Hakkoda

Honshu, Japan

A powder playground for advanced skiers and boarders, Hakkoda is a unique backcountry-style ski area in the very north of Japan’s main island.

Scout Loves

  • Some of Japan’s best powder snow.
  • Few crowds, particularly on weekdays.
  • The opportunity to explore vast terrain with a guide and with backcountry equipment.
  • The short double chair at the base can provide some OK skiing if the ropeway isn’t working.
  • It’s a blast skiing amongst the huge number of Juhyo, or snow monster trees.

Scout Tips

  • The area should be discovered with a guide. Scout can make recommendations.
  • Hakkoda’s weather can change quickly, resulting in whiteouts at the top and the ropeway often closes due to winds.
  • The Sanso Lodge has a small range of backcountry equipment for sale.
  • Guides (particularly English-speaking ones) and hotels at the ropeway base can get booked up well ahead of time.

Scout Review

Hakkoda ski area in northern Honshu is the perfect place to come for preserved powder stashes and awesome backcountry skiing. With one main ropeway that was built for summer hikers it is similar to Asahidake and Kurodake in Hokkaido, although out of the three Hakkoda is probably the most adapted to skiers. Unlike the other areas there’s an additional double chair at the base, which comes in handy when the ropeway shuts due to bad weather. There are also hotels that are well equipped for skiers, some marked trails from the top of the ropeway and information regarding conditions. Yet it’s still very “raw” compared to other resorts around Japan, which means it keeps the crowds away and the tracks fresh.

Hakkoda is located 45 minutes from Aomori, a major port town that’s also great to visit (see activities section below). Fortunately this makes Hakkoda relatively easy to get to as it’s well served by the Shinkansen (3.5hrs from Tokyo) and flights from Haneda and Sapporo.  There is no town or village at Hakkoda, just two hotels at the base of the mountain plus some additional hotels within 10-15 minutes drive. 

Hakkoda Skiing

Given Hakkoda’s position with direct exposure to the Sea of Japan it’s not surprising that this resort gets dumped with snow. And when we say dumped we mean it – up to 21m (69 feet) of dry snow falls annually. Yet thanks to the lack of infrastructure and accommodation it doesn’t get hounded with skiers and boarders. That’s not to say it’s undiscovered – powderhounds are now coming in good numbers. On weekends it’s not uncommon to have a decent line forming for the next tram (there are departures every 15-20 minutes). But fortunately there still seems to be enough snow and space for everyone.

There are three main options for skiing at Hakkoda; riding the double chair near the base area, using the ropeway to explore the terrain on the front of the mountain, or exploring some of the great backcountry areas from the top of the ropeway using skins or snowshoes and a fair bit of grunt work.

The short, old, slow double chair actually belongs to a different company called Hakkoda Park. This means it requires a different ticket (which is very cheap) from the ropeway. The slopes are decent (as evidenced by the race training that takes place there) and on a powder day there can be a lot of fun to be had. That’s a good thing, because if you’re here for a good couple of days it’s likely the ropeway may shut due to poor weather, which can happen quite often in January and February. Beginners may find some of it a little steep, but intermediates would be fine.

The ropeway climbs 654m/2145ft and accesses some great terrain that drops right from the terminal exit. Although there are two marked courses (trail) it’s permitted to ski wherever you like and skiing amongst Juhyo (snow monster trees) at the top is great fun – just take care as it can be tight they create pretty massive tree wells! Further down the trees are “normal” fir trees and they’re, generally, nicely spaced. There are no major drop-offs, but it’s fairly easy to get stuck next to a creek, requiring an exhausting walk out. We would only recommend it for strong intermediate skiers who are used to deep powder, and above. To get the most out of Hakkoda, and to ensure your safety, we would strongly recommend a guide.

The ropeway also accesses a huge amount of accessible backcountry. What makes Hakkoda so great for this is that the whole area is surrounded by a circular road, so backcountry trips often finish at a parked vehicle or have an arranged pick-up. We would only recommend exploring the backcountry with guides who know the area, particularly as the weather can close in quickly.

There are a couple of restaurants at the base of the ropeway. Our favorite was the Hakkoda Park – a brown building between the Sanso and Hakkoda Resort Hotel. It serves the typical ski resort fare including ramen and curry. The Sanso Lodge also serves a nice lunch, including freshly baked goods. There’s a restaurant at the top of the ropeway and a small convenience store with some essentials and souvenirs.

The Sanso Lodge has a well-equipped shop with a variety of backcountry equipment essentials and gear for rent.

A day ticket for the ropeway cost ¥5050 in 2015.

Hakkoda For Families

Hakkoda is not an ideal destination for families, unless you have older kids who are strong skiers and used to backcountry skiing. There is very little else to do once the lifts shut and nothing in the way of facilities for child-minding or ski school.

Hakkoda Accommodation

There are only two hotels at the base of the mountain – the classic ski-lodge style Sanso Lodge and the Hakkoda Resort Hotel which has nice rooms (Western or Japanese-style), hot baths (not natural onsen) and a large restaurant. These hotels fill up early so it’s wise to book well ahead. There are a couple of other hotels further down the road that provide shuttles to the base area (once in the morning and once in the afternoon).

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Resort Activities

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There’s no nightlife whatsoever at Hakkoda and very few other things to do apart from skiing and snowshoeing. About the only option for any sort of après activity comes from the vending machine. We’d recommend bringing a good book! The Sukayu Onsen is well worth visiting for a taste of a traditional onsen. Except for an hour each evening it’s mixed sex and yes, nude. Mind you, the boys keep to one side and the girls to the other and it is quite steamy (of the vapor kind!) so you don’t have to worry about feeling too exposed.

It’s worth driving 10 minutes down the road from the ski area to see the start of the snow corridor at the Kasamatsu Pass. While it’s closed for much of winter, in March you can walk up the road and admire the giant snow walls either side.

If you’re having a down day because of weather (which is quite likely if you’re staying a week) a visit to Aomori can be a great day out. There are some wonderful temples, an excellent museum housing the awe-inspiring illuminated floats from the annual Nebuta Festival and great restaurants.

Getting There and Around

Hakkoda is situated in the Aomori Prefecture at the northern part of the main island, Honshu. The mountain is about 40 minutes by car from Aomori airport and a bit longer from the train station and main part of town.

While Aomori has an airport with domestic flights from Haneda and Sapporo, the flights can be quite expensive. If coming from Tokyo the best way to get there is by Shinkansen (3.5 hours). It’s also possible to get a train (via a tunnel) from Sapporo or even Kutchan (near Niseko).

You can also fly direct to Aomori via Seoul, South Korea – which can sometimes be cheaper than flying via Tokyo.

To get up to Hakkoda from Aomori there are three buses a day from both train stations (Shin Aomori and Aomori). It takes an hour (sometimes a bit more) to get to the mountain. There are three return options, all in the afternoon. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi from the train station or airport. Chains may be required and not all taxis have them. The road closes about 8.30pm or in bad weather. You can also rent a car from the airport or city.

When To Go

The best time to visit Hakkoda is from January until mid-late March (depending on the conditions). It can snow constantly in January and February and be bitterly cold and windy (but, yes, this results in tons of cold, dry powder snow!). March has more chance of blue skies, but with less frequent dumps of snow.

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