakery on your right. This area is also the place to be for ski resort food, as well as at the bottom, to the south of the gondola. There you will find the Hakuba Brew Pub. The Pub offers its brand of beer and traditional western pub fare.
Get the best ramen here in a wooden shack with skis and snowboards on the front.
Cortina Ski Resort
Cortina has become synonymous with the best backcountry powder snow, in which skiers will need avi gear (avalanche safety gear). There is a bit more freedom at this resort, as the ski patrol allows riders to go off-piste and waist-deep in soft powder as visitors navigate between perfectly spaced trees and steep tree runs. Skiers should be at least at the intermediate level and wear a helmet for these runs.
This is a smaller resort and is connected to the Norikura resort, which has more options for on-piste terrain. The resort also tends to get more snow than the others. On powder days, this place cannot be beaten – that is why it is known as the powder capital of Hakuba. Cortina typically gets twice the snow of the other resorts and is not to be missed. For beginners, there is a great area for you at the base of the resort. And when you are done for the day, enjoy a sumptuous buffet at the hotel in the resort followed by a steamy onsen.
How to Get to Hakuba
The best way to get from Tokyo Airports to Hakuba is by a private car service. It is by far the most convenient, direct and comfortable way to travel from Narita or Haneda Airport to your Hakuba resort destination.
Finding your way around public transport while carrying your luggage, or trying to make yourself understood by a taxi driver with limited English, is not the kind of stress you want to encounter on your trip. By booking a car service with a trusted company, you are guaranteed a professional English-speaking driver that knows his way around the area. As well as a 24-hour customer support, and a worry-free travel experience. Enjoy your travels!