You’ve booked your ski holiday. Flights check. Accommodation check. Transport to the ski resort check. Have you forgotten one last thing? Quite possibly the one that will make or break your trip as amazing and unforgettable instead of good or great? If you guessed hiring a car, you are spot on. Simply having a car expands your horizons and can turn your holiday into something truly special. The experience is drastically different. Let me explain all the ways.
There is no Uber in Hakuba and getting taxis can be difficult with such high demand. We at Hakuba White Fox Co, our serious about running a premium property management company, and that meant finding solutions for our guests. All of our chalets are near shuttle buses, but clearly the transport situation isn’t matching the premium level service we are striving for. There aren’t enough rental cars in Hakuba or Nagano station to fulfill the demand. Our solution was to create our own car rental company, White Fox Car Rental. Our fleet included Alphards and HiAces, complete with winter tires and ski racks, and is rentable by anyone, not just our guests.
Easy Access to the Biggest Resorts:
The Hakuba Valley pass is valid for 10 resorts throughout the valley. From the most popular tourist areas such as near Happo or Echoland, there are shuttle buses that take you to Happo-One Resort, Hakuba 47, Hakuba Goryu, Iwatake, and Tsugaike. Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier to get in your car and drive to any of these resorts? Yes, absolutely is the answer. The actual car rides take 3-7 min for Happo-One, 47, Goryu and Iwatake, and around 15 minutes for Tsugaike. And just as important, you can leave and go home anytime you want, in the comfort of your own car.
White Fox Insider Tip: Parking is not a major issue at most resorts. Nearly all have large parking lots close to the lifts. Goryu, 47, Cortina, Iwatake, Sanosaka all have easy access from their parking lots. Happo-One lacks free parking at their gondola - only paid parking but there is also plenty of free parking at the Nakiyama lift area. Tsugaike’s closest parking lots can get filled up on busy days, which may push you up the road about 5 minutes. Norikura has limited parking at the hotel, but there is an adjacent parking lot which easily connects into the ski fields.
Powderhounds says Cortina Resort stands out as the best resort for powder in Hakuba. The terrain is steeper and it has great tree skiing. Cortina openly markets the ability to ride through their backcountry gates on the backside of the top lift. The resort is technically in the next town over, Otari, and actually has it’s own mini climate. It often will get 50cm of snow while resorts closer to central Hakuba will get 15-25cm. Cortina does a snowfall update at around 7am everyday. You’ll want your group up and ready to go. If you want to beat the crowds here and the only way to do it is with a car. There’s a bus that leaves from Happo Bus Terminal at 730am and arrives at Cortina at 810am. While the first lift opens at 830am, by 8am, there’s already a large line snaking toward the parking lot. Are the crowds worth it? Anyone who’s ever experienced the fun of bottomless powder, endless faceshots, knows that it is worthwhile.
White Fox Insider Tip: One the great reasons to come in early & mid December is there are very people here and the conditions can be absolutely epic.
White Fox Insider Tip 2: A regular ticket is 4200 JPY. Instead opt for the online coupon which gives you 4 hours, access to the onsen, and a make-your-own pizza lunch for 4000 JPY. 4 hours is plenty of time to conquer all the powder. Get lunch and head to another resort for PM session.
Access to Less Popular Resorts
Having a car gives you access to the other resorts. Aside from Cortina, you also gain easy access to Norikura, Sanosaka, Kashimayari, and Jiigatake. These four resorts see much fewer visitors and many fewer foreigners. They offer a great alternative for days when you may just want to have a cruisey day with your partner or with the kids. Sanosaka offers incredible lake views on clear days as you ski from top to bottom, making it underrated. Kashimayari similarly offers lake views on sunny days, but also has tree skiing from the top lift, which is usually untouched as visitors go for the more well known areas.
Did you know? Sanosaka + Kashimayari were once connected by a third resort called Sun Alpina Aokiko. Collectively they were known as Sun Alpina Resort. Sun Alpina Aokiko last operated in 2009 and was actually put up for sale on Yahoo Japan auctions in 2016.
Powder miracles aren’t just limited to Cortina. Each and everyone of the resorts gets plenty of powder days. I’ve had amazing days at Happo-One, Tsugaike, Goryu, 47, Norikura just to name a few. Not every mountain receives the same amount of snow on the same day and the aspects of each can change how your day turns out. It absolutely is worth checking the morning Facebook updates of Hakuba 47, Cortina, and Happo-One Resorts at 7am. Also check the wind - if it is windy or stormy, there’s a chance that the gondola, Allen quad lift, and Skyline at the top of Happo One are all closed. That also means that the quad at the top of Hakuba 47 could be closed. On that sort of day, you may want to head to Tsugaike, Goryu, or Iwatake. In any events, being first in line at any of the resorts generally means getting there before most others and certainly before the resort shuttles show up. Having a car is the only way.
Restaurants Across the Valley
Hakuba is often described as pockets of activity around various areas - the train station, Echoland, Happo-one, Goryu, Tsugaike. That’s generally true. Having a vehicle opens up multiple more delicious restaurants to try. We thoroughly enjoy Sounds Like Cafe breakfasts but love to drive to the Rabbit Hole in Wadano to enjoy their tasty selection. Yukimaru near Goryu is a great izakaya that is mere minutes away. For great lunches, Unjaune burgers at the base of Happo-one gondola, or Luce, or Denenshi are excellent choices. They also make great choices for dinner as does Mimi’s or La Neige for fine western, Issei Neo Shokudo for modern Japanese, and Nikumasa for steaks and incredible burrata. These are just a few restaurant choices that are spread throughout the valley that absolutely worth trying and can easily be accessed in minutes by car. Please ask about our restaurant selection. Without a car, you might not maximize every meal here and that would be a shame!
Go to the supermarket and stay in and cook
Eating out day and night is the dream of many when visiting Japan. A bottomless stomach is also another dream. But, realistically, there are nights you are going to be happy to stay in, cook, and have a few drinks. Before you do that, you’ll want to head to the supermarket. Thankfully, Hakuba has three supermarkets and since you have your own car, you can easily visit any of them. Big, A-Coop, and Appleland all have large selections of fresh foods. A-Coop has the best selection of wines - alternatively, if you are staying in one of our chalets, you can use our in house wine service. Buy all the food and drinks you want and be home in less than 10 minutes. And, have an adventure looking at all the Japanese produce. Nagano for example is known for its mushrooms and you’re guaranteed to see some you’ve never seen before. Having a car makes this adventure super easy. Or my personal favorite, do a quick run to the local 7-11 for ice creams + crisps. Nothing better at 9pm.
Here’s a list of day trips and itinerary you may consider.
Chausayama Dinosaur Park. Near Nagano Station - I can’t emphasize enough if your child likes dinosaurs, visit this park. It is free entrance and has 27 life-size dinosaurs. Inside several of them, they’ve built slides. There’s no amenities or restaurants on this side except for dinosaur focus gift shop at the bottom. It’s built on a hill so you may not want to push your stroller up past mid way and instead may want a carrier. The Chausayama Zoo is also nearby.
Zenkoji Shrine near Nagano station. You may choose to combine the dinosaur park with this trip for a full day trip. There’s plenty to see and try. You should pay the small 100 yen fee for an Omikuji out of a box. It’s a paper slip that tells you how lucky you will be for the year. It can range from excellent luck down to bad luck. After that, head down to Beni Beni for the apple pies.
Tokagushi - this includes the Tokagushi Shrine, Togakure Nippon Museum, and the Kids Ninja Village. This is a 1 hour 10 min trip from Hakuba. There are three shrines here - lower, middle, and upper shrine. It’s a 2km ascent between each of these. The entrance to the upper shrine is lined with 300 tall Japanese cedar trees.
Joetsu Aquarium - this is a 1.5 hour drive out toward the sea of Japan. You’ll pass Itoigawa with does have excellent seafood. The aquarium is a good day out with the family. There’s also a chance you might pass some Hakuba locals doing winter surfing out there.
Kanazawa - I’d recommend more than just a day trip. 1 night would leave you wanting to stay longer. There’s an extensive historical area, a fresh fish markets area and a museum area. Combine that with the historical area, and you could easily spend 2-3 days here. It has a mini-Kyoto feel, with a fraction of the tourists. It also has a bullet train back from Kanazawa station to Tokyo station, so you may consider it as a place to add at the end of your trip.
Actual Driving in the snow:
Japan drives on the left hand side of the road, which will be familiar to many visitors. All the public roads are cleared by government. Even in peak winter, the roads are cleared quickly after it snows. Despite being near the mountains, there aren’t any super steep hills you’ll need to tackle to get where you want to go. All the stores, resorts, and tourist attractions you visits will have parking onsite. In short, driving in Japan should be pretty smooth.
There are a few rules to driving in the snow. If you follow the first three rules, you generally will have a great time. For a full list, please see this Car & Driver feature on winter driving.
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