Hakuba Valley
Photo: Hakuba Valley

7 amazing reasons to visit Hakuba Valley this winter

Escape the city for a snow-filled getaway in Nagano prefecture with skiing, snowboarding, hot springs and more

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Hakuba Valley

The best way to spend winter in Japan is with an idyllic holiday in the country’s abundant snowy mountains. Hakuba Valley in Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, is an unrivalled winter destination nestled at the base of the 3,000m-high Northern Alps. 

The valley comprises three main areas: Omachi City, Hakuba Village and Otari Village. Omachi is the southernmost area of Hakuba Valley and is renowned for its onsen baths and sake made from alpine waters. On the other side, Otari is a cosy village in the north of the valley, which receives some of the most abundant snowfall in Japan. Located right in the middle, Hakuba connects these areas together, making it a top spot for skiers and snowboarders.

Plus, over 600 businesses in the valley, including all the snow resorts, have been awarded the Hakuba Valley Cleanliness Certification. The programme ensures a venue has appropriate ventilation, disinfection, mask-wearing and social distancing protocols in place, so you can have peace of mind.

If you need any more convincing, here are seven reasons why you should make Hakuba Valley your next destination this winter.

Enjoy Hakuba Valley

There’s a snow resort to suit you
Photo: Hakuba Valley

1. There’s a snow resort to suit you

Hakuba Valley is home to a whopping ten snow resorts, with nine of them in operation this ski season. With so much variety, there’s a resort to suit skiers and snowboarders of all levels, along with family-friendly spots that are perfect for the little ones. 

Check out the terrain park at Hakuba47 Winter Sports Park, where you’ll find the valley’s largest half-pipe, along with kickers, boxes and more. Right next door, Able Hakuba Goryu offers the largest night skiing area, which now runs on 100 percent renewable energy. For a romantic location with telemark skiing and snowshoeing, visit Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort. If you’re looking to start off on wide, gentle slopes, Jigatake Snow Resort is the place for you.

It’s an easy trip from Tokyo
Photo: Hakuba Valley

2. It’s an easy trip from Tokyo

Accessible in under three hours from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen line and express bus, Hakuba Valley is convenient and easy to travel from central Tokyo. Hakuba Valley is also handy from other major cities including Osaka, Nagoya and Kanazawa. For detailed access information, visit here.

Once you’re in the area, the Hakuba Valley Shuttle Bus connects all the snow resorts making it a breeze to get around without a car. This season, the shuttle bus will be in operation from December 25 to February 23. For the shuttle bus route and timetable, visit here.

You can visit all nine resorts with one single pass
Photo: Hakuba Valley

3. You can visit all nine resorts with one single pass

The Hakuba Valley Day Pass gives you access to all nine snow resorts, covering 131 trails and 96 different lifts, plus free rides on the Shuttle Bus on days when you ski or snowboard. A one-day pass starts at ¥6,600 per person (children ¥3,800), but if you're staying a bit longer, go for a pass that’s valid for up to seven (¥43,400, ¥24,300) or ten days (¥60,300, ¥33,500).

High quality snow and beautiful scenery
Photo: Hakuba Valley

4. High quality snow and beautiful scenery

Hakuba Valley’s snow resorts are blessed with exceptional quality powder and stunning views everywhere you go. Enjoy scenic spots such as Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field, boasting unrivalled 360-degree panoramic views of the entire Hakuba mountain range, or Kashimayari Snow Resort with its views of the Northern Alps, Lake Aoki and Lake Nakatsuna.

There’s nothing like the feeling of making new tracks in fresh snow as you race down the mountain. Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort offers some of the longest, steepest runs in the entire valley and is perfect for plowing through powder. Tsugaike Mountain Resort is also known for its heavy snowfall and the Tsuga-Pow DBD (Double Black Diamond) powder zone. Meanwhile, Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort often records the highest snowfall in the valley, making for incredible powder tree runs. To keep tabs on the latest snow and weather reports, visit here

Several of the resorts around Hakuba Valley stay open through Golden Week in April and May, so you can get snow and hanami (cherry blossom viewing) all in one trip. 

Bathe in natural hot springs
Photo: Hakuba Valley

5. Bathe in natural hot springs

Visiting Hakuba Valley means more than just snow – you also get to take advantage of the soothing natural hot springs dotted around the area. Most onsen baths are close to the snow resorts and are a great way to wind down after a day on the slopes. Besides the public onsen, many ryokan (traditional guesthouses) in the area also have their own hot springs where you can enjoy a soak. 

Onsen enthusiasts will want to stop by the Omachi Onsenkyo hot spring area tucked away in the southern end of the valley. The charming area is renowned for its range of ryokan and bathhouses, which are worth a visit or even an overnight stay.

Explore the local area and meet Japanese snow monkeys
Photo: Hakuba Valley

6. Explore the local area and meet Japanese snow monkeys

Take a break from the slopes for some of the other activities and sites around Hakuba Valley. 

Sample local cuisine or pick up souvenirs like a pair of handmade straw sandals at Otari Roadside Station. Catch great views at the Hakuba Jumping Stadium, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic ski jumping. Head south to Omachi City, where you’ll find the Omachi Alpine Museum and Nishina Shinmei Shrine – a national treasure.

For excursions a bit further out of the valley, you’ll want to visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, where you’ll find Japan’s famous snow monkeys bathing in outdoor hot springs. For a bit of history, stop by Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s oldest remaining castles, or Zenkoji Temple, another national treasure. Foodies should check out the nearby Daio Wasabi Farm – it’s one of Japan's largest wasabi farms, and is a delicious place to sample the local speciality.

There’s a variety of accommodation on offer
Photo: Hakuba Valley

7. There’s a variety of accommodation on offer

Whether you prefer to stay in a luxury hotel, traditional ryokan or just a cosy mountain lodge, you can find the ideal place for a winter getaway. If you’re travelling with a large group, renting out a full chalet or apartment is a good option to give yourself more space and a full kitchen. Prefer convenience? Some venues are located right next to the ski slopes so you can ski in and out at your own leisure. 

The peaceful mountain scenery and speedy wifi also mean Hakuba Valley is the perfect spot for a relaxed workation, too.

For more information on Hakuba Valley, visit the official website.

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