Skiing Japan: Hakuba Valley in Nagano a skier’s paradise

Photos courtesy of
Photos courtesy of

Skiing Japan: Hakuba Valley in Nagano a skier’s paradise

by John Blagys

Interested in hitting the slopes in Japan this season? Before you do, check out this guide which has everything you need to know for planning your ski trip to the Hakuba Valley this winter.

The Hakuba Valley

The Hakuba Valley hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and has since become an international destination for ski enthusiasts. Thanks to an incredible variety of terrain, 33 feet of annual powder snow, and the allure of Japan’s unique culture, Hakuba has exploded in popularity. In fact, this year the Valley was added to the prestigious Epic Pass, a collection of 55 amazing resorts from around the world. Epic Pass holders can now ski the Hakuba Valley for five days for free.

How to access Hakuba

  • Car: Hakuba sits 170 miles west of downtown Tokyo and can be reached within four hours by car. Many accommodations have car parking for guests and the resorts have accessible parking lots.
  • Shinkansen & Bus: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Nagano Station then take a bus to Hakuba Station. The journey takes about three hours and costs ¥9,800.
  • JR Azusa: Departing from Shinjuku Station and Tachikawa Station, this train runs directly to Hakuba Station and is slightly cheaper than the Shinkansen option at ¥7,900. The total journey takes about four hours.

Mountain Overview

There are 11 resorts in the Hakuba Valley providing incredible variety of terrain, runs, and experiences. Here are our suggestions for newbies, intermediates, families, and advanced skiers.

  • First Timer’s and Intermediates: Happo-One

The largest resort in the Valley, Happo-One hosted several different events during the 1998 Olympics including the alpine skiing downhill, the super giant slalom, and the ski jumping. While the mountain is quite steep, 50% of the runs are suitable for intermediate riders and the views from Happo-One may be the best in the entire Valley. Beginners can find their balance on one of the more mellow green runs, such as Sakka. Many of the international ski schools operate out of this resort making it a good option for first timers. The main village also sits at the foot of Happo-One which opens your options nicely for drinks and dinner after skiing.

Insider Tips: On a clear sky day, head to the Corona Terrace at the top of the Gondola; stop for a drink or snack with magical views right up the Hakuba Valley.

  • Familes: Iwatake

A great option for families or groups with a mix of abilities, Iwatake has terrain for every ability level. Just 10 minutes from Hakuba Station, the resort is easily accessible from Happo Village.

Once beginners build confidence, they can take an easy run from the top of the mountain all the way to the base; there are also more challenging intermediate routes that branch off from this run. Advanced skiers can stay busy as well as there are high speed runs, powder skiing and a terrain park.

Insider tip: After you’re done skiing, relax with a beer and some delicious ramen at one of the best restaurants in the Valley. Come out from the gondola entrance and cross the road to a wooden shack with skis and snowboards out the front. You will not be disappointed.

  • Advanced: Cortina

Cortina receives the highest snow fall in the valley and typically gets twice as much snow as the neighboring resorts. If you love backcountry skiing, perfectly placed tree runs, and unmatched sidecountry skiing then visit Cortina! There are only 13 on-piste runs at Cortina, but the resort is interlinked with neighboring Norikura Resort and the Cortina lift pass gets you access to all 25 combined runs. The iconic Green Plaza hotel sits at the base of Cortina and is a great place for drinks and dinner after skiing Cortina.

Insider Tip: Go here on a powder day! You’ll be able to ski waste deep in fresh powder snow. Make sure to arrive early as other powder enthusiasts will certainly be visiting Cortina as well.

Lift ticket / gear


You can also purchase an “All Valley Pass” which allows pass holders access to every resort within the Valley. These passes cost ¥6,000 per day and can be purchased at

  • Rentals: There are a handful of English-speaking rental shops in Hakuba. Prices will vary slightly between shops, but the following prices are approximately what you will pay for rentals per day.
  • Adult Standard Ski or Snowboard Set: ¥4,250
  • Boots: ¥2,100
  • Jacket & Pants: ¥1,500
  • Helmet: ¥1,000

Where to Stay

The best places to stay are Happo-Village, Echoland, or Wadano as these areas boast plenty of nightlife options and are centrally located making every resort easily accessible. Hakuba has accommodations at every price point - from youth hostels to jaw dropping luxury. One great midrange hotel is the Hakuba Springs Hotel. Located five minutes from the gondola, the hotel houses probably the best sushi in all of Hakuba Valley as well as a great late-night sports bar.

Day Trips

There are loads of great day trips and off-mountain activities in the area, but the world-famous snow monkeys are by far the most popular option among visitors. You can access them by car in two hours, by public transit in three, or on a full day guided tour. Whichever option you choose, the monkeys are worth a visit!

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