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Winter Adventures in Hakuba Valley

A mountaintop view of the Northern Alps in Nagano prefecture

Nestled in the Japanese Northern Alps and blessed with abundant snowfall, Hakuba Valley in Nagano prefecture is most famous for its skiing and snowboarding scene. However, there’s a whole lot more that it has to offer! Tarsha Autio from Japan Ski Experience takes us through all the mountain attractions and experiences in Hakuba Valley to fill up your Japan winter travel itineraries!

Hakuba Valley, located in Nagano prefecture, is well known for its collection of 10 ski resorts and diversity of terrain that cater to riders of all abilities and styles. What is not so often well known, is the huge range of mountain attractions on offer beyond skiing and snowboarding with each resort providing visitors with an array of activities and experiences.

The Southern Slopes

For those seeking a laid-back and family-friendly experience, Jigatake and Kashimiyari may be the perfect ski resorts. Jigatake boasts uncrowded wide open runs, gentle slopes, and a relaxed atmosphere, making it perfect for beginners looking to hone their skills. With its large sled-like lift called the 'Troika,' Jigatake offers a unique tobogganing experience, enabling children to build confidence sliding down the slope on skis or sledges. 

Snowshoeing in the backcountry of Hakuba Valley

After a few laps the adventure seekers can turn it up a notch at Jigatake and take a snowmobile tour where you can drive your own snowmobile. After a short safety briefing you’re away! Lead by a guide you’ll drive deeper into the mountains through the forest to check out the scenery in a different way. Short or long, solo or tandem tours are on offer so everyone can get involved, exploring the forest and enjoying the picturesque scenery. 

At Kashimayari, visitors can enjoy a Pokémon adventure park,. With a snow play area and an inviting beginner slope kids can start to start their skiing journey. Once the legs need a break it’s time to go tubing! Kashimiyari is home to Japan's longest tube ride, a thrilling 500m track with rollers and turns that guarantee a fun-filled experience; sliding down the track of rollers and turns leaving you with a smile that’s difficult to wipe off your face!

A map of the Pokemon Adventure Park in Kashimayari 

Sanosaka, surrounded by lakes and mountains, offers some of the most gorgeous views you can find of Lake Aokiko. As it’s tucked away into the side of the alps, it’s sheltered well from the wind so conditions are usually comfortable. Sanosaka is a great progression mountain for beginners wanting to level up, and intermediate riders and skiers looking to perfect their turns.  After a morning on the slopes take the afternoon mix it up with a snowshoe tour. These guided hikes are suitable for everyone as the elevation gain is low, and the sheltered environment keeps snowshoers comfortable and the hot drink provided mid-way will refuel you while you discover a new activity. Even snow-loving pups can join you as leashed dogs are able to come on this adventure. 

ABLE Goryu & Hakuba47

Goryu, Iimori, and Hakuba47 are interconnected resorts accessible by shuttle buses and ski lifts, creating a vast and varied ski area. Goryu boasts Hakuba's steepest slope, the Campion Expert Course, and Hakuba47 offers challenging tree zones alongside more leisurely routes. Hakuba47 is home to an amazing park that is serviced by a lift, so no hiking required! Beginning with a halfpipe, there are jumps where you can build from small to large that are lined with progression features to help you develop your skills. 

The slopes of Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort lit up in the later hours for night skiing 

Goryu is known for having the largest night skiing area in Hakuba, allowing skiers and riders to cruise down the well-lit Toomi slope. At Escal Plaza located at the base of Goryu, visitors can enjoy Japanese culture with a buffet dinner and a Taiko drumming show that will entertain the whole family, and will send everyone home tapping their feet!

Olympic Grade Pistes

Happo One, famous for its prominent role in the Nagano 1998 Olympics, dominates the Hakuba area with its high elevation, long runs, and challenging courses, including bumps and a flowy banks course. The Corona Bar near the Gondola station provides a unique vantage point to appreciate the view of Hakuba town while watching skiers and riders in action. If you are lucky enough with timing, you might even be in for the surreal experience of a DJ set in this incredible location!

The Olympic ski jumps in Hakuba 

At Happo, there is a huge array of accommodation options, including Hakuba’s largest collection of ski in ski out properties. Less conventionally, on-mountain glamping options are also now available, with dome-style tents and huts for a cosy overnight stay where guests can relax and recover in the sauna after a day of skiing. Additionally the nearby Olympic Ski Jumping arena offers chairlift rides, a museum showcasing Hakuba's skiing heritage, and a chance to climb the stairs to the top of the imposing ski jumps, from which you cannot help but feel a newfound appreciation for the sport.

Iwatake and Tsugaike

Iwatake, although smaller compared to its neighbouring resorts, offers long gondola laps, well-groomed pistes, and adventurous tree runs. Its highlight is the panoramic 360-degree views from its summit, providing a truly unique experience. At Iwatake White Park, visitors can enjoy various snow activities, including a dog run, igloos, snow sculptures, and the Yoohoo swing, offering incredible photo opportunities. Hakuba Mountain Harbour provides a peaceful atmosphere with a large deck, where guests can savour warm hot chocolate and sweet treats at City Café, while admiring the view.


A skier plowing down the powder snow at Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort

Tsugaike, a long time favourite amongst local skiers and snowboarders, is now becoming better known on the international scene. It caters to riders of all levels with its diverse offerings, from gentle beginner slopes to jumps, park features, tree runs, and off-piste adventures, Tsugaike stands out as a favourite among visitors. The resort features the DBD tree run area (Tsuga-pow!), providing a memorable experience amidst beautifully spaced trees. In the spring, the opening of the Ropeway at the top of Tsugaike grants access to additional backcountry terrain, popular among those  snowboarders, skiers, and snowshoers equipped to head off-piste.

At Tsugaike, visitors can satisfy their cravings for familiar fast food with a mid-mountain Burger King. After a day on the slopes, relaxing in the foot onsen with a beverage while reliving the best runs is a perfect way to unwind. Adventurers can also try fat biking, a unique sport available in select Japanese resorts, with half or full-day tours through the forest or on designated downhill runs.

Powder Paradise

The Hotel Green Plaza situated in front of Hakuba's Cortina Ski Resort.

Norikura and Cortina, located at the northern end of Hakuba Valley, are the go-to resorts for powder enthusiasts. Don’t be alarmed by lift lines when resorts open, crowds disperse quickly due to the ample terrain available. Norikura offers open faces and steep pitches, while Cortina boasts incredible tree runs. Alongside chasing fresh tracks, visitors can take advantage of the new lift at Norikura, providing improved accessibility for sightseers and touring boarders and skiers, following the resort’s guidelines. Backcountry gear is essential, and if you need to hire this in resort, Central Snowsports, who have locations dotted around Hakuba's main bases as well as a guest shuttle service, offer a full range of touring equipment. 

Konisu coffee shop

Also at Norikura, don’t miss Konisu, a former lift ticket hut now turned ski thru coffee shop! Serving up barista- style coffee and delicious homemade hot food including pies, sandwiches and pastries. The snow stretches past the coffee/serving window so you really do ski in and out to order and receive your treats! 

The ski thru at Konisu coffee shop

At powder capital, Cortina, the iconic Hotel Green Plaza stands out with its bright red roof and offers dining, rentals, souvenir shopping, and onsens. The make-your-own pizza station is a favourite choice for satisfying post-skiing appetites. The onsens at Hotel Green Plaza feature hot and cold pools, both indoor and outdoor, allowing guests to relax and soak their tired muscles, you won’t realise how close you are to the slopes, until a skier comes flying past!

Konisu coffee and sandwiches, perfect for a break from slopes!

Throughout Hakuba's resorts, keep an eye out for Kamoshika, native Japanese animals often found solo in the trees. Together with the famous Japanese macaque monkeys which some lucky Hakuba skiers and boarders will be lucky enough to spot, Komishka’s presence adds to the unique charm and natural beauty of an adventure packed Hakuba Valley. 

A snowshoer's encounter with a Japanese serow in Kamoshika

Need more reasons to visit this corner of Nagano prefecture? Check out our other blog post here on cultural experiences in and around Hakuba Valley!

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