I Still Call Hakuba Home: 30 Years & Counting!

Why Hakuba? Why not anyone who knows the place would respond.

OpJason Jansen from Japan Specialists / Ski Japan Holidays has clocked up 30 years living in the Hakuba Valley, so we asked him for the lowdown on why he still calls Hakuba home..

Opening day at Hakuba Happo-one 28 November, 2021
Opening Day November 28, 2021 Happo-one © Jason Jansen

I was delighted to put down a few words about The Hakuba Valley and Happo One, my home mountain.

Not hard to know what to write and having written the odd article here and there regarding skiing in Japan, I wanted to write something a little more personal about what I’ve seen during my time here. Having lived in Hakuba for more than 30 years now, I still love the life here and what this area offers is a blessing.

With abundant nature, beautiful warm summers, and cold white powdery winters, Hakuba is a charming rustic village in Nagano Prefecture. Especially lately with Omicron, Delta, Covid, Asian financial markets crashing and a general sense of dread every time we turn on the news.

Living here IN Hakuba one would never know the world is in turmoil if you’re not paying attention.

Hakuba by night
Hakuba at night © HAKUBAVALLEY

Where to start, living the ski life, living in a resort town, a bubble you might say. What’s it really like?

Well on days like today, where it dumped down nearly a metre of fresh snow in one night, it’s fantastic! The town comes to life, there is an electric buzz in the air; everyone gets up extra early in the morning, gets their snow clearing done so we can get to the ski resort and get some of the best powder around. Happo this morning I only had time to get 3 Gondola runs on Happo’s Adam Gondola, but 3 perfect bottomless powder runs straight down Happo, top to bottom: that’s about 8km per run. My legs were screaming in pain, but with my mouth wide open and a huge smile on my dial, 3 runs was enough to get my powder fix. That’s the resort life in a nutshell, squeeze in some powder turns before the day starts and then off to whatever it is that you do living here.

This season we were all expecting that Japan might reopen and international travelers from all around the world might be coming in for the winter once again to enjoy and experience Japan and for us our amazing Hakuba Valley.

Well, Omicron happened, that window shut and here we are again with few guests in the resort and untouched fresh powder all about. So far this season having started skiing from mid-November the snow has been very good, consistently cold and light and dry. The predictions for the next 2 weeks which is as far as my weather channel can see for Hakuba is for more heavy snow. Seeing the heavy snowfalls always brings delight and joy to those of us that live in ski towns. The white gold, so precious it is having such magnificent snow, just so disappointing we cannot share it with international guests this season.

The Hakuba Valley has 10 different mountains to ski at, last night thumbing through my messenger feed we were having a bit of a dilemma about where it was that we were going to ski this morning. With so many choices and different opinions and preferences amongst those I usually ski with I eventually won out and got the tribe together and Happo was decided on. Meeting at the Happo Gondola in the center of the Happo Village, there were quite a few people about, which is great to see. The domestic tourism wheel is still spinning here and plenty of expats too who obviously live and work in Japan are here too. With a short wait, only 10 minutes, gives one time to scan who else is in the lift line and I also enjoy checking out all the new skis and skiwear etc. Then we were into the gondola with our masks on and up onto Happo, the jewel in the crown of the Hakuba Valley if you were to ask me.

View to the Hakuba Valley from Happo-one, opening day November 28, 2021
Opening day view back to Hakuba – why would you leave? © Jason Jansen / japanspecialists.com

Everyone has their own favorite 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; Happo offers exactly that. It’s what floats my boat as you might say. Minus 8 this morning and race wax on my K2 Pontoon Powder Skis; doing their job, floating me on top of some of the lightest and driest powder, ripping it up and no one in front of me, it was truly special. 

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. New this season Happo now has an 80-meter enclosed ski dome for the kids on the Nakiyama slope, with fun park and 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. Not that we had time to stop this morning as wanted to get my powder shots, but we blasted down the Panorama course (one of my favorite powder zones on Happo) and past the recently refurbished and all new menu Sun Terrace Panorama Restaurant. When the suns out it’s a great spot to grab a bite have a beer or enjoy an expresso, with panoramic views and a pleasing aesthetic glass designed building it’s a nice place to ski in and out of.

I first arrived in Japan in the early 90’s and now 30 years have passed, nearly all of those I’ve lived in the ski bubble. My work, play and inspiration have all been attributed to the deep love and joy I get from living in the Norther Japan Alps.

Hakuba is an amazing place, surrounded by an amazing country with truly inspirational people and an amazing culture.

I am very lucky and thankful to Japan having given me such a great path to follow and being welcomed into their community.  As a skier, snowboarder, snowmobiler, cross country skier a real winter enthusiast, this place offers those of you with similar aspirations and passions the opportunity to experience it all. whether they be just for a holiday or for the longer term; Hakuba is one of those special places you really must experience. Make sure its on your bucket list.

In a nutshell when it comes to winter fun, we have some great ideas about how to achieve it.

Ski Japan Holidays www.japanspecialists.com have a very comprehensive range of everything you need to have a dream ski vacation in Japan. If we can help you out in anyway in planning and experiencing a great winter ski holiday and any onward travel in Japan, then please let us know. Take Care and Seasons Greetings to you all. – Jason Jansen

celebrating New Year in Hakuba with a swim in the lake
How the locals celebrate new year – the author far right © Jason Jansen / japanspecialists.com

For latest snow news/webcams etc and details on all HAKUBAVALLEY resorts check the link here

Four our series on the individual Hakuba areas check these: