By Mike Humphrey

Hakuba valley is a paradise for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, with its stunning mountain scenery and endless ski slopes. Found in the heart of the Japanese Alps, the Hakuba region offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. From gentle slopes for the kids to heart-pounding off-piste skiing, the snow quality and terrain will amaze you.

Pack your avy bag, wax your powder boards and strap in for 9 insider tips to get the most out of your trip to Hakuba, Japan.

9 Insider Tips For Skiing in Hakuba

Scroll down to:

Hakuba Lift Tickets

Hakuba Local Shuttle Bus

Hakuba Backcountry Safety

English Ski Lessons

Hakuba’s Best Side Country

Book Restaurants in Advance

Direct Train to Hakuba (Azusa Express)

Private Onsen

Non-Ski Day Activities

1) Hakuba Lift Tickets

The Hakuba Valley is a collection of 9 resorts, most of which don’t connect. While they may not share a base, all the ski resorts in the Valley do share a joint lift pass. Convenient for travelers, the Hakuba valley lift pass can save you valuable time when trying to catch first tracks and gives you free access to the local shuttle buses. While each resort has its own passes, which are generally cheaper, the added convenience and time saved using the Hakuba Valley Pass is worth the added price.

2) Hakuba Local Shuttle Bus

Hakuba is not a single resort; it’s a valley with 9 different ski hills. Getting to and from the resorts or between the resorts can be a hassle. This is where the Hakuba Valley shuttle comes in. The best part is if you have a Hakuba Valley lift ticket or Hakuba Valley Season Pass, the shuttle is free. With 9 resorts, the shuttles can get a little confusing. Check with your accommodation to find the closest bus stop and the route to and from the mountain.

3) Hakuba Backcountry Safety

You only need to watch the Freeride World Tour to get a taste of how spectacular the Hakuba backcountry skiing is. As one of Japan’s top powder destinations, Hakuba’s mountain peaks are a backcountry skier’s dream. But, as every backcountry skier knows, there can be significant risks when traveling outside the ski resort. You are on your own as soon as you duck that safety line. In Hakuba, the police are responsible for rescue outside the resort boundary, and you are liable for the cost.

While that ridgeline may be inviting, you should think twice before heading out. In Japan, Nadare.jp provides daily avalanche reports (in Japanese only). The reports are produced once a day and do not update for changing weather conditions.

If you plan on skiing backcountry in Hakuba, go with a guide or consider skiing the limited access side-country. Numerous English guide operators in Hakuba would be more than happy to take you out for a tour.

4) English Ski Lessons

As an international destination, Hakuba caters well to non-Japanese speakers. There are a variety of English and Chinese-speaking ski schools in the Valley that can get you skiing like a local in no time. Whether you want to brush up on your skiing fundamentals or learn how to tackle moguls and trees, there’s an English-speaking ski school to suit your needs.

5) Hakuba’s Side Country

If skiing powder is your thing, but you don’t want to venture outside the resort, Hakuba has some fantastic side-country options.

Hakuba 47 Tree Skiing

The tree skiing area at Hakuba 47 is a local favorite. Access to the area is limited to skiers and borders who have taken a safety course. The course, available in English and Japanese, can be taken at the base of the ski slopes from the ski school. Once complete, you will receive a membership card which you must exchange for a bib. The bib allows you access through controlled gates to the tree area. At the end of the day, you must return the bib and check out. If you don’t, you may be responsible for paying the cost of ski patrol to search the area for you.

Tsugaike Kogen DBD

The Double Black Diamond (DBD) area at Tsugaike Kogen ski resort is the best gondola-accessible tree skiing in the Valley. The DBD area underneath the Tsugaike gondola has 4 access gates and requires a safety course. The area is heavily treed and not for the faint of heart, with numerous drops and crisscrossed with cat tracks. If this is your first time skiing the DBD, pay attention to where you are going, some of the terrain traps can be challenging to get out of.

Cortina (Honorable mention)

While Cortina has no side country, it is arguably the best Hakuba ski resort for tree skiing and advanced skiers. Don’t fear running afoul of ski patrol; at Cortina, nothing is off-limits. The trees are beautifully spaced, and the resort usually receives the heaviest snowfalls in the Valley.

6) Book Restaurants in Advance

Hakuba can be very busy during the winter, especially during the peak Japanese travel season (Christmas – New Years). When busy, Hakuba village has a shortage of restaurants. If you want to go out for dinner, have your hotel book your reservation the morning of or even the day before. This goes for taxis as well. Book your taxi as early as possible if you want to be sure you can catch first tracks on a powder day.

7) Direct Train to Hakuba

Only a few travelers realize there is a direct train from Tokyo to Hakuba. The Limited Express Azusa train is a non-stop ride from downtown Tokyo to Hakuba station. The train leaves Shinjuku station at 8:00 AM and arrives in Hakuba at 11:41. There is only one direct train to Hakuba daily.

8) Private Onsen

Obinata no Yu is a private onsen just a few minutes outside Hakuba. This hot spring offers traditional-style bathing, non-stop hot spring water, and magnificent mountain views. The experience is a little pricey (compared to other onsens), but it includes pick-up and drop-off from your hotel, and they allow you to wear a bathing suit in the onsen.

9) Non-Ski Day Activities

There are plenty of non-ski day activities in Hakuba to keep you entertained. Whether you want to take a yoga class, visit one of the local museums, go sightseeing or spend the day skiing at an off-resort area like Cortina, there is something for everyone. Here is a list of some of the great activities in Hakuba.

Snowmobile Tours

Snowshoeing

Day trips to Matsumoto castle

Tea Ceremony Experience

Kimono Experience

Visit Zenkoji Temple

Visit the Snow Monkeys

Getting To Hakuba

One of the most significant advantages of Hakuba is its location. Found on the main island of Honshu in Nagano prefecture Hakuba has good transportation options from major cities like Tokyo or Osaka.

Bus

The easiest way to get to Hakuba is by bus. Alpico operates highway buses from Shinjuku and the airport, while the Nagano Snow Shuttle provides transport directly from the airport to Hakuba.

Train

The bullet train is the fastest way to get from Tokyo to Hakuba. Unfortunately, the train does not go direct to Hakuba. To get to Hakuba using, take a bullet train from Tokyo station to Nagano and then a highway bus from Nagano to Hakuba.

Chuo Taxi

A semi-private taxi is an excellent option if your schedule doesn’t align with public transportation. You can schedule your pick-up time, and the cab will drop you off in front of your accommodation.

Car Rental

If you’re comfortable driving in Japan, you can always rent a car from the airport. With google maps and an adventurous spirit, you can make a go of it. If you plan on driving in Japan, you will need an international driver’s license.

FAQ

Is Hakuba good for beginners?

Yes, with 9 resorts, Hakuba has many runs (200+), including some of the best beginner terrain in Japan. The best Hakuba ski resorts for beginners are Iimori/Goryu and Tsugaike Kogen.

When can you ski in Hakuba?

The Hakuba ski season is typically from mid-December to early April. For the best snow conditions, plan your trip in January or February.

Is Hakuba better than Niseko?

Both Hakuba and Niseko are great ski destinations. Niseko gets more snow than Hakuba, But Hakuba has steeper runs.

How many ski resorts are in Hakuba?

There are 9 ski resorts in the Hakuba valley.

How Much Snow Does Hakuba Get?

Hakuba averages 11 meters of snowfall per season.

What’s the nightlife like in Hakuba?

The nightlife in Hakuba is quite good, with various bars and restaurants. Most places are open until at least midnight.

Final Thoughts

With its great location, variety of ski resorts, and ample snowfall, Hakuba is sure to please any skier or snowboarder. From beginner to advanced there are runs for everyone in Hakuba. And when you are done skiing for the day, take advantage of the great nightlife and après ski scene. If you’re planning a trip to Hakuba, these 9 tips will help you get the