Ultimate First Timer’s Guide to Hakuba Valley

Undecided on where to go for your next ski and snowboard trip? Look no further, we are going to Hakuba! This is actually our first ever ski/snowboard trip and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! If you haven’t been or are about to take your first trip out to Hakuba, here’s a guide to Hakuba and I’ll be sharing everything I wish we knew before our trip.

In this Guide to Hakuba:

Why Hakuba?

Hakuba 47, Guide to Hakuba Valley

Hakuba Valley has gained traction amongst avid skiers and snow enthusiasts and is now arguably, just as popular as Niseko. Hakuba is home to 12 resorts, with over 200 runs spread across them. Travelling between the resorts is also not difficult with the shuttle services available; but more on that later.

If you’re an Epic Pass pass holder, you can also use that for 5 unlimited days in Hakuba.

Another factor you should take into consideration would be how close to mainland Japan you would want to be. Getting to Tokyo or Osaka is quite straightforward from Hakuba as there are many train and bus options available, while Niseko will require a flight.

Getting to Hakuba

There are many alternatives depending where you are entering Japan from: Osaka, Nagoya or Tokyo (Haneda/Narita). We will be comparing transportation options, including trains, buses and private transfers. Tokyo serves as the starting point for most travellers embarking to Hakuba due to the distance compared to the Osaka or Nagoya.

Train rides

Hakuba Station, Guide to Hakuba Valley

There are no direct train rides to the resorts. The closest you can get to is Hakuba Station and hop to a shuttle bus or taxi from there. Your hotel might be able to arrange pick-up/drop-off for you as well from Hakuba Station, so do remember to ring them up.

Getting to Hakuba Station is rather straightforward from Tokyo compared to other cities, it’s a 1.5 hour Shinkansen ride to Nagano, and another hour of bus. From other cities, like Osaka or Nagoya, you will have to change a few lines.

Bus rides

Haneda Airport Alpico Bus Stop, Hakuba Guide

For Tokyo, the common pick-up location will be Haneda Airport, Narita Airport, and Shinjuku. Look out for available rides from Alpico or JamJam Liner for the available pick-up locations for other cities.

Read: Bus from Tokyo to Hakuba

Getting Around Hakuba Without A Car

Having a car will make getting around Hakuba much easier, but if you are unable to drive, or are not comfortable driving in snowy conditions, getting around Hakuba without a car is not difficult.

Free Services

Free Shuttle Buses at Escal Plaza, Goryu
Free shuttle buses at Escal Plaza, Goryu

Each resort are will have free shuttle buses available until the evening. For areas that are open for night skiing, such as Goryu, there will have a dedicated night ski shuttle service as well.

Information regarding the free services are usually available at the information counter near the resort. Each bus will have its own schedule. Most buses run on an hourly basis.

Hakuba Valley Shuttle

The Hakuba Valley Shuttle Bus brings you from one end to another of the Hakuba Valley. The bus costs a flat rate of ¥600 for adults, and ¥300 for children one way (prices are correct as of 23/24 season). This service is only free for the Hakuba Valley Pass holders, which is different from the individual resorts’ passes.

Hakuba Valley Shuttle Bus, Goryu
Look out for this sign for the Hakuba Valley shuttle bus

Similar to the free shuttle buses, the Hakuba Valley Shuttle has its own schedule. The first bus starts around 8am and the last bus runs around 4pm in the afternoon. Do check the Hakuba Valley website for the schedule and plan your journey in advance to avoid getting stranded.

Hakuba Night Demand Taxi

The Hakuba Night Demand Taxi is available only from 5pm to 10pm, and available for booking from 9am on the same day only. It costs ¥500 per person.

To use this “taxi”, you’ll have to book it in advance on the app, and not at the point you need it. It is best to book it as early as possible. You’ll be able to schedule a ride request in the app. There are also set pick up locations, so you’ll have to find the pick up points nearest to you, rather than have the taxi go to wherever you are.

This “taxi” is more of a means for getting around for the night around Hakuba and not for night ski sessions as they do not allow equipment on board.

‘Happo Gondola’ stop for the Hakuba Night Demand Taxi

There are no signs that indicate the stops for the Hakuba Night Demand Taxi. You’ll have to follow the map in the app and is best you head to the pick up point early in case you get lost trying to find it. Sometimes, the Night Demand Taxi also does not wait for you if you are not at the stop. We experienced this once when the driver could not see us at the stop because it was so dark. He did come back for us about 15 minutes later, but it was not fun standing out in the cold.

Note: For the transport options, please check their respective websites for the dates of operations, as the dates will vary depending on service and season.

Ski and Snowboard Lessons

Hakuba Snow Sports School, Iimori

The most popular ski and snowboard schools in Hakuba are Hakuba Snow Sports School and Evergreen Ski School.

The Hakuba Snow Sports School operates out of the Goryu Iimori area, while Evergreen has lessons at Happo-one, Tsugaike, Cortina, & Iwatake.

During our trip, we went with Hakuba Snow Sports School as we were staying in the Goryu area. The service was spectacular. As we booked the early bird classes, our instructors would pick us up in the mornings and never once was the pick up late. The 2 instructors we had during our stay were so knowledgeable and made us feel at ease.

Equipment Rental Tips

Snowboard Rental, Winpy Box, Goryu

Find The Rental Shop Nearest To Your Accommodation

If your accommodation does not provide ski or snowboard rentals, try renting from the rental shop nearest to your accommodation, so that you would not have to lug your equipment around.

Alternatively, get your equipment from a shop that provides pick up and drop off service.

Book Early

Always book early. This is especially important if you’re visiting Hakuba when large events are happening, such as Snow Machine. You can also get your accommodation to connect you with rental shops if you are unable to find any.

Clothing

If you don’t have your own set of ski jacket and pants, you can also rent them, to save some cost.

Buy Goggles And Helmet

I’d recommend getting your own set of goggles and helmet as not many shops provide rental for those. It is also more hygienic.

Accommodation Tips

Hotel Stelle Belle, Goryu - Guide to Hakuba

There are many accommodation options to choose from near the resorts, so I will not be going into the option we booked, but rather, share how we chose our accommodation option.

Firstly, if you’re not driving, distance of the accommodation to the resort or nearest chairlift. Of course, the nearer the better, so you do not have to carry your gear for long and less walking in ski/snow boots. This is also especially important if your accommodation does not provide shuttle service to the nearest resort.

Secondly, does your skill level match what the nearest resort offers? If you’re a beginner skier or snowboarder, it is unlikely you’ll benefit from staying near a resort that has more black runs than green runs.

Last but not least, the amenities and facilities nearby. After the fulfilling day in the snow, you need to fill your stomachs, and probably relax in the onsen.

Always check if there are food options nearby. Many hotels and hostels also package their prices with dinners. This is a good option if there are no food options nearby and if you don’t want to spend your time researching the area for food.

Plan In Advance

Iimori Hakuba Goryu, Guide to Hakuba

Always plan early if possible. Many accommodation options get expensive, or even booked out by the end of November.

Also, try not plan your trip for the start of the season as the weather has become increasingly unpredictable in the recent years, and snow seems to be coming later as well.

Conclusion

Going on your first ski trip can be overwhelming — I know we were. The systems within the various ski resorts are largely similar so once you get the hang of it, you’ll be fine. It is also important to keep yourselves up to date by checking the resorts’ official website or social media channels as start and end dates for seasons will vary.

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