Hakuba is a perfect place for a snow holiday with the family boasting some of largest terrain for skiing and boarding in Japan. You’ll need at least 2 weeks here to explore all of it and 5-7 days at a minimum.
Pros: Loads of riding options for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders. The scenery in all of the mountains I’ve tried (ie. Happo One, Hakuba 47, Goyru, Iwaitake and Tsugaike) is breathtaking.
Cons: Its all spread-out. You can’t ride from mountain to mountain so you may find it frustrating taking the transfer buses and sticking to one mountain a day.
So if the pros outweigh the cons and you have decided to go ahead with Hakuba, here are some tips to do Hakuba the easy way:
1. Time your snow trip for February
Plan your snow trip between late January to late February to have guaranteed pow on all the slopes, Any earlier and you risk not having much snow especially in the lower parts of the mountains – not good for newbies to have restricted options for riding.
2. Book flights and accommodation ASAP
Book your flights and accommodation at least 7 to 8 months in advance to save and secure the best deals.
Cheap and easy flights?
Check my flight booking tips for Japan here where I scored a fully serviced Japan Airlines flight from Canberra to Toyko return for $722 AUD per person.
You cannot go past booking.com for the best early bird deals. When susing out deals early, you can afford to be choosy and I highly recommend Green Valley cottages for a spacious snow experience. Green Valley cottages are a perfect choose for a big group with wooden cabins spread all around Hakuba. We were lucky enough to secure L1 located within a 10 minute walk to Hakuba 47 (my favourite mountain).
Our cottage came with 12 beds, a kitchen with all home style appliances (electric cook top, microwave, oven, toaster, etc), a massive dining table, TV, a separate bathroom with bathtub and a toilet. I’ve stayed in many cramped places in other Japanese snow resorts so I was pleasantly surprised – it felt like a home away from home.
The Green Valley team are professional and go out of their way to ensure your transport needs are catered for from transfers to/from the cottage and pick ups / drops to the snow resorts all inclusive. We were assigned pick up times of 7:45am or 9:15am each morning and we chose the latter due to have a more relaxed experience with our 4 year old. The buses were always on time and got us to Happo One in time for the ski lessons.
Lazy tip – Try and request a cottage as close as possible to the convenience stores to make things even easier, else you’ll just have to be extra organised after a day at the snow. Ours was L1 which was located within a 10 minute walk to Hakuba 47 and around a 20 minute walk to the closest 7/11 which was not too bad. This should save you time and heap of money during your stay to stock up on the goodies. Do it the smarter way and spend on more important things like ski passes and lessons.
3. Get to Hakuba by train and bus combo
If you’re arriving in Narita, the easiest and the cheapest option is to get the Narita Express from the Airport to Tokyo, the Sinkansen to Nagano and take the Alpico bus from Nagano to Hakuba. Approximate total cost is $150 AUD one way.
Lazy tip – Get the JR East Pass for Nagano and Niigata early as possible here at a discounted price – thank me later! This pass will cover the trains to/from the major airports (Narita and …) to Nagano and back and will save you loads on buying train tickets. Getting it delivered to your door will also save you the hassle in lining up for a JR train ticket once you arrive in Japan after a long flight. The JR East Pass will also cover you if you’re planning to check out Tokyo. Don’t worry about booking your Nagano bus online, just follow these instructions once you get off the Shinkansen train.
4. Get the kids off to the Evergreen Ski School!
Thanks to the Evergreen Yetti Club, my 4 year old learnt how to ski down a green run after 3 days. The instructors are very friendly, patient and professional ski instructors who know what they are doing.
Lazy tip – Book Yetti club lessons in advance online here at Happo One (in Sakka) which is the biggest resort guaranteed to cater for all kids of all levels and the easiest to get to in the morning. To make it easier in the morning, as your transport if they can drop you at Sakka instead of the Happo One Gangola. The Yetti clubs at Tsugaike…. may have restricted lessons – its a supply and demand thing.
5. Hire your snow gear from Rhythm Snowsports
They are sightly more expensive than Hakuba Snowsports but they have best gear and a friendly and professional team. They hooked my son with a pair of pro skis worth around a grand. They have a pick up and drop off service to/from the accommodation which makes things even easier. I’m a big fan of Rhythm Snowsports – check out my full review here.
6. Which mountain in Hakuba?
There are lots of resort options but it all depends on your ability. There is a public bus service that operates along the Hakuba valley, providing access to all of the resorts. More information here.
For beginner riders
Tsugaike, tagged as the ‘queen of greens’, is a perfect mountain to practise your turns, has the most amount of green runs in all of Hakuba and has spectacular views. If you’re transitioning from beginner to intermediate I highly recommend you spend a day at Iwaitake which has more challenging long runs to get the legs muscles tuned up.
For intermediate riders
You cannot go past Happo One which has the most amount of intermediate runs to challenge you from start to finish. Happo One being the biggest mountain in Hakuba and has something for everyone. 3 days should do it.
For advanced riders
If you’re looking to challenge yourself and go a little crazy, you cannot go past Hakuba 47 and Goyru. This fun and steep mountain combo has a awesome park area and steep bumpy black runs to keep the trill seekers entertained for 2 to 3 days.
Planning on taking your snowboard bag to Hakuba? Check our easy hack here.