Hakuba is one of Japan’s premier ski resorts, located in the heart of the Japanese Alps in Nagano.
Set against the backdrop of rugged peaks, the scenery of Hakuba is truly amazing all year round and truly comes alive during winter.
There are over ten resorts in Hakuba and the neighboring valleys, covering a huge expanse of ski-able terrain.
Hakuba earns its reputation as the best ski resort area in Japan in many ways.
It has the most resorts, offering a multitude of ski runs and a large variety of slopes (including the most advanced slopes), and offers the highest vertical of any ski resort in Japan.
Over 75 years ago, the farming village of Hakuba was chosen by the Hosono ski club of Japan for its abundant snow and pristine ski conditions. That’s how it all began.
Today, the area has mushroomed into a world class ski destination of unparalleled alpine opportunities. It is no surprise either as Hakuba gets over ten meters of exceptional powder snow every year and offers something for everybody—a variety of alpine skiing, ski jumping, snowboarding, Telemark and Nordic skiing, snow rafting and tubing, snowmobiling and heli-skiing.
The skiing season lasts until the end of February but book your holiday early as the resort becomes very busy during peak times.
Over the last few years, interest in the Hakuba area has increased dramatically. The prospect of excellent powder snow and world class resorts is bringing tourists from all over the world.
It is especially true for Koreans and Australians, who have started choosing Japan for their ski holidays and make up about half of all foreign visitors in Hakuba.
For Australians, Japanese ski resorts offer great powder conditions, cheaper lift tickets, and the chance to enjoy alpine sports during their summer season which are clearly huge attractions.
The overall number of foreign tourists who visit Hakuba each year has gone up 400% since 2004, and the number of foreign investors is following close behind.
With the success of other resort areas in Japan (such as Niseko) developers, investors, and business owners are aligning themselves for what could be the next real estate boom.
For novice to the expert skier, Hakuba provides some of the best skiing in all of Japan: gentle slopes, steeps, moguls, long groomers and of course plenty of fresh powder.
The variety of terrain is more than enough for snow boarders of any level —half-pipes, terrain parks, gullies, hits, dry and deep powder bowls, ungroomed trails and steeps.
This video from Eye On Asia shows just how good the Hakuba slopes can look!
Hakuba 47 and Happo are two of the favorite destinations for boarders, offering challenging and diverse terrain, a terrain park, and a half pipe.
There are ski-schools operating in most of the large resorts offering private and group lessons in both English and Japanese. Some of the best operators for English lessons are Snow Instructors Japan and Evergreen.
Hakuba probably has some of the best apres-ski entertainment of any of the ski resorts in Japan. There is a wide choice of Japanese and other restaurants, numerous izakayas (Japanese style pubs) and bars.
For those who like to party hard there is a club scene with dancing and drinking until early hours of the morning.
There are several really cool standing bars, a wine bar and even an old English pub. Most of the action is in Happo and Wadano, although there are many venues scattered across the town.
The free resort guides available at all hotels have detailed information on what is available.
Many hotels are located within walking distance of the slopes and nightlife. Accommodation which is further from the slopes will usually provide transport to and from the ski resorts and Hakuba 47, Goryu Toomi and Happo-one resorts offer complementary shuttle services.
There is also a reliable public bus service which operates during the ski season called the “Genki-go” bus that runs along the valley, providing access to all of the ski resorts and other desired locations in town. (¥500 return.)
There are of course several taxi companies in Hakuba although the distances can make this quite an expensive way to get around – fares start at about ¥710 and go up after 1.5 kilometers.
Hakuba is somewhat spread out though and it can be quite cold waiting for a bus or shuttle. If you have your own transport or can rent a car this is really the way to go.
The roads are well snow cleared but it gets icy so you will need snow tires. If you rent a car from Nagano or Matsumoto snow tires are standard.
This article was first published in Living Japan, a residential guide for newcomers to Tokyo: www.housingjapan.com