5 reasons why February is a great time to ski in Hakuba, Japan


Every month in Hakuba has its merits, and the best time to travel very much depends on your interests, goals and what you would most like to experience while in Hakuba. Specifically focusing on the winter months and ski tourism, here are 5 reasons why February is a great time to ski in Hakuba.

1. The best of off piste and side country

Certainly no secret and undoubtedly becoming repetitive and unoriginal for some, the powder snow in Japan is – when well timed – nothing short of phenomenal. Indeed there is no smoke without fire, because when I say that waking up to 1 meter of fresh powder snow accessible from the chair lift, really does happen in Hakuba – I use no hint of poetic license. Does it happen every day? No. Therefore, if experiencing the deepest powder snow with the most terrain available is your primary focus for your visit, then it is all in the timing.

As with ski resorts world wide, the early season can hold out on us in delivering its powdery goods, as can the spring time, so your ideal timeframe would be the second half of January and the bulk of February. While early January does have epic snowfalls, there is always the possibility that a later start to the season will not have allowed sufficient time for the snow to `fill in` all of the foliage in some of the off piste and side country areas (which incidentally are some of Hakuba`s best runs). While weaving through sassa grass (bamboo) much like on a salmon course can be fun, most of us would better enjoy these areas after a good base has accumulated.

2. Most accessible backcountry

Staying on the thought of powder and off piste skiing, the backcountry conditions in February are fantastic. With the beginning of the month likely to offer more powder days at all elevations, the later part of February generally sees more stable weather, and – dare I say – snowpack, allowing more adventurous lines and routes to be navigated (always with a guide if ever in doubt).

The increased likelihood of clearer skies in this part of the month, in contrast to January for example, adds to the all round backcountry experience in no small way through the incredible scenery that can be enjoyed. Fortunately, even with the re-appearance of the sun, the snow holds cooler temperatures in the alpine throughout the month – giving us the best shot at the holy grail of backcountry; a blue sky powder day.

3. Most suitable for everyone

The ultimate all rounder – February is a great choice for travellers with split interests. In particular, groups or families in which some individuals are seeking powder and off piste, and others are after milder weather and an increased likelihood of sunny skies on the resorts – February would be the happy medium. For children especially, January can be cold and wet, making skiing a tough sell for them. February would have an equal amount of available terrain, but without the tough weather factor; truly the best of both.

4. A more authentic experience

Overall, February is quieter in town and on the slopes than much of December and January. The result is that you will have a less touristic, and arguably more authentic experience of this part of Japan. True enough, weekends can still be busy with swathes of city folk enjoying their days off, and if Chinese New Year falls in February it will also bring with it lots of visitors.

Generally speaking though it is a quieter month than the two previous – especially during the second half. Restaurants, roads, lift lines, slopes and even onsens will be less busy, and in the absence of being surrounded by your countrymen also on holiday in Hakuba, you can better immerse yourself in the feeling of being in a truly foreign country. Without the masses to follow, it is somehow easier to seek out the less travelled paths.

5. Good guest service

With the hype and bustle of the high season behind, there is a good chance that many businesses are better able to focus on the individual customer experience and attention the detail that comes with that. Though Hakuba is mostly equipped to comfortably accommodate the masses, it is almost impossible to maintain the same level of service for 100 people than you can for 10. Another factor that enormously impacts the level of guest service is the competence and attitude of the staff.

Hakuba, like many ski resorts around the world, heavily relies on seasonal workers that turn over from one winter to the next. Inconvenient yet necessary, this means that many roles are learnt a new each December. By the time February comes around, many businesses run as a well oiled machine and the staff are comfortable and competent in their roles, thus delivering a better service to you. There is also a good chance that with the high season pressures behind them and after many great days on the snow, that they are happy in what they are doing and therefore have a greater desire to deliver excellent service; a positive attitude is infectious after-all.

Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.

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Comments (15)

  1. Liu Wang says:

    Hakuba is one of its kind places in Japan- being so culturally diverse and rich. It encompasses a lot of small towns and hamlets each with their own unique history, customs, culture and traditions. Its simply amazing to see a whole lot of different people with their distinct ways of life living in the same valley.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      I could not agree more Liu Wang; as a town it has managed to maintain it`s identity through the surge of international interest. Exactly as you say, there are clusters of local hamlets and communities throughout the valley, offering insight into small town living in Japan.

  2. Andrew says:

    I am currently stationed in Tokyo. But looking forward to visit this village the coming weekend. Can someone guide me to what’s the best means, as in the most economical as well as the fastest way to reach Hakuba from Tokyo?

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Hi Andrew; absolutely. The two most economical options are direct buses from Shinjuku to Hakuba (a few each day), or a direct train (one per day)The train departs Shinjuku at 07:30 and arrives in at Hakuba station for 11:35. If the timing works, this is a good option. If you are not so flexible with time – bullet trains run frequently from Tokyo to Nagano, though once there you would need to take a bus or taxi the extra hour to Hakuba. Enjoy your weekend – let`s hope the weather improves for you!

  3. D. Harrison says:

    I would agree that February is a great month to visit for skiing and in general for those who love winter and snow. I went to the Sapporo Snow Festival and enjoyed it immensely. And because of the biting cold, there are comparably fewer tourists so I can definitely attest to the fact that hotel and business services are better.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Thank you for your comment D. Harrison. Definately, Hokkaido`s Sapporo is much colder than Hakuba, so it really is worth timing your trips well, and choosing your location depending what your interests and weather preferences are.

  4. Tony says:

    This is a very sensible post. It takes my partner and I about 4 months to clear our diaries and to sort out dates for a holiday. Honestly, I have seen blog posts where people are recommending travel in August and it’s already been the last week of July.

    I understand there are times when you are in need of grabbing a last minute vacation and getting away but unless you get lucky with a bargain usually it’s a route to paying a lot of money for the flights and accommodation that everybody else has rejected. Thanks for a realistic lead-in time.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Thank you Tony, I am glad that this is of help. By this time most people have their plans for Christmas and New Year, but still may be considering a February or even spring time ski trip. I think February is vastly underrated as a time to visit Hakuba, with much of the focus placed on January and February. Fortunately for myself, February is my favourite month to be here, as I don`t need to compete with as many people for first tracks.

  5. Simon says:

    For those of us who are working in the likes of Singapore or Hong Kong, Japan is superb for giving us our fix of skiing.

    February does make a lot of sense and as a family we’ve had a trip to Japan before, a very successful trip too.

    The problem this year is that Chinese New Year is a little early and of course the schools have tied in the half-term holiday with it too for the very end of January.

    Although a lot of the families won’t be able to do February the slopes should be pretty free for everybody else. Enjoy!

    • Nadine Robb says:

      You have hit the nail on the head Simon; how busy Hakuba is during certain months is very much connected to school holidays in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding Asian countries. Hence – the second half of February often being rather modest in terms of visitors on the slopes. This year it will be even more so throughout the month, because as you say, Chinese New Year and it`s corresponding school holiday is early. This may just make this February the month for powder hounds, off piste explorers and others that are not confined to school holidays.

      We hope to see you back in Hakuba another year!

  6. Jacob Oliver says:

    When in Hakuba, one must pay a visit to any local Izakaya. These are traditional Japanese gastro-pub restaurants build in cosy settings with a sophisticated ambience. They offer a wide array of mouth-watering snacks and delectable food along side an extensive selection of refreshing drinks and beers- from fried chicken, chips, fish, sashimi, rice, sushi, tempuras to raw horse (yup, you read it right!). Live musical events with a popular band or DJ are also regularly hosted. My recommended ones are The Mominoki, Izakaya Kaz, Hukaba-Mura, Izakaya Hie and Kiko-ya though there are many others.
    In short, anyone looking for a great night out with friends this is the place to go- and I bet this would also be the highlight of all your restaurant and nightlife experiences in Japan.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Ah I feel hungry just reading your comment! Some great suggestions there Jacob – it is great to hear that you have enjoyed so much of Hakuba! As another evening highlight for anyone visiting this February, is `Goryu night` on the 5th at Escal Plaza. It is a fantastic Japanese buffet, with traditional taiko drumming and entertainment. A great `all rounder` of an evening that includes great food, culture and music.

  7. Gary Childerly says:

    Does it get any more exciting than that guy skiing through a flurry of powder snow in the picture after the number 3 heading?

    I think the Rugby World Cup has done Japan a power of good. Although my English and Welsh friends are still out there the reports that I have heard back are that the Japanese have been charming, hospitable and warm hosts.

    • Jane says:

      That’s the influence of “soft power” for you. If you get the chance to showcase your country with the eyes of the world on you it can do your country’s reputation a lot of good – if you get it right. Well done to the Japanese for getting it so right so far even though the weather hasn’t been on their side. And that’s why countries compete so fiercely for the honour of hosting Olympic Games and World Cups etc.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Gary – I am with you on that. Of course, we always select our best images to reinforce the message that we want to convey – but this photo illustrates what so many people come to Hakuba for, and yet is completely honest in it`s representation. The skier is my husband – a guide from Evergreen Backcountry Guides – taken on a day off in February in the Hakuba backcountry. As you say, an exciting and happy day.

      Jane – a great point made about Olympic host countries, and of a course this is a big year for Japan with the 2020 Olympic coming up. Japanese hospitality and guest service is – for the most part – second to none.

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