When to Visit

When is the Best Time to Ski Hakuba?

The different times of the Hakuba ski season have some advantages and disadvantages. The best time to ski Hakuba is dependent on your priorities and whether you want to chase quality powder, ski virgin powder, avoid the crowds, enjoy fine days, or benefit from a cheaper trip.

Hakuba Ski Season

The typical Hakuba ski season varies across the Hakuba ski areas, and is mostly dependent on the elevation and aspect of each ski resort. The main Hakuba ski resorts are generally open from late November to early May.

Typical Season Dates
Start  Finish
Happo One  late Nov  early May
Hakuba 47  late Nov  early May
Goryu  late Nov  early May
Tsugaike  late Nov  early May
Iwatake  mid Dec  early Apr
Norikura  mid Dec  early Apr
Cortina  mid Dec   early Apr
Kashimayari  mid Dec  early Apr

Of course, the actual Hakuba ski season opening and closing times is dependent on snow conditions at the time and not all runs may be open during the fringes of the season.

Season Opening to Pre-Xmas

The Hakuba ski season is underway! Nagano isn’t renowned for the same good early season snow as Hokkaido, so there may not be a significant snow base. Of course there is no guarantee of an adequate snow base at any ski resort in the world pre-Xmas, so there’s always the risk of not having enough snow.

There is usually adequate snow on the courses for beginners and intermediate riders, although at some of the resorts, only the upper zones may be open (with downloading required at the end of the day). The off-piste areas may not have adequate cover, but if you’re willing to take the risk, you could be rewarded with amazing powder days and negligible competition for the fresh powder.

You can score discounts on lift tickets and accommodation in the early season. Be mindful that some services don’t commence until just before Xmas. Some restaurants aren’t open, local shuttle bus haven’t started up (but many accommodations will assist with getting around), and the Hakuba airport buses don’t start until mid December (but you can catch trains to Hakuba).

Ski Hakuba Christmas to New Years

This is not the best time to visit Hakuba! It’s crazy! Of course you can’t help it if this is the only time you can get leave from work, but otherwise avoid it like the plague. The Japanese have holidays over New Years and they absolutely love Hakuba, and Hakuba is also busy with lots of international skiers and snowboarders. Of course, it’s all relative because the Christmas crowds of Hakuba are nothing like what you’d find at the high profile North American and European ski resorts.

Hakuba accommodation availability can become pretty scarce between Xmas and New Years, particularly for highly sought after lodgings such as apartments, houses and high-end accommodation. You can look at rates and availability for Hakuba accommodation here. Accommodation prices tend to come at a premium, and flight prices are also likely to be at an all time high.

Visit Hakuba in January

Hakuba in January tends to be rather busy, especially on weekends when lots of Tokyo-ites arrive in droves. Australian school holidays go for all of January, and many Australians without children also take holidays at this time. Early January in Hakuba is particularly busy (especially at Happo One and the main villages of Happo, Wadano and Echoland).

The Hakuba snow is usually primo in January. It snows a lot and temperatures are often nice and cold, so this is the ultimate time for powder skiing. Of course, with the additional crowds it’s more difficult to ski fresh powder without hiking for it. There are still some fine days, but plenty of stormy weather days where it’s dumping with snow and there’s the potential for some lifts and gondolas to close.

"Average" Happo Weather During Hakuba Ski Season

   Average
Snowfall (m)
 Average
Temp (C)
 % Fair
Weather
 Nov  1.0  0  50
 Dec  1.6  -5  65
 Jan  2.1  -9  40
 Feb  2.4  -5  63
 Mar  2.0  -5  60
 Apr  1.7  4  70
 May  0.9  7  75

Hakuba Chinese New Years

If you’re thinking of a Hakuba trip in late January to mid February, it could be wise to check the timing of Chinese New Year (the first day of the CNY falls on the new moon between 21 January and 20 February). Lots of Chinese descend on Japanese ski resorts over the Chinese New Year period (which can extend a long way either side of the actual new year), and whilst Hakuba isn’t as inundated as some upscale resorts, it creates a bit of a surge in on-piste tourists. This can create additional tariffs on some of the highly coveted accommodation options, and additional demand on restaurant seats, but otherwise it’s not too bad.

Ski Hakuba February

The weather patterns in early February tend to be similar to that of January and it’s usually a great time for powder skiing and riding. The powder in late February is generally excellent too. With the exception of Chinese New Year’s, February is less busy than January, and in late February the crowds dissipate and it’s a good time to visit Hakuba.

Hakuba in March

In March expect more fine weather days and opportunities to see the magnificent vistas of the Japanese Alps. Additional opportunities for backcountry touring open up, and Hakuba is a fabulous destination for exploring the high elevation slopes.

March still brings some powder days and the crowds are minimal, yet the snow quality may not be maintained for long, especially on the sunny aspects. Snow quality on the piste may also be a little slushy or icy, but still generally pretty good. And sometimes it rains but usually just for a day.

Lift ticket and accommodation discounts tend to apply from mid to late March, and some services shut up shop. For instance, the airport shuttle buses cease operations in mid March and many of the inter-village shuttles stop so it can be good time to have a rental car to explore the valley.

April

April is the best time to visit Hakuba if you want low costs, absolutely no crowds, and plenty of fine weather to really appreciate the spectacular views. This is a good time for piste skiing (some lower slopes may be closed) and backcountry skiing up high, whilst off-piste riding opportunities are pretty much done for the Hakuba ski season. And the silly Tsugaike heli skiing operates in April but it’s probably a bit of a waste of time anyhow.

Lift tickets and accommodation are cheap, but be mindful that many ski schools, Hakuba ski rental shops, tour operators, and restaurants may have closed for the season.