The Hakkoda Ski Resort in Japan is a powder skiing mecca, and possibly the holy grail of skiing in Japan
True powder hounds search for the ski resort holy grail – an undiscovered ski area that is blessed with lots of snowfall, has absolutely no crowds, and freshies galore. Once upon a time Niseko Japan
was one of those hidden gems, but unfortunately now it’s well and truly discovered. Asahidake
and Kamui Links
were also once a secret, but probably no longer. Perhaps Hakkoda is the new holy grail of Japan? Some say it’s already been discovered, whilst others cite guaranteed freshies. Which is it?
Either way, it’s well known that Hakkoda is not a ski resort in its usual form. This is a powder mountain (or series of mountains) where you can powder your nose, eat powder, snort powder – whatever takes your fancy!
Typically Hakkoda attracts hardcore powder hounds who appreciate the joys of deep powder, off-piste riding and the backcountry. It is also generally appeals to the hardcore who are intrigued by the infamous “danger” of Hakkoda. This area is well known amongst the Japanese for the ill fated soldiers that perished during ferocious blizzards in the early 20th century.
Hakkoda Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Hakkoda has some similarities to the Asahidake
ski areas. Hakkoda ski area
is largely serviced by one ropeway. There are a couple of ungroomed runs (aka courses), whilst the rest of the area is one huge off-piste paradise with 654 metres of vertical drop. Hakkoda is made up of eight mountains, and beyond the ropeway serviced slopes, there are extensive areas for backcountry enthusiasts.
In addition to the ropeway, there is a double chair, or romance chair as the Japanese love to call them (I’m not sure what the Japanese get up to on the chair lifts?)! This chair lift is owned by a different lift company and provides access to a small area. Even though these small groomed courses are for intermediates, overall, Hakkoda is not really a mountain well suited to inexperienced riders.
Thankfully Hakkoda is not one of those annoying Japan ski resorts where you’re prohibited from skiing off-piste. However you still have to do so at your own risk and take caution with the various backcountry hazards such as avalanches and tree wells. People frequently get lost, particularly during the frequent white-outs near the top. The trails are not roped off and are only marked with the occasional pole, so hire a guide if you’re not a highly experienced backcountry skier or boarder. If you don’t speak fluent Japanese, a good bet for quality guiding is Hakkoda Powder Snow Tours
. Simon can also rent out backcountry equipment (avalanche beacons, skins, snowshoes, poles).
Hakkoda Snow and Weather
Nearby Aomori boasts the most snowfall of any city its size in the world with 8.1 metres annually, so it’s not surprising that Hakkoda is renowned for abundant snowfall. The annual snowfall statistic for Hakkoda is unknown, but a guesstimate would put the snowfall in the realm of 14-20 metres per season.
Due to its northerly position, the Hakkoda snow quality is much lighter and dryer than at some Honshu ski resorts further south, but it’s not quite as fluffy as the snow in Hokkaido, in part due to its proximity to the sea.
Hakkoda is well known for the frequent foul weather and blizzards, particularly in January and February. Obviously all that snow doesn’t fall from blue skies, but on the plus side, the infrequent bluebird days keep the crowds away which results in fresh pow for powderhounds. The harsh weather conditions and high precipitation also form the spectacular juhyo (snow monsters aka snow ghosts).
Where is the Hakkoda Ski Area?
Hakkoda is located in Aomori Prefecture (pronounced A-o-mo-di), the most northern part of Honshu, Japan’s main island.
Getting to Hakkoda
is much easier now because there’s a new 3.5 hour direct bullet train from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori. From the Shin-Aomori Station it is a 45-50 minute drive to the Sanroku Ropeway Station at the base of the Hakkoda ski area, or a 60 minute bus ride.
Aomori also has an airport with flights from Haneda Tokyo, Sapporo and Seoul. Australians and others from Oceania should consider the latter as these flights are sometimes cheaper than flying to Tokyo or Sapporo.
There are a couple of on-mountain Hakkoda accommodation
options at the base of the ropeway. A good choice is the ski-in ski-out Hakkoda Resort Hotel
that has large tatami rooms and western rooms, an onsen, and fantastic fodder.
Facilities, Nightlife & Activities
Hakkoda has a few restaurants for day time dining. Limited ski and snowboard rental is available and there is a ski school, although this is typically only used by the Japanese. Hakkoda is not a family friendly ski area, with negligible facilities available for kids.
You don’t go to Hakkoda for the nightlife because it pretty much consists of an onsen, dinner and whatever fun you can make yourself at your hotel with drinks from the vending machine. Chances are that you’ll be so tired from the skiing or snowboarding that you’ll be happy to go to bed early.
If the ropeway closes or you want a rest from skiing or boarding, there aren’t too many alternate activities at Hakkoda. The Sukayu onsen is a short drive from Hakkoda; a very large historic onsen with mixed bathing (so it’s not for the prudish!).
Why Ski or Snowboard at Hakkoda?
Hakkoda (pronounced “Hakk-owe-dah”) provides a unique ski or snowboard experience, especially when compared to the many other Honshu ski resorts. Firstly you won’t get your lift ticket pulled for ducking the ropes because there aren’t any ropes. Secondly, Hakkoda is a fabulous place to get away from the crowds. The ropeway can sometimes experience queues on the weekends and in spring, but generally it’s quiet enough to enjoy the powder in peace.
The Powderhounds.com team went on a sacred quest to determine if Hakkoda was the holy grail of ski resorts. We are touting Hakkoda as one of the “it” places for powder hounds to go skiing in Japan. If you avoid peak holidays (and possibly also weekends) Hakkoda has all the necessary ingredients for the perfect powder hound ski area:
- Huge volumes of snowfall – tick!
- Minimal crowds – tick!
- Abundant fresh tracks – tick!
- Variety of terrain for experienced riders – tick!
- No need to spend a fortune on a helicopter or snowcat – tick!
Tours That May Include Hakkoda