Matsumoto Castle & Jigokudani Monkey Park
Adding an excursion to your trip is a fine way to experience Japanese culture and learn about its rich history! Matsumoto Castle, the oldest castle in Japan, is regarded as a National Treasure of Japan and offers a unique glimpse back into the days of feuding clans. One floor of the 400-year-old donjon is home to a museum exhibiting historic armour and weapons used to defend the stronghold.
Another excellent day trip from Hakuba Valley is a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you'll witness red-faced Japanese macaques frolicking in fresh powder and warming up in the hot springs! These snow monkeys are truly unique, no other wild primate throughout the entire world lives in colder conditions.
Hakuba Snow Sports School is one of the top ski schools in Hakuba Valley and is located near Goryu. They offer freestyle clinics and backcountry tours along with standard lessons, and often have instructors to cover a wide range of languages. You'll also find Japanese ski schools operating specifically for each ski resort, however you should check with them before booking whether they have English speaking instructors available. Some ski schools will also only offer private lessons in English. This school is our first pick if you're looking for a ski lesson.
If there's one ski school that could be said to operate throughout the whole of Hakuba Valley, it's the Evergreen International Ski School. There really isn't much they don't do, from taking newbies out for their first day on the slopes to providing personal ski instructors for one-on-one tuition at any resort in the valley. Whether you want to work on your racing technique, need some tips on telemark skiing, or want to learn new skills on your snowboard, they will have someone to help you. Prices range from a morning groups lesson at 8,500 yen to an all-day private lesson at 49,500 yen.
You'll find ski hire shops at all of the resorts in Hakuba Valley, particularly at the base areas. These facilities don't always offer the latest equipment, but for beginners the gear should do just fine. The added convenience with these hire stores is that you can generally pick up your kit right next to the slopes and then return it after you've finished your day on the mountain, so no carrying skis or a snowboard to and from your accommodation!
The altogether better option is to visit one of the ski and snowboard rental specialists in Hakuba Valley, with three of the best being Central Snowsports, Spicy Rentals, and Rhythm. Choose from the latest premium equipment, from powder skis for off-piste exploring to freestyle snowboards for the parks. These companies will drop off and pick up your chosen gear from your accommodation, along with making adjustments and fixing any problems you encounter with your skis or board. If you want to swap your kit during your trip that can be arranged too!
Spicy Rentals has a number of stores all over Hakuba Valley, including at Goryu, Happo One, Iwatake, and Tsugaike. Central Snowsports has stores close to the lifts at the central Hakuba Valley resorts, and Rhythm can be found in the Wadano area of Happo One. Bear in mind that all the measurements at the hire shops are in centimetres, so try to do the conversions before you go to save time. Between all these great stores you're sure to find precisely the gear you want!
To withdraw cold hard cash you should try to stick to the ATMs around Hakuba Village and the Tourist Information Centre in Happo Village. While you will find other ATMs scattered around throughout some of the resorts, be aware that not all the ATMs in Hakuba Valley accept foreign cards. If you're heading to Cortina or Iwatake, be sure to take some cash with you as there's no ATM or bank at either of these resorts. You'll find that credit and debit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, are accepted at most hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars, but food trucks and vending machines are cash only.
Big Hakubaten Supermarket is the place to go for shopping, it's the largest in Hakuba Valley and open the latest, until 11pm. You'll find it just under 2 km from Hakuba train station, south along the Chikuni Highway. In the opposite direction is Appleland, under ten minutes' walk from the station, a slightly smaller supermarket than Big Hakubaten but you'll typically find everything you need here.
Smaller convenience stores can be found throughout the valley, usually within the hotels or base areas at smaller resorts like Cortina and Iwatake. There are also some 7-Eleven stores open 24 hours a day in busier areas like Echoland and Hakuba Village.
If you haven't used up all your energy on the mountains then you can burn some calories at Alps Gym, a three-minute drive north from Hakuba train station. To unwind with a spa treatment or therapeutic massage, head to the in-house facilities at Springs Hotel or Hotel Taigakukan, both within Happo Village.
For help with strained muscles or stiff joints, Hakuba Physio is the place for you. The fully qualified and experienced physiotherapists will do everything they can to get you back up on the mountain in no time. More serious injuries or ailments that require medical attention should be seen to at Shintani Clinic, staffed with English speaking doctors and equipped with an x-ray machine. If further treatment is needed you'll have to visit Ōmachi General Hospital, around 24 km from the centre of Hakuba Village.
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to onsens, you'll never find yourself too far from one while in Hakuba Valley. One of the most popular is the public onsen in Happo Village, Happo No Yu, a new place with plenty of space, featuring both outdoor and indoor spa pools. It's a great spot to soak those weary muscles in warm mineral-rich water and gaze up at the snowy mountains!
Another fantastic option is Mimizuku No Yu, a quieter and smaller onsen in Hakuba Village. It offers a truly authentic onsen experience and tourists are made to feel very welcome, even if the staff struggle to understand English! Also, many of the major hotels at the Hakuba Valley ski resorts have their own onsen, so you might not even have to venture out at all!
Snow Tubing & Sledging
There are a few places you can play around on the lower slopes with inflatable tubes and sledges, mainly found in the beginner areas and kid zones. The Escal Plaza at Goryu is a great place for sliding around on the snow, and there's a mini hill of just 4 m for littles ones at Iwatake. Cortina also has snow tubing and sledging facilities at the bottom of its main slope. All of these are aimed at children, and as an added bonus are free of charge to use!