Nagano Ski Destinations You Shouldn’t Miss

Home to the majestic mountains of the Japanese Alps and host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is the place to go if you love skiing and snowboarding.
Nagano Ski Destinations You Shouldn’t Miss

When someone mentions ski trips, Japan almost always comes to mind. Not only is it known for beautiful ski slopes full of world-class powdery snow and stunning views, but the food and hot springs in places like Nagano and Hokkaido add to the unforgettable experience.

Nagano is a landlocked area located near the center of Japan, close to Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. It is often likened to California with its fresh produce and high-quality ingredients. It is also the home of Zenkoji, one of Japan’s most popular temples, as well as other popular shrines scattered about its forested mountains. Nagano is a place with a rich cultural and historical background. You can visit tourist spots like Matsumoto Castle or attend the various festivals that have been carried out since ancient times.

Skiing in Nagano

No matter where you go in Nagano, you will see at least one of the three majestic ranges of the Japanese Alps—Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi. Mt. Hotaka, the third highest peak in Japan, can be found in the Hida mountain range. Fifteen of the 23 peaks in Japan that surpass 3,000 meters can also be found among the Alps, making these mountains the nesting place of various Nagano ski resorts.

In 1998, the city of Nagano hosted the Olympic Winter Games in places like Hakuba Ski Resort, Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort, and more. Travelers wondering where to ski in Nagano can check out these popular resorts or head to quieter places where the view is just as spectacular.

Hakuba - Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort, Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park

Hakuba - Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort, Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park

Happo-One is one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in Hakuba Valley, Japan. It is a well-known skiing destination, especially since hosting some of the major events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Around the resort, tourists can see the magnificent panoramic views of the Japanese Alps. Much of the place remains untouched due to conservation efforts to preserve the rugged, natural beauty of the landscape.

Most of Happo-One’s visitors experience the slopes by skiing or snowboarding. Because it is a large ski area with good terrain, both beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders alike can enjoy the slopes.

Hakuba’s other ski resorts are just as popular, such as the Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort. It's a great destination for first-time skiers looking for slopes that are more friendly for beginners and intermediates. It’s also a beautiful family vacation destination. Though it isn't as big as Happo-One, it's the ideal place to stay if you’re looking for a quiet village with little nightlife. 

The Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park is yet another resort that gained more popularity in recent years. This resort has a more suitable terrain for hardcore skiers and has a close-up view of Mt. Goryu and Mt. Karamatsu. The resort offers some special Tree Riding Zones for adventurers who want to try untouched powder tree runs, all levels of jumps, as well as other features.

Hakuba is often compared to Niseko in Hokkaido. For travelers asking, “Is Hakuba better than Niseko?” the simple answer is: it depends. If you’re looking for steep terrains with runs that are both on- and off-piste and slopes that take your breath away, go for Hakuba. If, however, you are more into soft, powdery snow and slopes that are not as vertically challenging, then you should head for Niseko in Hokkaido.

When is Hakuba ski season?

Hakuba ski resorts are usually open from late November or early May, depending on the snow conditions at the time. Depending also on the amount of snow, some of the runs may not be open during the first and last weeks of the ski season.

Ski and snowboard enthusiasts who hold the Epic Pass, which gives them international access to ski resorts in places like Australia and Europe, can also access the ten resorts in Hakuba Valley, Japan.

These resorts include Jiigatake Snow Resort, Kashimayari Ski Resort, Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort, ABLE Hakuba Goryu, Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park, Hakuba Happo-One Snow Resort, Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field, Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort, Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort, and Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort. Together, these resorts offer various levels of skiing and snowboarding with over 130 trails and some of the longest ski slopes in Japan. 

Is skiing all you can do in Hakuba?

For those wondering what to do in Hakuba besides skiing, this premier winter destination is home to various Hakuba winter activities. Not only can you go Hakuba valley skiing, but you can also go snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoe walking, snow-rafting, and more. You can also experience the backcountry guided tours, check out the famous winter festivals, or go up the Hakuba Mountain Harbor and see the stunning views of the North Alps.

If you want to relax after a day of various winter activities, you can check out the onsens (natural hot springs) for a serene dip. You can also try out restaurants that offer a diverse selection of dishes to satisfy your palate. Cafes, restaurants, and fine-dining options are yours to explore the whole year-round.

When is the best time to go to Hakuba?

The best time to go skiing in Hakuba is January to February, which is when the area receives its best powder-like snow. Even if it is a pretty popular destination, you won’t have to wait too long at the ski lifts, and there are still various things to do.

Nevertheless, the spring and summer seasons hold various activities for tourists—from hiking to mountain biking to glamping and sampling craft beer. Hakuba Valley's weather is fairly consistent, with short, warm summers and snowy, windy winters.

Where is Hakuba Ski Resort?

Hakuba lies to the west of Nagano City, less than an hour’s drive away. It is often referred to as Hakuba Valley and claims to be the largest ski resort, made up of ten resorts in the area that cover the largest extent of terrain in the country. If you have the Hakuba Epic Pass, you can hop from one resort to another through a bus or drive between them if you have a rental car.

How to get to Hakuba from Nagano:

The easiest way to travel from Nagano to Hakuba. There are two bus companies to choose from: the Nagano Snow Shuttle or the Alpico bus. The Nagano to Hakuba bus price varies between these companies, but they usually cost around JPY 2,100-2,300 (approximately USD 21). 

How to get to Hakuba Valley from Tokyo:

If you’re flying in from another country and are wondering how to get from Tokyo to Hakuba, it’s pretty easy. Narita Airport and Haneda Airport in Tokyo are the closest international airports to Hakuba. From there, you can take the express train to Tokyo Station and board the bullet train to Nagano before hopping on a bus to Hakuba.

There are also buses and chartered taxis that will take you straight from Narita to Hakuba, especially if you are traveling with family or friends.

How to get to Hakuba from Nagoya: 

Nagoya Station has access points to several international airports, including Osaka and Chubu Centrair International Airport in Nagoya. Take the train from any of these airports to Nagoya Station. There’s no direct line from Nagoya Station to Hakuba Station, but you can take the express train or bullet train to Nagano and then hop on a bus to Hakuba. You can also take a train to Matsumoto and then take the express bus or limited express train to Hakuba from there.

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is another beautiful resort with gentle terrain for children and beginners. They have more thrilling trails for advanced skiers. There is also a snow park and a half-pipe for those who want to do skiing and snowboarding tricks. Known for its powder-like snow, this resort in Nozawa attracts many skiers from all over Japan and around the world.

At the base of the ski resort is an old hot spring town, the Nozawa Onsen, a pretty popular tourist destination. It is made up of narrow lanes and canals, hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars—all adding to the town's charming, idyllic, and somewhat nostalgic atmosphere. It’s a great place to spend the day relaxing, especially after a full day of skiing. Visitors can bathe in the small public bathhouses scattered around the town, which still maintain their traditional style since the Edo period.

If you’re coming from Toyko, Osaka, or Kyoto’s international airports, you can make your way to Nagano by bus or train. It’s easy to get to Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort from there. Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Iiyama Station. From there, you can hop onto the Nozawa Onsen Liner bus that runs directly from Iiyama Station to the resort. 

Shiga Kogen

Shiga Kogen

The Shiga Kogen is home to 19 ski resorts, making it the largest skiing area in Japan. It is located in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and boasts a wide variety of terrains to ensure that your skiing or snowboarding experience is an exciting, fun-filled one. In Shiga Kogen, one of the venues of the 1998 Winter Olympics, you’ll find over 600 hectares of terrain and just under 90 ski runs. In terms of expanse, Shiga Kogen is yet unmatched. When you go skiing and snowboarding, you will often find yourself crossing from one ski field to another without even realizing it. Shiga Kogen is also Japan’s highest altitude ski resort.

Near Shiga Kogen is another wintry experience you shouldn’t miss—the Jigokudani Yaen Koen, also known as the Snow Monkey Park. It’s a unique place you can visit to observe wild monkeys in their natural habitat, including bathing in natural hot springs. While this is a popular attraction during winter, you can visit the Snow Monkey Park and Shiga Kogen the whole year-round. It is also a popular summer destination because of its beautiful nature spots easily accessible by hiking and ski lifts.

Shiga Kogen is easily accessible from Nagano Station via bus. If you’re coming from Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto’s international airports, you can hop on a bus or train to Nagano. From there, you can take a bus to Shiga Kogen. 

Discover Nagano’s ski destinations

Nagano is a great place to visit any time of the year but is especially popular in the winter. It's the ultimate destination for skiing, snowboarding, and various winter activities. Whether you’ve done any of these before or are about to experience it for the first time, whether you like steep, challenging trails or relaxing in natural hot springs, Nagano has something for you.

Experience a magical winter wonderland in Nagano.

Getting There