Five awesome Hakuba back country ski options

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The Hakuba back country stacks with anywhere in Japan, and most places on the planet for that matter. The absolute variety, from alaska-like spine lines to cruisy powder benches to trees, means there’s something out there for every rider.

You could live here for decades and still be finding new lines. Dave Enright has, and does, running Evergreen Backcountry Guides, the Valley’s premier guiding outfit. We asked Dave and his GM James Robb, who has been skiing there for well over a decade too, for a high 5 of their best options to get into it.

Skiing Happo-Sawa Hakuba back country
James Robb drops into a clean Happo-Sawa line © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

The Hida Mountains, more commonly referred to as the “Northern Alps”, go right through the Hakuba Valley.

With many prominent ridges and connected peaks, it makes the Hakuba back country a touring skier or rider’s paradise.

Most access to the off-resort terrain is via chairlifts and gondolas, so the largest portion of the elevation gain is done for you.

From long climbs to the summits and backsides of mountains to the more approachable terrain for quick half day laps, we’re happily spoiled, with plenty of options for both fine and foul weather days, and for when the avalanche risk is low or high.

Set up with sun shade for day back country skiing in Happo-Sawa Hakuba
Set up for the day at Happo-Sawa © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

#1 Happo-sawa

A local’s favorite, and when timed right, before the sun warms up the south faces too much, it has so many lines you wil be spoilt for choice.

Choose from steeper east facing couloirs to wide open gentle slopes that bench out so you can look at your tracks.

Hike back up to the ridge for more laps, or head back to the top Happo resort when your day is done.

Fresh lines at Happo-Sawa Hakuba
Go cruisy or go ballsier, it’s up to you – and the conditions of course © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

#2) Shizenyen & Korenge South Faces

Shizenyen is the ‘Nature Park’ above Tsugaike Resort, and you’ll enter into the Chubu Sangaku National Park.

From there the backcountry terrain opens up into sub-alpine meadows, lovely gladed birch forests, and bigger alpine bowls for those willing to hike higher.

There are lots of easier and more mellow lines and up-track routes to choose from. These can either lead you into other drainages, or keeping on the frontside will allow you to return to Tsugaike for a foot-onsen and cold beers at the base – your due rewards.

A mellower line above Tsugaike in the Haluba back country
On the charge through Shizenyen above Tsugaike © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

#3) Hakuba Goryu & Kotomi-yama

Love steeper tree lines? For those backcountry enthusiasts seeking steeper treed terrain then Goryu and upwards to Kotomi-yama are the places to access it.

Like many of the routes in the Hakuba Valley, the access is up a long ridge line that then offers multitudes of options for north and south facing aspects.

Some superb couloirs and spines are on display for shredding, though due care should be taken on the sometimes gnarly exits – with steep chutes above you, river crossings and slide paths to cross on the way out.

Above Goryu there are plenty of steeper Hakuba back country lines
The north facing slopes above Goryu/Hakuba 47 offer endless steeper lines © Matt Hull www.themattimage.com

#4) Shirouma-dake Hakuba back country Holy Grail

Shirouma-dake is one of the 3 main peaks of Hakuba (Hakuba san-zan). It is also the tallest in the front range valley at 2932 m, and it’s name means ‘White Horse’.

To bag this iconic peak you’ll need a full day, and many folks spend the night camping up high to get to the peak early.

It is doable on low wind and clear days with good snow stability.

Expect lots of ridge climbing and views to the Sea of Japan along the way, then a descent to tell the grandkids about. There are still not so many people who have bagged this Holy Grail of Hakuba back country.

When you are ready for the long haul Shirouma-dake is ready for you © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

#5) Iwatake

This one will surprise people who might know a bit about Hakuba back country skiing and riding.

Although substantially lower than the big resorts in the valley, touring off and from Iwatake Resort has its charming points, especially when it’s too windy, too snowy or too high avalanche hazard in the alpine. As most folks head to the higher more popular resorts, you will likely be on your own to enjoy it here.

With all treeline level skiing, you’ll find powder turns in old growth deciduous forests where you can see way out in front of you.

Return access is not as simple depending on where you head off to, so you may want to call a friend for a pick up or leave a vehicle.

Back country riding in the trees at Iwate, Hakuba
Iwatake trees are a great option for socked in/high avi risk days in the higher alpine zones © Evergreen Backcountry Guides

Know more: Hakuba back country guide contacts

The simpler, safer way to get into the back and side country is with professional guides with expert local knowledge.

The team at Evergreen don’t just guide here, they have been fundamental in developing safer back country access policies for the area, the region, and across Japan.

Their avalanche and BC safety courses are also highly recommended.

They run a great snow sports school too, Evergreen International Ski School, so you can drop the family off there as well as sort your backcountry needs. Their Evergreen Alpine Academy offers instructor training, avalanche safety training and Freeride workshops.

For more details/bookings:

www.evergreen-outdoors.com