The Definitive Guide To Japan: Hakuba

The place of plenty

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If you were to choose just one location to ride for the rest of your life Hakuba would probably be it. Situated in the Nagano prefecture, Hakuba’s huge valley is occupied by 10-interconnected ski resorts which opens-up 960 hectares of rideable terrain. If it’s powder you seek, this place has 11 metres on tap each season. If it’s parks you feel like hot-lapping, there’s nine of those too, in all shapes and sizes including the famed Happo-banks. If it’s long, cruisey runs loaded with side hits, there’s a never-ending network of those too. Hakuba also has some of the steepest backcountry terrain Japan has to offer, so if you feel like hitting big pillows and windlips, you’ll find that here too.

Clint Allan / Photo Juha Laine

Introducing the Experts

Richie Carroll

He might have started out in the frozen streets hitting handrails but human-beanstalk Richie Carroll took a different approach to his riding not long after his first trip to Hokkaido and is now a proven pow-convertee, frequenting places like Hakuba, Myoko and Niseko year after year.

Clint Allan

A snowboarder who needs no introduction, YES rider Clint Allan knows exactly where and when to score in either Hokkaido or on Honshu. His word has somewhat become gospel in the realms of Japanese snowboarding.

Quentin Nolan

Few westerners have the knowledge of Japan’s snow covered regions like Quentin Nolan. Which is why he started his own booking company Liquidsnow and has been pointing people in the direction of powder for some time now.

Torah Bright / Photo Andrew Fawcett

According to the Experts

What attracted you to ride this part of Japan?
When I arrived in Hakuba, my mind was instantly blown with how steep the terrain was and how easily accessible so much of it is. Previously I’d spent time on Hokkaido, and this proved a lot more difficult to find there. I go back every year now no matter what circumstance I’m in … I’ve lost girlfriends, careers and a ton of money to Hakuba. so far, no regrets! – Richie Carroll

Top places to ride in the region when the snow is on?
Cortina really turns it on on a powder day but it is also the most popular so can get a little crowded. Norikura resort is just next door to Cortina so gets the same quality snow with hardly anyone riding it. There are some good stashes at Happo One if you know where to find them as well as Hakuba47 and Tsugaike. – Quentin Nolan

Torah Bright / Photo Andrew Fawcett

Top things to do when it’s not?
I like Jacks Sports Bar for a beer after riding. The Rabbit Hole is mental, as well as Sharaku restaurant for some sake and sashimi, it’s always a favourite. – Clint Allan

Hakuba Heat is an old abandoned hotel where you can shoot your mates with air rifles. There are also heaps of great onsen’s throughout the villages, some with some pretty spectacular views of the Valley. – Quentin Nolan

What type of conditions do you need for an epic day on the mountain here?
Hot tip – when the winds are blowing from the North, head straight to Cortina! – Richie Carroll

It doesn’t get as cold as up north with quite a few bluebirds throughout Jan and Feb so even if it’s not snowing you can still get out and enjoy the groomers or one of parks. – Quentin Nolan

Photo Theo Acworth

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone heading to ride here?
Make sure you take the right board! There’s nothing worse than standing at the top of an epic powder field and you’re struggling to get your board going because you’re sinking on a 152 jib stick that hasn’t seen a wax iron in over 5 years. Splurge out and invest in a powder/all mountain board. Something like a shorter, fatter board with a fishtail or something forgiving. – Richie Carrol

What’s your travel hack tip to getting here?
By locking in your trip with one of the expert travel providers you can get your trip locked away for the same cost or cheaper than booking everything yourself, but the convenience of having it all combined to work out smoothy with the best connections, then have support on the ground. – Quentin Nolan

Best place to stay for a weary snowboarder?
The Springs Hotel is my place of choice to stay. It’s about a three-minute walk to the chairlift, close to all the good shops, restaurants and bars and they’ve got good beds. I’m all about immersing myself in different cultures and enjoying new experiences but when it comes to my sleep there’s no compromising. No tatami mat on the floor for me … I’ll take a Queen bed any day of the week. – Richie Carroll

Any last local secrets you care to share?
If you fancy easily earning your turns and Splitboard or snowshoeing, there are some incredible places to find off the side of the road if you keep driving past Cortina and take a right in between two tunnels. – Clint Allan

Photo Juha Laine

Hit List

If I earned my turns I’d go here …
Get a chair up Happo One and drop the North Face – Richie

Happo One back bowls – Clint

Tsugaike – Quentin

If I had a briefcase full of cash I’d make sure I’d …
I’d go cat boarding in Myoko – Richie

Eat at Mini’s and heli out of Tsugaike – Clint

Stay at Phoenix and eat at Mimi’s Restaurant – Quentin

I couldn’t leave my kids at home so I took them riding at …
Happo One – Richie

The bottom lifts at Happo One – Clint

Happo One as it’s easy – Quentin

Sometimes I feel like cutting a few park laps so I head to …
Hakuba47 – Richie

Hakuba47 – Clint

Hakuba47 for the big hits, Happo Banks for some more mellow ones – Quentin

I’ve got the need for speed, where’s those long groomers at …
Happo One, on Happo Banks – Richie

Happo One – Clint

Happo One has the longest runs at around 8kms – Quentin

According to the stats

Annual Average Snowfall: 11m

Number of Resorts: 10

Terrain Parks: 9

Longest Run: 8km

Ability Terrain Mix:
Beginner: 36%
Intermediate: 40%
Advanced: 24%

Season Start: Late November

Season End: Early May

Nick Gregory

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