Fly to one of Tokyo’s airports to reach Hakuba Valley, either Haneda or Narita Airport, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference which one. You’ll find that more flights from major cities in the United States connect directly to Narita Airport, so that’s where you’ll most likely end up. The good news is that neither airport suffers from delays or cancellations due to snowfall, it happens very rarely if ever at all. The bad news is that it’s a 5 to 6 hour transfer (unless you take the train) before you’ll reach the snowy mountains surrounding Hakuba. Still, flying into Tokyo does give you the chance to spend some time in this mind-blowing city before or after your ski holiday, so it’s not all bad!
Both convenient and economical, Nagano Snow Shuttle provides direct bus transfers from both Narita and Haneda for a very reasonable ¥8,500 JPY ($112 AUD) per person. You’ll be greeted at the arrival gate and guided to your bus, and from there travel time to Hakuba Valley takes around 5 to 6 hours, although leaving from Haneda will usually shave off around 30 minutes from the journey. There will a couple of stops along the way for refreshments and anyone needing the toilet, then once at Hakuba and for the final leg of your road trip, smaller minivans will drop you off directly to your lodging!
Train & Bus Combo
If you’re happy to immerse yourself in a uniquely Japanese experience why not take a bullet train to Nagano! You shouldn't have to wait more than half an hour at the airport station, the whole journey usually just has one transfer, and takes around two and a half hours in total. Getting tickets is simple at both Narita and Haneda, from a machine or the counter for around ¥9,000 JPY ($119 AUD), and from here you’ll head into central Tokyo before taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen route to Nagano.
From Nagano Station, it’s still a bit of a way before you’ll reach Hakuba – From here you can take a 90 minute bus ride to Happo One, costing just under ¥2,000 JPY ($26 AUD), and there’s more than enough space for all your ski and snowboard gear under the bus. The buses will generally drop you off at the Happo Information Centre where you can you make your way to your lodging. Alternatively, you can take another train to Hakuba Station which is roughly a mile from the Happo Information Centre and Bus Terminal.
Arguably the best way to get yourself from the airport to Hakuba Valley is with Chuo Taxi, which offers both private taxi and shared taxi transfers. Groups and large families can take advantage of an entire 14 passenger minivan or individuals can jump in with some other skiers and snowboarders heading to Hakuba! Expect a seamless journey from airport to accommodation, along with pillows and blankets to get comfy for the ride! A seat in a shared taxi will set you back around ¥14,000 JPY ($185 AUD), and for a private charter prices vary depending on vehicle size, so get in touch for a quote.
Picking up your own wheels at the airport and driving yourself to Hakuba Valley is by far the most expensive transfer option, but it brings with it a number of handy advantages. You’ll have your own vehicle to get from your accommodation to the slopes, you can pack extra layers and fresh clothing to change into after a day on the mountain, plus there’s no waiting around for buses, taxis, or trains! If car hire sounds good to you then make sure you get your International Drivers License before you leave, you won't be able to rent a vehicle without it. Car hire companies at both airports will have everything you need, including snow chains, ski racks, and an ice scraper! Expect to spend 5 to 6 hours behind the steering wheel before you reach your lodgings in Hakuba.
For all the added convenience a hire car brings, unless you’re experienced in driving on snow and ice it may not be the wisest choice. A 4X4 vehicle is recommended, and if not snow chains are a must. The roads are quite narrow in and between the resorts so you’ll have to drive with care. Another thing to consider, the alcohol limit for driving in Japan is zero, barring you from even one glass of wine or beer on the mountain.