When you take the ski lift up to the very top of the mountains at snowy Happo-one ski resort in Hakuba Valley, the clouds form a wispy blanket below you, hiding all the activity going on further down, and making you feel like you could be much higher up than 1,830m. Everything is white and blue and majestic. It’s a moment that will stay with you, even if you’re only there for a few minutes.
Known for its superb powder snow, Hakuba Valley is the country’s largest snow resort, and offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Japan, even the world. The area played host to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games – spot the impressive ski jumps still in position at the base of Happo-one – and is fast becoming a top destination for skiers and alpinists from around the world.
With 131 trails and about 130km of lift-accessible terrain, it’s perfect for both advanced and beginner skiers; if you need to rent or buy gear, there are plenty of rental shops dotted around, but we recommend heading to Escal Plaza at Goryu resort for a wide selection.
Nine ski resorts are all accessible using the handy Hakuba Valley lift pass ticket (¥6,000 per day, and includes free travel on the convenient shuttle buses connecting the resorts). And at only 2.5 hours from central Tokyo (about 90 minutes on the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station, and an hour on a shuttle bus from there), you might start to wonder how a trip to Japan’s Northern Alps could get any better.
It can. Several of Hakuba Valley’s ski resorts – including Happo-one, which features Hakuba’s highest elevation and longest vertical drop – offer an extra-long season, staying open until early May. This means not only can you book a Golden Week ski holiday, but you can enjoy a unique hanami (cherry blossom viewing) experience as you sweep down the slopes while admiring Japan’s famed pink and white flowers – expected to bloom this year in late April.
Four More Things to Do in Hakuba
Drink Corona on the Slopes
The Corona Escape Terrace bars at Happo-one and Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park offer panoramic views and (naturally) ice-cold Coronas for those much-needed breaks between boarding. Opening hours are weather dependent, but they are usually open from 10:30am to 3:30pm at Happo-one, and 11am to 3pm at Hakuba47 (until the end of March).
Ride a Snow Mobile
Between December and March, you can book a 30-minute (¥9,000 single) or 60-minute (¥12,000 single, ¥18,000 tandem) tour with Hakuba Lion Adventure. Probably the most fun you’ll have when not on the slopes!
Obinata is Hakuba’s most magical outdoor onsen. Best of all, you can reserve it for private use from January 13 to March 31: ¥10,000 for up to five guests, ¥20,000 for six to 10 guests. If you’re lucky, you might spot a snow monkey.
Eat Like an Italian
If you fancy the idea of white tablecloth dining in the sky, take Happo-one’s Alpen Quad chairlift up to Pilar restaurant (www.pilar.jp) for a delicious pasta dish. If pizza is more your style, head to Luis (tinyurl.com/TWluis-hakuba) at the base of Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park for a thin, crispy based, stone-oven Margherita and more.
More information about Hakuba Valley at www.hakubavalley.com/en
Photographs by Tokyo Weekender and Shutterstock