Hakuba Happo-one is the absolute classic Japanese mountain resort, boasting an unbeatable setting on ridge-lines running down from the most spectacular 3000m peaks of the mighty Northern Japan Alps.
No wonder it boasts an amazing mountain culture and long history as a ski destination.
Happo-one is now one of the World’s best known ski areas, etched in the memory of all who watched the 1998 Nagano Olympics. None who watched those can forget Hermann Meier’s spectacular crash in the Downhill (on Friday 13th February for the superstitious). The fact they held the blue ribbon alpine race events here is indicative of the quality of the terrain at Happo-one. You may not match the Herminator’s terminal velocity, but you can test your skills bombing the magnificent long courses here, including the former Olympic race courses.
Following the Olympic success and exposure came the ‘Japow’ boom of the past 20 years, as international skiers and boarders discovered the amazing quality and consistency of Japanese snow conditions.
In the HAKUBAVALLEY, more so than anywhere else in Japan, those great snow conditions come with a true high alpine setting and terrain. Look up and you could be in Europe or Canada.
Check the average snow fall at Happo-one however and you know it’s Japan: from November to May they get 11.7m, including over 2m every month from January to March. That consistency ensures plenty of ‘Japow’ days.
Happo-one Slopes: Variety is the Spice of Life
Happo-one is the biggest jewel in the HAKUBAVALLEY crown. It boasts the most terrain, 220ha, and the largest vertical drop, 1071m, across the 9 snow resorts in the valley’s joint lift pass.
The 220ha of in-bounds terrain spreads over 16 courses up to 8km long, with an excellent mix to suit all levels: 30% beginner, 50% intermediate, 20% advanced.
A network of 22 lifts, including a gondola and 5 quad lifts, keeps things moving.
Beginners have a choice of base areas and great starter lift pass options for those from ￥1,000 to the use the new tube enclosed carpet lift at Nakiyama. Then work up adding more lifts and terrain for a day or two before getting the HAKUBAVALLEY pass to explore more – the long runs are ideal for progression.
Happo has plenty of powder options on frequent fresh days. The Omusubi off-piste area for expert skiers and riders has gate access, only available when opened by Happo Ski Patrol if conditions allow. Only use the gate access and designated exit points.
Happo-one Ski & Snowboard Schools
With all this terrain, lessons and guiding are a great idea.
Local legend Dave Enright moved to Hakuba from Whistler over 25 years ago, married a local lady and together they founded Evergreen Outdoor Centre, which includes the highly recommended Evergreen International Ski School at Happo.
They offer everything from kid’s programs to all-standard lessons to guided back country and avalanche courses, just 100m from the Kokusai chair.
“Friends from Whistler ask me why I’m still here, so I go, ‘Hey, why would I go back to the rat race?’ ” Dave told me one day as we prepared to hike above the top Grat lift at Happo back in 2011. He gestured to the unlimited terrain around and above us, which he knows far better than most. His point was simply that Hakuba offered amazing terrain and snow, with less competition for it. That same week he had taken snowboard hero Jeremy Jones and a film crew up to the highest peaks for a movie project. Sure, it’s busier nowadays, but Dave never went back, Hakuba is home.
Backcountry access at Happo-one is according to the HAKUBA VALLEY Safety Tips and only available via the top gate at the Grat quad lift, when open.
Alternatively Hakuba Happo-one Ski & Snowboard School offer private lessons with English speaking instructors from their office at the Nakiyama base, and kid’s programs.
Family Fun At Happo-One
Happo is well set up for families with several great dedicated family zones and indoor and outdoor activity options.
Nakiyama Snowland is home to lots of fun family-focused activities. Happo now has an 80-meter enclosed ski dome for the kids on the Nakiyama slope, with the Rabby Fun Park offering variety of different rides so kids too can have a great time on the snow too. Fully supervised it’s a great spot to leave or enjoys with your kids lots of snow activities. Rabby Park features a gentle beginner slope on one side and a sledding area the other. Try out a range of fun snow sliding equipment like Strider bikes or play in the snow on Snowland’s playground equipment.
Entry is only ￥1,000 adult or children, or ￥1,500 for the Nakiyama Debut Ticket which adds use of the 2nd Pair Lift there. Either ticket includes access to the indoor Kid’s Space & Family Room.
Mai Mai daycare and nursery provides facilities for babies and toddlers near the Nakiyama base.
Adventure Park Sakka at the Sakka base has a variety of snow play options including trampolines and the popular snow merry-go-round, with access also ￥1,000 which includes one merry-go-round session.
The Sakka Debut Ticket ￥3,600 is great for progression from beginner status, allowing access to a variety of runs, 2 pair lifts and the Sakka Kitaone quad.
Early and late season the Usagidaira Kids Park at 1400m at the top of the gondola offers a toboggan slope and snow play area with great views, and an indoor kid’s space. Check more on the link here.
Happo-one Mountain Restaurants
The scenery looks like the best of the European Alps or Rockies, and you can choose from several mountain restaurants and cafés that take full advantage of the amazing views.
There is plenty of choice. Get great Italian at the new Sun Terrace Panorama restaurant or Karuizawa Primo Pizza & Pasta at Usagidaira Terrace. Café & Restaurant Pilar at the Alpen Quad exit has full service 3 and 4 course Italian menus plus some Japanese curry favourites like beef curry and crispy chicken cutlet.
Love a big bowl of ramen? Ramen Cha Cha at Usagidaira or the new Ramen-ya Samurai (Cafeteria Kurobishi) cater for the hungriest skier or rider.
Cafeteria Yeti at Usagidaira offers a great range including a vegetarian curry.
Happo Usagidaira Cafe has great coffee and pastry treats.
Snow Plaza Sakka at the Sakka base has a big range at great value prices. Their Shinshu’s salmon and famous country fried chicken are popular.
Kick start your aprés at Usagidaira try the Hakuba White Horse Bar or Corona Escape Terrace.
Happy New Year Happo!
Happo is famous for some of HAKUBAVALLEY’s best events.
The New Year’s Eve Countdown on the Nakiyama Slope is always huge, and with the great December snowfalls this year it will be extra special even if international guests can’t be there.
Proceedings kick off at 23:00PM with the Kagami-biraki (break the barrel sake & kampai!) first up followed by a Happo drumming performance, costume contest (wear one if you are there – great prizes), then the New Year’s Eve lottery draw – grab your free ticket on arrival. Then at 23:59 the Countdown commences with fireworks going off from midnight.
More big events follow in 2022, including the 52nd annual Fire Festival on February 18.
The 76th Happo-one Riesen Slalom race is on February 24 – 25. This historic classic incorporates one of the best ski lines in the resort. Go charge it early any morning if you can’t be here for the race, which offers several age categories.
No one does technical skiing better than the Japanese, and the All Japan Technical Championships from March 3 – 6 showcase the best skiing and techniques from Japan’s best instructors.
Spring Festival on April 10 is a chance to unwind, usually in the sun, after another long season starts drawing to a close.
Hosono Suwa Shrine is a 5 minute walk from the Adam Gondola Station, a historic Shinto site with an ancient cedar tree, estimated to be over 1,000 years old, at the bottom of the steps. It’s a place for reflection anytime, but extra special during ninen-mairi, which takes place between the sun setting on the old year and rising on the new. The premises are beautifully illuminated and often covered by sparkling white snow. This is also the only night when you are able to purchase the coveted lucky charms of Hosono Suwa Shrine.
Local Insider: 30 Seasons At Happo-one
Our local insider for Happo-one Jason Jansen from Japan Specialists, the original Ski Japan holiday experts, has called Hakuba home for 30 years. After 30 seasons skiing, boarding, XC skiing & snowmobiling in the valley, he still gets a big thrill jumping on the Happo gondola day one of a new season – it was November 28 this year.
“Everyone has their own favourite mountain resort, mine has and will always be Happo. It’s just got so much to ski and its steep and deep and for an old boy like me who is always in pursuit of the perfect powder line.
“Over the years my work has provided me the opportunity to ski some of the best resorts in the world. I am still in awe of what we have here in our own backyard.
“Happo is not just steep and deep, as it has a plethora of different runs and courses for all different levels of skiers and boarders from the complete novice to the those who can ski one and all.
For the latest news, snow conditions and everything you need check the excellent Hakuba Happo-one website
Check the live webcam from Happo’s Usagidaira Station here – hit play to refresh