5 Tips For Backcountry Skiing in Hakuba JapanHakuba is a world-famous backcountry ski destination, and for a good reason. Each season Hakuba gets over 11 meters of snow and has some of the best terrain in Japan. There is a reason why Hakuba is an annual stop on the Free Ride World Tour and why we have compiled a list of the 5 things to know about backcountry skiing in Hakuba. Hakuba's 10 resorts cover only a tiny fraction of the skiable terrain in the valley. The best skiing is the backcountry. With lift-accessible terrain from the top of the resorts to the nearly 1,000m of vertical above Hakuba's backcountry and world-renowned fresh powder make for a skiers paradise. To top it all off, the Hakuba Valley is located only a few hours from Tokyo in the Japanese Alps. It is the perfect place to get your deep powder fix. Unlike Niseko, which requires a connecting flight after landing in Japan, Hakuba can be easily accessed by bus, car, or train.
1) Hire a Guide
One of the great things about ski touring in the Hakuba Valley is the number of businesses run by English speakers. Hakuba has several ski schools and tour operators. Whether your looking for a ski instructor for your kids or a guide for that next big adventure they will ensure your experience in Hakuba is safe and enjoyable. While it is possible to ski the backcountry without a guide, we highly recommend you hire one. The staff at the tour operators are very knowledgeable about the terrain and conditions in Hakuba and can help you make the most of your trip. Backcountry tours are inherently dangerous sports, and having a guide with you significantly reduces the risks. With the variety of terrain, a knowledgeable guide can find the best snow conditions on the terrain that suits your group. Private tours in Hakuba Evergreen Backcountry Guides - Has been operating in Hakuba since 2004 and is one of the most reputable companies in Hakuba. Northern Heights Guiding - Is a small outfit that specializes in private guiding. Mountain Life Hakuba - Offers week-long guided tours, including ryokan and hot spring visits, as well as private guiding. GoodGuides - Backcountry guiding with an emphasis on education.
2) Avalanche Safety in Japan
Japan has a relatively safe snowpack compared to other parts of the world. But like backcountry touring anywhere, there are inherent risks. Unlike areas in North America, blasting is relatively uncommon in Japan. Every year there are people killed in the Hakuba backcountry. Avalanche safety needs to be part of your planning. The challenge is that most of the information available in Japan is in Japanese. Below are a couple of websites that you can use with information about Avalanches in Japan.
Nadare.jp - Hakuba Reports
Mountain-forecast - Shirouma Dake Weather Forecast
3) Take an Onsen
You've never experienced a hot spring until you've been to an onsen. Japan takes bathing culture to a whole new level. The Japanese will take literal onsen trips where they just go and experience these fantastic baths all over Japan. Onsen culture is based around public bathhouses where people of all ages go to relax and socialize. Don't worry; the baths are separated by gender, but you do have to get naked. But it's worth leaving your apprehension at the door to submerse yourself in the healing waters of an onsen. Besides the apparent benefits of just soaking in a hot tub, onsens offer many health benefits. Onsens help with skin conditions, blood circulation, and joint pain. After a long day of ski touring, there is no better way to relax your muscles than in an onsen. Hakuba has many different onsens to choose from all around the valley, including several onsen foot baths where you can strip off your boots after a day of skiing and soak your feet in the hot springs.
4) Experience the Culture
Japan's snow is epic; Hakuba receives over 11 meters of snow each season. But if you've come halfway across the world to go skiing, you should also take the time to experience Japanese culture. Hakuba tour operators offer a variety of traditional Japanese experiences, including Sake Brewery Tours, Kimono and Tea Ceremonies, and Wasabi Farm Tours. Hakuba is also a short distance from the world-famous Zenkoji temple in Nagano and the world heritage site Matsumoto castle. If you're coming to Japan, you should take full advantage. Add a couple of days to your trip and experience more of what Japan offers. You can even add a side trip to Kyoto or spend a couple extra days in Tokyo.
5) Go See the Snow Monkeys
Japan's famous snow monkeys are not far from Hakuba in the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The park is home to a troop of wild Japanese Macaques known as snow monkeys. These creatures are most famous for their love of hot springs, and you can often find them soaking in the outdoor pools in the park. The best time to see the monkeys is in the winter when they are covered in snow. The park is open all year round, but it can be challenging to access in the winter if there is a lot of snow. We recommend you check the conditions before making the trip. If you're looking for a unique experience, a visit to see the Snow Monkeys is worth your time.
When should I go Backcountry Skiing in Hakuba?
Japan's ski season is from Mid-December to May. For the best chance for fresh powder, you should plan your trip between mid-January and mid-March.
How do I get to Hakuba?
Most travellers fly to Tokyo and then take public transit from Tokyo to Hakuba.
Two bus operators service Hakuba with Highway buses are Nagano Snow Shuttle and Alpico Bus lines. Both offer services direct from the airport to Hakuba.
JR operates a high-speed train from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station. To get to Tokyo station from the airport, you can take the high-speed express train from the bottom floor of the airport. Once at Tokyo station, you will need to transfer to the bullet train bound for Nagano. Once in Nagano, you need to transfer again to a bus which will take you to Hakuba station.
The trains have more regular departure times than the busses but are more expensive. They also have limited space for baggage (especially skis and packs). If you opt for the train, ship your luggage from the airport. There are luggage shipping services on the main floor of the airport, and they will drop your bags off at your final destination within 24hrs.
Chuo taxi is a private taxi operator that provides door-to-door service. This is an excellent option if your flight arrival times don't match the bus or train schedules. Chuo taxi is more expensive than the train or the bus, but offers customized service and takes luggage. Be aware you may share the cab with different groups.
There are many rental car options available at the airport. A rental car will give you the most freedom to travel but is the most expensive option. You will also require an international driver's license to drive a car in Japan. Most road signs are English and Japanese, but driving in Tokyo can be daunting. Be aware that many highways in Japan are toll roads, and you will be required to pay a fee to travel on them. Unless you plan to move between multiple ski areas, I don't recommend getting a car.
What do I need to bring Backcountry Skiing in Japan?
Backcountry skiing in Japan is like backcountry skiing anywhere in the world. You will need your ski boots, skis, poles, backpack, climbing skins, beacon, shovel, and probe. If you plan on bringing an avalanche backpack, be aware of flight travel restrictions. If you are using a compressed air system, finding a location to fill your canister can be a challenge. Be sure to talk to your backcountry tour operator about what you can bring and where to charge canisters. If you don't have the equipment or simply don't want to lug it halfway across the world then you can easily rent your gear while you are here.
Is Backcountry Touring in Japan Dangerous?
Backcountry Skiing can be dangerous if you are not prepared. Check the conditions before you go, and always hire a guide.
Is there Heli Skiing in Hakuba, Japan?
No, there is no Heli. Hakuba has a variety of off-piste and backcountry available, including lift-accessible and touring-accessible terrain.
There you have it, some of our top tips on how to get the most out of a backcountry ski trip to Hakuba Japan. With a little planning and preparation, you can have an incredible trip and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Happy Backcountry Skiing!