It`s almost winter here, in Japan and it already smells like holiday, snow, stale air, oranges and cinnamon.
The temperature keeps decreasing as days go by and we feel the need to make ourselves fuzzy and warm, rolling up in the soft shaggy blanket with our fluffy socks on while having a sip of hot chocolate.
The Japanese citizens are looking forward for this season all year. Wondering why?
The answer is simple: Illuminations, skiing resorts, snowboarding.
However, due to the El Niño effect and the Global warming threatening the world and Japan, this year`s winter is expected to be mild.
If you`re wondering where you should head this winter, stay with me a bit longer and you`ll discover the best destinations for your holiday!
The Snow Queen has already entered Hokkaido, the northern main Island of Japan, leaving behind her snowflakes and frost, travelling down to the Tōhoku region and its surroundings.
I am a bit worried that the Snow Queen is getting weakened by all these climate changes and even though the weather is cold and is briefly snowing in some areas, getting my hopes up isn`t maybe the best idea..
Even if that is the case, I know for sure where to head for a beautiful scenery with high quality snow: a place with high latitude or high altitude is always the right answer!
Speaking of high latitude, Hokkaido,mentioned above, should be one of your choices ! Niseko, in particular, is a very popular resort for locals and foreigners, so if you could spare a week in winter, try joining the ski training camp in Niseko. What do you say?
In the link below, you can find a ski and snowboard tour for intermediate to advanced skiers/snowboarders and a guide will take you to the best spots of Niseko. Have a look on the site below if you`re interested:
Now, the main place I will be introducing in this article is..
The Hakuba Valley sits in the breathtaking Japan Alps and is only 1 hour from the Nagano Station. The area hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and has been growing in popularity since becoming one of the most desirable ski destinations in all of Asia; the Valley expects to have 200,000 foreign visits this year alone! Visitors come from all around the world as Hakuba provides a truly unique holiday experience— amazing cultural opportunities and lots of fresh powder snow. In fact, Hakuba receives well over 6 meters annually!
Hakuba is one hour away from Nagano Station and is accessible by Shinkansen and highway bus. Visitors must take a 1 hour bus ride from Nagano Station to Hakuba.
Option 1 From Narita
Take the monorail to Hammatsucho Station, transfer to the Yamanote Line (the large green circular line), and take it to Tokyo Station. There you can board the Shinkansen to Nagano Station and then the bus to Hakuba Bus terminal as outlined above.
Option 2 From Haneda
Take the Nagano Snow Shuttle (¥9,600) from Haneda Airport straight to Hakuba. This trip will take just over five hours in total and departs Haneda twice daily at 7:30 and 1:30 P.M.
JR East Tokyo Monorail Website
Nagano Snow Shuttle Website
The train station, bus station, and the largest resort are all within walking distance from the Happo Village. This is where you should stay on your first trip to Hakuba. There are lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes, and shuttles run to all of the neighboring resorts if you’re looking for new terrain.
The Marillen Hotel in Happo Village is a great option as it’s one of the view true ski-in-ski-out hotels in all of Hakuba Valley. It’s also home to a great restaurant, Bernd Keller’s, which serves authentic European alpine cuisine. The restaurant is located at the foot of the Nakiyama Slope and besides the delicious food, you can also enjoy a wide selection of International Wines and European beers.
There are tons of great restaurants in Happo Village but our favorite spots is Sharaku. Located in the middle of Happo Village in the Hakuba Springs Hotel, Sharaku serves the best sushi in the Hakuba Valley. If you’re not a fan of raw fish, order the mouthwatering Wagyu Beef—it’s to die for!
The Rabbit Hole
The Rabbit Hole is a cafe bar located near the Sakka Slopes, on the main street in Wadano Woods. It has a wide range of food (including vegan options, poutine and fresh grilled burgers) and a coffee to die for (you can also opt for soy milk or almond milk instead ) !
The atmosphere is nice and cozy, the staff is friendly and very welcoming and you don`t need to worry about communication either as they can all speak English.
A great place for lunch, that sits across from the Happo Gondola, a restaurant well-known for its pizza made in a wood-fire oven that is being manned by the former national champion of Italy`s pizza making competition, Paolo Coluccio ! It has a nice atmosphere, two bars and a dance floor, daily events , music and DJ on the 2nd floor !
There are two main rental shops in Hakuba: Central Snow Sports and Rhythm. The following prices are approximately what rentals cost for one day:
Adult Standard Ski or Snowboard Set: ¥4,250 per day.
Jacket & Pants: ¥1,500
Tickets for individual resorts must be purchased at the respective resorts. If you’re interested in purchasing an “All Valley Pass” which allows access to all resorts for one day for ¥6,000, you can do so here.
Hakuba Lift Passes Website
Cortina & Norikura
These two interconnected resorts can be accessed with the same ¥4,500 and may be the best place for fresh powder skiing in all of Hakuba Valley. Cortina also offers great tree skiing and lots of backcountry options.
This resort is best suited for beginners and intermediate skiiers as the runs here are wide and without trees. Tsugaike Kogen is the perfect place for finding your balance and confidence.
Iwatake has runs for every skill level and thus is a great option for families or groups. It is located only 10 minutes from Hakuba Station by car.
Hakuba Happo-One (Nagano Prefecture)
Happo-one is the largest resort in Hakuba Valley and the most popular as the main village sits at the base of the resort. It hosted several Olympic events in 1998 including the men’s downhill and super-giant slalom.
The highest altitude is 1,765 m and is best known for its powder snow with an extremely fine and light texture. It crosses the 3,000 m peaks of the Northern Alps of Japan and is mainly recognized for its venues of alpine ski(downhill) as it was one of Japan`s ski representatives along with Shiga Kogen at the Nagano Olympic Games of 1998.
The highest run starts at 2,696m and spreads to 4 base areas at the bottom of the mountain. This resort is best suited for intermediate and advanced skiers as it can be quite steep. However, there are a few runs appropriate for beginners.
The Hakuba Happo-One Ski Resort is very welcoming to foreigner visitors, so it should be a MUST on your winter holidays!
If you need more advice and looking for the best spots of Hakuba and want some good pictures as memories, you can try the Ski and snowboard photo service and have a professional photo shooting in the Northern Alps of Japan!
Hakuba 47 & Goryu
These two interconnected resorts can be accessed with the same lift ticket. In order to access the back country skiing at Hakuba 47, however, you must register for the Double Black Diamond Club when you arrive at the resort. It’s free to join and you’ll be given a bib which gives you access to great backcountry skiing.
The world famous snow monkeys can be visited within three hours by public transportation and are a must see! These adorable Japanese Macaques are the only monkeys in the world known to bathe in hot springs. Take a day off the slopes and go shoot some amazing pictures of the cutest monkeys you will likely ever see.
Located about 90 minutes from Hakuba Station via the JR Line, Matsumoto Castle is a great option for history enthusiasts. One of Japan’s 3 premiere historic castles, the castle has several unique features including a black façade and its location; the castle sits in an open plain opposed to being perched on a hill like most Japanese castles.
Visitors transiting through Nagano Station should stop here to see the beautiful Zenkoji Temple. Founded in the 7th century, many believe the temple houses the first Buddha statue ever brought to Japan. A 10 minute walk from Nagano Station, you’d be remiss not to go visit this incredible site before or after your ski holiday. Alternatively a tour which includes Zenkoji Temple and the snow monkeys can be booked here.
For more information on The Hakuba Valley, as well as resort information, trail maps, snow forecasts and daily snow reports, visit the link below:
If you come to Japan and you want to try the skiing resorts here, but also want to enjoy Tokyo and its surroundings, here a few more recommendations for the best powder snow and largest ski resorts you can find on the island.
① Kagura ski resort (located in Niigata prefecture)
The highest altitude is 1,845 m, backcountry skiing is famous in the area and the greatest thing about this place is that the ski resort can be enjoyed even on one day trip!
How to access it?
Echigo yuzawa is the nearest station and from Tokyo, you only take one hour to get there !
② Shiga Kogen Ski Resort (Nagano Prefecture)
The highest altitude is 2,307 m ! It is one of the representative ski resorts in Japan that became a venue for alpine skiing (slalom/giant slalom) on the Nagano Olympic Games held in 1998.
Here is one fun tour you can enjoy during winter. Not only you go skiing, but also get to play in the mountains and have the unique experience of observing the Snow Monkeys in their habitat!
Snow Monkeys and Snow Fun in Shiga Kogen Tour Voyagin Website
Japan has hundred of ski and snowboard resorts scattered throughout the country and we`ve tried to pick a few of the best to easy your winter holiday itinerary.
If you are coming here, don`t miss Hakuba as it is a marvelous place that has so much to offer, have a taste of Japan`s culture, get ready to try the mountains, hot springs, cuisine and have an unforgettable experience.