When to Go
The slopes open as soon as the snow starts falling in Happo One, which can happen by late November! From then on it just keeps coming, with January and February the prime months for powder days. By March things start warming up a bit, with more blue bird days than white outs, but generally the ski season doesn't completely wind up until the first week of May!
Visit anytime time between Christmas and April and you’re pretty much guaranteed top quality, fluffy, soft snow, but there are a few dates you might want to avoid. The Christmas and New Year holidays, along with the Chinese New Year, are certain to have the resort working at full capacity. Also, weekends, especially after a big dump, can see the pistes get packed.
When picking your dates, it’s worth noting that from around December 20th to the end of February accommodation in Happo One, and Hakuba in general, will charge peak season prices. Any time before and after those dates could see you save up to 20% off your accommodation costs!
Where to ski - Best for Beginners
If you're still unsteady on your skis or snowboard then perfect your balance at the Sakka ski area, where gentle and wide slopes are the order of the day. Stick to the Sakka 1 and Sakka 2 lifts, these will provide you with a few easy run options to master the basics. If you start to feel confident and want to step things up a level then hop aboard the Sakka Kitaone Quad chairlift, where a 3 mi long cat track winds its way through the trees and down the mountain. This is still a green run, and quite a slow one at that, but you’re sure to notice the difference in difficulty compared to the lower slope greens at Sakka. Some of the other green runs higher up the mountain are even more challenging, so don’t get ahead of yourself too quickly!
Sakka also doubles as a great family-friendly area, primarily because there’s little chance of your group getting split up! You would have to traverse the slope to get across to the neighboring ski area of Kokusai, and all the runs at Sakka end up in the same place so everyone can go as fast or slow as they like. It’s also home to the Sakka Kids Park for the little ones!
Best for Intermediates
Skiers and snowboarders ready to hone their skills on more challenging terrain should head higher up the mountain to the Kokusai 3 and Panorama lifts. From the drop off point you’ll have a vast outspread red run that rolls with steep sections and gradual slopes, constantly switching in difficulty to keep you on your toes! Carvers will love all the space available for big drawn out turns.
Another awesome spot for intermediates is the Skyline Course, a wonderfully long run that zig-zags down the mountain, and also offers something a little extra for the more intrepid. You can easily cross in and out of small off-piste sections between the groomed run, which gives deep powder virgins a great way to get a taste for freshies between the tightly-packed trees.
Best for Advanced/Experts
Speed demons will love it at Happo One, there are plenty of advanced runs to really test your limits! The Riesen Grat Course and the Riesen Slalom Course are the stand-out from the crowd, offering a leg-aching non-stop ski all the way down to the base area of Nakiyama, it’s a true test of your skill and stamina! Two other runs you shouldn't miss are the Olympic Course 1 and 2, steep downhill slopes for serious racers only!
Mogul maniacs can rejoice too, the field of bumps at Usagidaira are more than enough to turn your knees to jelly. Take the Alpen Quad Chairlift to access this surprisingly big mogul field.
Crossing Between Ski Areas
First up, if you have beginners in your group don’t attempt to try and cross between ski areas in Happo One. While the lower mountain traverse from Sakka to Nakiyama can be achieved by beginners (if they can snow plough and change direction), coming back from Nakiyama to Sakka is more difficult and could be confidence shattering! All other ski area crossings involve intermediate or advanced trails, so beginners really should just stick to the nursery slopes at Sakka.
Don't expect the height of modernity when it comes to the lift system at Happo One, some of the chairlifts here are pretty old and slow. Luckily, all the lifts here are comfortable and the views from them are often fantastic, so the extra time you spend above the snow isn't all bad. That said, improvements are carried out each year, so slowly but surely the lifts are being upgraded. 23 lifts cover the entire resort, with 14 double chairlifts making up over half of them. One single gondola gets most people up high on the mountain, and the rest of the network is made up of 3 triple chairs and 5 quad chairlifts. There’s also a magic carpet in the beginner area at Sakka.
The mountain opens up more for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, who should be able to handle the red run from the top of the Nakiyama 3 chair to Shirakaba. Crossing from Shirakaba to Kokusai and Sakka involves hopping aboard the Adam Gondola and taking the intermediate green run that snakes down the mountain. It’s not too fast, but you need decent control for the hairpin turns! Coming the other way, from Sakka to Nakiyama, you’ll have to ski or board the upper section of the mountain, which means some advanced red runs, great for intermediates who want to push their limits!
Queues and the Cold
On the whole, the lift system gets skiers and snowboarders moving around the mountain without too many hold-ups, however with just one main gondola to access the top section of the mountain you know that's where most people are heading in the morning! Perhaps the biggest problem is way up the mountain at the Panorama and Kokusai chairlifts, which service a busy part of the mountain, right in the middle at a crucial intersection for traveling across the different areas. It really isn’t much fun queuing in the cold up there, and when the wind starts howling the upper mountain at Happo One is poorly protected. Our recommendation is to wear light extra layers or carry a backpack with layers in that you can add if necessary. Even when it’s sunny the wind chill can really bite!
Off-Piste & Backcountry
Powder bliss can be found within the ski area boundaries at Happo One, but you’ll have to be fast to make fresh tracks after a dump! Take the Skyline 2 lift and the Kurobishi 3 lift to find yourself at the top of the Kurobishi off-piste zone. You’ll be greeted with an open expense of ungroomed white stuff in high alpine territory, perfect for huge powder turns before hitting the Skyline Course and dodging in-between the trees. To extend this off-piste run even longer you can go straight to the top of the mountain with the Grat Quad chairlift. It’s still untouched snow up there, so enjoy even more soft snow as you follow the run down to the ridge where the roped ski boundary ends, then just cross over into the Kurobishi off-piste zone!
Spectacular backcountry can also be easily reached via the gate at the top of the Grat Quad chairlift, but you’ll be entering out of bounds territory so avalanche gear and riding with at least one other person is essential. For the best backcountry experience it’s worth hiring the services of a guide, who can show you the gnarliest gullies and steepest bowls in the famed Happo North Faces!
You’re sure to come across tracks heading off slopes and out of ski area boundaries, but think twice before following them. There are a whole bunch of avalanche risk zones at Happo One that are serious no-go areas, so if you're in doubt don’t do it! You could easily land yourself in trouble and ski patrol may take your lift pass (or even ban you from the resort). Make sure you keep a trail map with you so you can check potential off-piste routes.
There's only one terrain park in Happo One worth mentioning, but it’s an extra special one! Happo Banks Park is a rolling slope of different sized banks with defined lips and long curves, kind of like a bunch of quarter pipes laid out on either side of a run. There’s no big air ramps, rails, or tabletops, just beautiful banks to slide, carve, jump, and jib. With so many different lines and possibilities, creative freestylers will have an absolute ball here.
If a whole day on the mountain wasn’t enough for you then take to the slope at Nakiyama to extend your ski and snowboard time into the night! Only one lift operates after dark, the Nakiyama 2, and the run is quite small, but for intermediates who want more practice it’s definitely worth it. Just make sure you wrap up warm with an extra layer or two, the temperature can plummet to 14 °F once the sun goes down.