Japan's 10 Best Ski Runs #2 Riesen Slalom Happo Hakuba

snow action team 18.10.2020

The Riesen Slalom Course at Hakuba’s premier mountain, Happo One, is as good a piste skiing gets in Japan. It’s also your chance to be part of local ski history going back over 70 years.

Matt Skinner from Ski Japan Holidays, who has been living in the Hakuba Valley for over 20 years, has the lowdown on the classic Riesen course and race. You can ski the run anytime, and in March participate in the annual race.

Long boards were the go back in the day © courtesy Ski Japan Holidays

It was 1943 and Hakuba Valley needed a change, something to inject a new light and mood back into their village lives. Takayuki Fukuoka, a Tokyo university graduate who majored in German, was an enthusiastic learner of everything Alpine. Escaping from Tokyo he made his way to Hakuba with the mission of introducing skiing in a big way.

Fukuoka had learnt from another skiing pioneer, Sasagawa-san of Seki Onsen, and he also had a great knowledge of skiing from his readings on the famous ski resorts of the Austro-German Alps.

Fukuoka soon came up with the idea to start Japan’s longest running ski race, known then and now as the Riesen Slalom.

In 1947, with a course distance over 4.5 km, starting at the Kurobishi Summit at 1760m and finishing at Hosono Hamlet (Happo Village) at 730m, the Riesen Slalsom was longer than the FIS Official Race Course in Val D’lsere!

The first winner of the race posted a time of 5 minutes 29 seconds, pretty impressive considering boots were leather lace-ups and skis not much more than planks.

Fukuoka-san was very influential in convincing Tokyu Corporation to install the first Gondola at Happo in 1958, which further increased the popularity of the Riesen Slalom. Downhillers – including the Japan National Ski Team – came from all corners of Japan to compete.

A few have been regulars for more than 40 years, some boasting having skied in every race as far back as the mid-sixties.

Starting from its humble beginnings in 1947, the “Reisen Slalom” has been run every year since its inception.

Historic Hakuba skiers on the Riesen Slalom course at Happo One
Gear, lifts and grooming have improved over the years at Hakuba, but the great terrain remains © courtesy Ski Japan Holidays

The Riesen Slalom race spirit lives on in Hakuba each winter

Enter the race in March and then imagine what it would have been like to hike to top in knee deep powder with the pioneers of Japan’s most famous ski race.

Today there are age categories from 12 – 24 age groups up to 60+ for men, and up to 40+ for women.

The Riesen Slalom at Happo One is held the first Thursday and Friday in March each year, register by the end of January to compete.

How to run the Riesen Slalom Course

If you can’t be there for the race, just go rip the course, it’s one of the world’s great groomed run experiences.

The Riesen Slalom is best skied first thing in the morning. With its south facing aspect the morning sun will light up the course for you.

The quickest way to get to the original start point of the race is to take the Happo Gondola and then the Usagidaira Quad Lift up, exiting to the left when getting off the chair.

Point the skis or board downhill, start the stopwatch and stay skiers right, pass the turn off to the base of Happo Riesen Quad, then head straight towards the Nakayama Pair Lift No. 1, taking skiers left down the ‘Nakiyama Wall’.

From here you’re on the home run to the base of the old Hosono Hamlet. — Matt Skinner

For great deals to ski Hakuba and lots of other places in Japan check out what Matt and the team offer on the Ski Japan Holidays site here.

Happo trail map showing Riesen Slalom course
It’s pretty easy to find © Happo