Hakuba Cortina Norikura: Best Tree Skiing On The Planet?

Lift-accessed tree skiing and riding life does not get much better anywhere than at Hakuba Cortina Norikura.

Big call? Well yes.

But big snow? Yes indeed! The inter-linked areas at the north-western end of the HAKUBAVALLEY are the closest to the Sea of Japan. That means the prevailing powder express sweeping in from Siberia hits them first, so they get the most out of most storms.

Blasting through birch trees in waist deep powder at Hakuba Cortina Norikura
Blasting through the birch trees © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

The powder – an average of over 12m a season – falls on some magnificently spaced beech trees, offering a variety of pitches that run over 40°, so you can keep your speed up however deep it gets.

“Beech trees are called Buna in Japanese and revered as spirits reside in them” says Dave Enright from Evergreen International Ski School in Hakuba. “They are used in Dosojin ceremonies and prayers of healthy childbirth and everything to do with male / female relationships. We skiers and snowboarders revere them highly too!”

Tree skiing and riding are many people’s absolute favourites for good reason – snow collects deeper and holds up better in the trees, protected from wind and sun – and unlike the thick pines in North America it’s much easier to see a clear line through the trees here.

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the powder here though, with plenty of easier lines to be found across both Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort and inter-linked Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort, to give them their full titles. Evergreen have a base at Cortina and their English speaking instructor team can show how and where to enjoy the best of the buna at Cortina Norikura.

Both are self-contained resorts, with ski in/ski out hotels at the base, so staying at either is the best way to guarantee you get first shot at the best snow on the many awesome ‘Japow’ days here.

When your legs just can’t take anymore haul in for a therapeutic onsen to recover. Day trippers can enjoy the onsens for a small fee, but if you are staying at either you can get the full benefit of them.

Secret powder stash Hakuba Norikura
Secret stash time © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

Local Insider: Putting Cortina Norikura on the map!

There is no one better qualified to be our local insider for Cortina than Dave Enright from Evergreen International Ski School either. He was instrumental in safely opening up powder skiing and riding in the valley. His story below of how the trees came to be opened up is also a reminder of the need to keep safety paramount when enjoying them.

“A steeper and deeper little resort that will captivate you like Hakuba Cortina you will be hard pressed to find!

I first skied Hakuba Cortina in 1995 and was blown away from the steepness of slope, the openness of deciduous forest, and the deepness of the fluffy powder snow that abounded at the sleepy little horseshoe bowl tucked away deep in Otari Village.

“I fell in love with the little resort, but was baffled by the strictly enforced no tree skiing rules that they had there, due to the avalanche prone slopes, so I decided to get a job there patrolling the following season to assist with avalanche control and ski those amazing trees only visited by the tree spirits and the ski patrol. 

“Over the 5 years I worked as a ski patroller at Cortina I worked hard to train patrol in avalanche control and rescue, and convince the ski patrol captain and the ownership about the benefits to safety, the industry, the ski resort and its guests if we opened up access to the treed off-piste areas within the resort.

“In 2000, we opened up the ‘Double Black Diamond Club’, areas of north facing trees off of Hiedayama. There was a 45 minute safety training and a private tour through the area by the patrol that allowed the 1400 members, over the two seasons the program ran, to ride safely in the area. The DBD system faded out at Cortina as I had expected and hoped it would to allow the previously trained members and other experienced freeriders to carry on the flame of safety, and mentor new arrivals to the area.

“Twenty plus years later Cortina and the Otari area is world renowned for its great powder just off the groomed slopes. It is always good to remember, however, to ride with avalanche safety gear, and a knowledgeable friend or professional guide when riding outside the area boundaries. Thanks to the hard work and due diligence of the professional ski patrol at Cortina over the past 25 years, visitors are able to safely enjoy the world class powder snow in areas once reserved only for the Tree Spirits.”

“You can spend hours finding new ways through the trees, with a good pitch and snow so dry it just folds in around the tracks you have just made so you can do it all again and again” says another long time Hakuba winter local, Gary Grant from Black Pine Lodge.

“Dropping over the back to Norikura broadens the scope” he adds, “it’s cruisier, but has some super nice spots and often less competition for them.”

OK, you get the picture. This is definitely some of the World’s best lift-served tree skiing.

But there is plenty more to discover, enjoy and do at both resorts, so lets check that out too.

Slashing powder line at Hakuba Norikura Onsen Resort
Chased by tree spirits? © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort – Hidden Gem of HAKUBAVALLEY

Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort is the often overlooked hidden gem of the whole HAKUBAVALLEY network. Everybody has heard of the headline act at the Otari end of the valley, Cortina. Not so many of neighbour Norikura.

But Norikura gets a similar amount and the same quality of snow, with a mix of terrain that suits not just powder lovers but also families and beginners too. Anyone looking for quieter slopes will enjoy themselves.

Racing School Hakuba Norikura
Carving up Norikura © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

From the dedicated kid’s area to the Kid’s Park and Mogul Course, Norikura has plenty on offer over a respectable 600m vertical drop. The mostly open runs offer great views, especially from the aptly named Sky View slope.

Onsen with a view of the slopes © Hakuba Norikura Snow Onsen Resort

Perhaps most importantly, Norikura also boasts excellent ski in/ski accommodation, the imposing and very comfortable Hakuba Alps Hotel and Onsen.

If your main aim on a snow trip is to relax and enjoy the slopes stress free this is one of the best options in the valley. That especially applies for families – no need to lug kid’s gear or worry when they have had enough for the day. Packages with meals are exceptional value. Simply arrive, unpack, enjoy.

Hakuba Alps Hotel suite © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort

Snow bikes, snow shoeing and telemark skiing are other popular options.

Dining at Hakuba Alps Hotel, Hakuba Norikura Onsen Resort
Dining at Hakuba Alps Hotel © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Resort
View back to the Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba at Cortina Snow Resort
View back to the Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba at Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort © Hiroya Nakata

Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort

Hakuba Cortina is justly world famous for the incredible powder skiing and riding, especially the tree zones. But within Japan it is probably even more famous for the magnificent 253 room Hotel Green Plaza Hakuba, an icon since 1989.

Driving into the carpark you can’t help but be blown away by the architecture and setting. Once inside the atrium lobby with its unique lifts you feel you could be part of a movie set.

Watch the night skiing from the onsen © Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort

Superb Japanese and Italian cuisine, with a choice of 3 restaurants, great coffee, shops, bars, and the famous BIJIN-NO-YU onsen – with 3 kinds of baths – vie for your attention when not skiing.

New this season is the ‘ski through’ Café Konisu at the base of No 6 Pair Lift for a fast caffeine & sugar hit between pow lines.

Choose from a range of western or Japanese style rooms and suites. Ski in-ski out convenience is perfect not just for first tracks in the powder, it makes it super easy for families and friends to share the experience, whatever your level.

The terrain mix actually includes 70% beginner to intermediate standard courses, include a 200m wide main run, which along with the Evergreen International Ski School on site makes it an ideal place to be with kids and learners.

Most runs funnel back to the hotel, so it’s super easy to keep in touch with family and friends.

It’s easy and super convenient to keep the kids happy here © Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort

The Cortina Wonder Village Kid’s Park features snow rafting, tubing, sleds and play equipment, plus a free ski area.

Snowcat rides, snow rafting, Kamakura (snow huts/igloos) and the chance to eat wild game in them for lunch are other activities.

Kamakura (Japanese igloo) experience © Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort

Bottom line: Don’t just day trip to Hakuba Cortina Norikura, stay there!

The car parks will fill up on powder days, but why drive or shuttle when you could be staying slopeside at either Norikura or Cortina?

It also works for families and all those looking for the convenience of ski in/ski out accommodation.

More info:

Check the Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort site here

Check the Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort site here

For more info and all the latest conditions across the HAKUBAVALLEY’s 9 member resort check the HV website

Watch out for the tree spirits .. © Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort