Japan’s Hakuba Valley, situated in the Northern Japanese Alps of the main island’s Nagano Prefecture, is one of the most well-known ski destinations in the world. The valley is made up of 11 resorts and choosing the right home base for your stay is clutch!
Ecoland, located in the area around the base of Hakuba Happo, is a hip, trendy neighborhood full of restaurants, whiskey bars, and shopping. It’s also packed full of tourists. While it’s definitely worth checking out, consider staying at the base of another resort like Tsugaike Kogen for a more immersive Japanese experience.
Getting to Hakuba
From Tokyo, take the JR Shinkashen bullet train to Nagano where you’ll transfer to a bus. The bus departs from the train station’s street level, which, at press time, is downstairs from where the Shinkasen lets you off. After exiting the train turnstile, exit to the left and follow signs to the elevator. Look for a convenience store with signage advertising Hakuba bus tickets on the street, and buy a bus ticket from the store’s check-out counter. Be sure to have cash handy, cards are not accepted. The bus to Hakuba departs just past the shop.
Get the Full Japanese Experience
Book a stay at Ha-mon at Tsugaike Kogen for an authentic experience. The ski-in, ski-out lodge has a similar feel to a bed-and-breakfast with clean, comfortable rooms decorated in a traditional style (but with Western-style beds). Bathrooms, including separate men’s and women’s onsens, are communal. Breakfast is served daily in the dining room, a light-filled, cozy room overlooking Tsugaike Kogen’s bunny hill, and be sure to take advantage of the homemade dinners—think Japanese style chicken curry, hot pots—that can be added with your stay. Lodge staff is more than friendly and excited to meet guests and share their home with them.
Secret Lunch (and après, and dinner) Spot
Local’s agree Takahashi-ke is the best ramen spot in the Hakuba Valley, which means it can get packed! Luckily there are two locations in the valley. The first is in Ecoland and by far the busier location, frequently boasting 20- to 30-minute wait times. Head there straight from the slopes or be prepared to stand outside in the cold while you wait for a table.
The second location, in Tsugaike Kogen, is just down the street from Ha-mon and a much better option if standing in line outside isn’t your cup of tea. Menus are the same at both locations and stick to what they do best—ramen and gyoza. Try miso ramen, vegetarian ramen, or hand-made gyoza. Either way, we’d bet you’ll visit Takahashi-ke more than once during your stay— it’s that good.
Ski Hakuba’s Goods
Apologies for the bluntness, but if you’re hoping to ski endless, bottomless powder in Japan, skiing with a guide is the only way to go. After all, they want to make sure you get the good snow if you travel halfway around the world looking for it. Good Guides, based in Tsugaike Kogen, have all the expertise you need and offer everything from full-day backcountry excursions to lift-accessed side country and combos of both. With years of experience and an amazing crew of guides, including a few of the IMGFA-certified variety, they’ve got plenty of secret stashes up their sleeves when good snow is in high demand.
If you decided to skip a guide and it snows at night, be sure to wake up early to get in line to snag at least a couple laps worth of Japow before the powder-hungry masses gobble it up.
Word to the wise: Ducking a rope in Japan can get you arrested. Hiring a guide is cheaper than bail.
More about Good Guides: This Guide Service Will Make Your Japan Dream Trip a Reality
Join the DBD Club
Japan loves rules, and in order to ski the good zones inbounds at Tsugaike Kogen (hello, glorious tree skiing, cliffs, and pillows) you must have a guide or attend a class to learn about the current snowpack and how to navigate the terrain safely. The 45-minute class gets you a DBD (Double Black Diamond) armband you’ll wear anytime you drop into these zones. Classes are held at Jenny’s Restaurant near the top of the gondola at 9, 10, and 11 a.m. daily. Heads up: don’t be late or you won’t be let into the class. Avalanche rescue equipment (beacon, shovel, probe, partner) required.
Feed the Fantasy Even More: These Are Our Favorite Stories About Skiing in Japan