Every avid snow-goer knows that there’s more to snow life than just skiing and snowboarding. And if you have first timers who are visiting the ski fields with you, or anyone that slots into a younger or older demographic, it’s essential to look for ways to keep everyone entertained and happy on the slopes.
Enter: Hakuba Valley. Being one of Japan’s most popular ski areas, it offers 10 ski and snowboard resorts, and with that level of variety also comes the benefit of choice. There’s something here for everyone in a region full of history that dates back to 300BC, with that history influencing its activities accordingly.
From snowshoeing to backcountry tours, terrain parks, and even a fun sport that combines scooters and snow, here are the best alternative snow adventures to be found in Hakuba Valley.
1. The backcountry
No one does backcountry quite like Japan because, well, it’s called Japow for a reason. Up to 13m of super-dry, light, fluffy powder snowfall falls every season in this region, making for some very happy snow-goers.
There are five resorts which offer backcountry skiing access via the gates; ABLE Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort, Tsugaike Mountain Resort, Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort, and Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort. Be sure to check the Hakuba Valley Safety Tips before venturing into the backcountry.
If you’re not experienced in the backcountry, it’s highly recommended that you go with a guide – and the good news is that there are plenty of them to be found in Hakuba Valley. A guide not only knows where to find the best secret powder spots, steep slopes and incredible views for those Insta photos, they can also cover off on all the key safety elements. English-speaking tours are available for most levels of skier and boarder, so it’s a no-brainer to tick it off the bucket list.
2. Terrain parks
The best thing about 10 resorts in the valley is that you have so many terrain parks to explore. From beginner through to expert terrain, with a variety of features, there’s a lot to try your skills on – or at least take a run through to see which tricks you may see others performing. For the upcoming season, check out the terrain parks in Kashimayari, Goryu, Hakuba47, Iwatake, and Tsugaike.
Snowshoeing is the perfect way to get wary snow-goers interested in a snow activity, especially if they’re not too keen on getting on skis or a snowboard. It’s easy, fun, and you can explore a huge variety of terrain while seeing spectacular mountain views. As the old adage goes, “if you can walk, you can showshoe”.
Japan has a special kind of traditional wooden snowshoe, called kanjiki, which you can even test out in Hakuba Valley. Rope the whole family into it along the way, with the promise of a delicious hot chocolate at the end. Snowshoe tours are also available throughout the valley, with guides able to point out the remarkable history of the area.
4. Snowmobiling and snowscooting
For the thrill-seekers out there, you can’t go past convincing them to take a spin on a snow scooter or a snowmobile. You don’t need any experience in either option, and both are readily available throughout different resorts in the valley.
Snowmobiling is the perfect way to discover areas that others will never get access to, thanks to the ability to cover so much ground in such a short period of time; children are also welcome as long as they can ride with an adult.
Snowscooting is something you’re unlikely to find in other ski resorts throughout the world, but they’re readily available to rent here. The snow scooter is trickier to handle, but so much fun once you get the hang of it – perfect for teenagers needing to burn off some steam, or adults looking to try something they’ve simply never tried before.
5. Snow festivals
If you’ve come to Japan to experience a culture like no other, the snow festivals are the perfect way to mingle with locals and discover the authenticity of the area.
In the valley’s ski town of Otari, you’ll find the Oami Fire Festival in February, a vibrant event that is held to pray for a bountiful harvest in the spring. You’ll also find the Omachi Snow Festival in February in the snow town of Omachi, also known as ‘Winter Fantasia’, with fireworks and activities that the whole family will enjoy.
Combine that with the huge variety of other resort festivals available throughout the area. COVID-dependent, this may include the Goryu Snow Festival, the Happo-one Fire Festival, the Iwatake Winter Night Festival, the Tsugaike Snow Festival – with everything from drum performances, torch skiing and the most incredible Japanese snacks to be found along the way.
Save with lift passes
All 10 resorts in Hakuba Valley can be accessed by the Hakuba Valley Day Pass. You can also purchase the Hakuba Valley Season Pass to explore as much as possible. Super early bird specials run through September 30, and those currently not in Japan can even reserve their pass at the super early bird rates and pay later, once they know they can travel to Japan. Find the pass here.
Ready to discover Japan’s largest resort when borders reopen? Find out more about Hakuba Valley here.