Hakkoda is a love with a slow burn: unassuming at first, but once you get to know it, it's full of deep surprises and will take your breath away!
You wouldn’t call Hakkoda a ski resort. It’s more like … a place to ski. There is one gondola, two runs, and three hotels. Four, if you happen to have a winter camper, as they graciously allow people to stay overnight at the parking lot.
Hakkoda ski resort (aka: the gondi and the two runs) is not the main attraction though. The whole mountain range is. There is a ring road circling the 8-peak range, and you can ski the entire backcountry terrain with access from that one singular gondi (Hakkoda Ropeway). If you don’t want to splurge on a guiding service, make sure to bring your soccer mum and her soccer mum van to pick you and your friends up from wherever you end up hitting the road at the end of your explorations. There is no ski bus service. Alternatively, you can flash your flirty whites, and hitchhike.
Speaking of flirting … if finding the perfect ski area was like dating, Hakkoda is a love with a slow burn: unassuming at first, but once you get to know it, its full of deep surprises and will take your breath away!
Wild, free, mystical, robust, kind of hard to read, with little infrastructure and thus, uncomplicated. It’s exciting in its simplicity and if you let it, and give it time, it can bring out the best in you. You tend not to want to tell anyone about it, so it doesn’t get spoiled. But it’s the guy…sorry, I mean…ski hill, that makes your stomach flip and reminds you about the falling part of falling in love, after a slew of mildly disappointing, variably dull and ultimately interchangeable, ski resorts. In Hakkoda, you WILL fall. Deep.
Lifts & Terrain
The Hakkoda Ropeway is a singular cable car, topping out at 1320m, with a single day pass setting you back ¥1850. There are two marked runs and a little baby chair lift at the very bottom for kids or that one friend who tagged along, who thought you invited him to go “skidding”, not “skiing”, so he brought his Tokyo drift car instead of his ski gear.
Mind you, even the marked runs are not groomed. It’s basically like heli skiing without the heli. All backcountry access, all day.
To define the tree line there is sketchy at best, because it is hugely variable. The volcanic soil is rich in nutrients and even though the wind can be precarious, the local flora is determined to grow, resulting in the mightiest tree wells I have ever seen. This is, apart from the usual alpine dangers, something to really look out for here.
Even if you plan on staying on the marked runs, make sure you and your buddies have skins and know how to use them, as the weather can come in quickly and you may lose your way. If you end up only 6 meters down in a gully, and you can still see the orange poles that mark the runs, you won’t be able to hike out in the extremely deep and fluffy powder.
Nestled at the northern end of Towada-Hachimantai National Park, one of Japan’s mind-blowingly impressive number of 34 national parks, the Hakkoda ski resort area is really just the west facing side of Mount Tamoyachidake. The winds of the Sea of Japan are only 30km away, so visibility and wind stability are extremely volatile. But fear not, storms carry snow and snow carries the answer to all your problems: pure powder peace.
Average snowfall per season is around 17 metres, with an average snow base of about 4 metres.
There are obviously no snow making facilities here. There are also not a lot of bluebird powder days, but you can’t have that kind of deep and no clouds. The weather gods are fair in that sense.
Services & Facilities
Hakkoda Ski Guide Club are a brilliant operation who run trips including gear rental, pick ups, and they’ll even throw in an Onsen visit, if you ask kindly.
The ski school and rental shop are at the bottom station, as well as a ski school, but don’t expect regular lessons or a huge selection of gear. It’s more like a small outfitter in case you forgot a piece of gear at home.
If you need gear, it’s better to rent in Aomori City as there are a few sports shops servicing the surrounding ski areas.
Since Hakkoda isn’t really a resort, it has the usual self-service cafes at the bottom and top station of the ropeway. Pack your own snacks! There is also a mini self serve kitchen at the top café, with kettles, microwaves, washing station, in case you want to reheat last nights Udon.
The mixed-gender 1000-person Sukayu Onsen is an attraction in its own right – the perfect antidote for tired legs after a day of thigh-burning runs in the Hakkoda backcountry. The gorgeous facility is made from Japanese cypress, and has highly acidic water that is said to ease muscle aches, joint stiffness and fatigue.
There is a JR Bus that operates between the Hakkoda Ropeway and Sukayu Onsen during winter (390 yen). Admission to the onsen is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for elementary school students or younger.
Food & Nightlife
Crank your car radio up, turn the heating on, and drop your tailgate. Parking lot parties are the name of the game. There are a few upscale hotel onsen on the southern end of the ring road, about 20 minutes’ drive from the gondola, if you prefer the finer parts of civilization. Otherwise, pack up, drive back to Aomori and enjoy the bustling nightlife of a city of 280,000 people (but note that the road back to Hakkoda – if you need it – closes by 9PM.
Culture & Ambiance
Hakkoda is no joke. This is a place for serious, skilled, deeply invested, authentically open-hearted skiers. It’s not the kind of place scattered full of Instagram clowns hash-tagging their “best life”, boasting to have “no friends on pow day”. You’ll easily find a friend here skiing, but they won’t follow or tag you on your ‘gram since they neither have the time, nor the annoyingly misguided sense of self infatuation.
The vibe here is that of a people that read topographical maps like the bible, grease their hands with ski wax, and have patched up their down jackets so many times, you could play twister on them.
Getting to Hakkoda Ropeway
The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori is 3 hours and 15 minutes. From there you can take a shuttle bus, which is a one-hour ride and costs roughly ¥1.100. Note that the road between Hakkoda and Aomori is closed between 9PM and 7Am through winter, so factor this into your plans.
Aomori City is only a one hour drive away, you can even see it from the top station.
Off the charts good. IF you are a backcountry skier. If you are a beginner or like your sharp race turns, this is not the place for you. For that, I recommend Aomori Spring resort. So, in case you’re a split group, stay in Aomori City and travel to the two different resorts, to reconvene your stories of the day back in town over beers and let hilarity ensue.
Snowfall (annual ave): 17 m
Runs (total): 5 officially (plus endless backcountry)
Runs (km): 11 km
Top elevation: 1324 m
Base elevation 658 m
Vertical: 666 m
Nearest international airport: Narita International Airport
Transport: Shinkansen, public bus, taxi
Hakkoda Trail Map
January 20, 2022
Really helpful and can’t wait to get to ski in Hakkoda
January 20, 2022
Happy to hear you enjoyed our review!