You never forget your first time to Nozawa Onsen in Japan. It’s not just the bucket loads of deep over the head powder snow that cements in the memory banks. It’s the cobble stoned laneways with glimpses of local women in kimonos darting between the steam from the town’s onsens.
This, dear readers, is Japan skiing as it should be, steeped in history, filled with eye opening culture and served up with a side order of blower powder so you can ride the white cloud. Did we mention the Dosojin Fire Festival? We should.
Here’s 10 reasons (and then some) you should hit up Nozawa Onsen stat.
The reason the world has gone mad for Japan snow is the moisture content. There practically is none. This means you can’t form a snow ball. It also means you will be floating on a cloud when you hit the slopes. Whether you love groomers or off piste, there is literally bucket loads of consistent snow with between 11 and 16 metres depending on the season.
The prettiest ski town in all the land
If Peter Jackson was to create a film set for old world Japan, it would be Nozawa Onsen. A plethora of laneways, alleys and avenues paved in stone and lined with sweet izakayas (small bars), restaurants, stores and more. You’ll find the town’s famed ‘foot onsens’ on the side of the streets. Simply grab a Chuhai drink from the vending machines, remove your boots, roll up your trousers and dip those ski weary tootsies into hot mineral waters and watch the world go by.
Take me back in time
The feudal village was founded in the Edo period in 924AD as a natural mineral springs town. It is also the birthplace of Japan’s skiing history when Austrians Major Theodor von Lerch and Hannes Schneider came to town with alpine skis in hand. Check out the town’s local history museum while you’re there for the full story.
Onsen, onsen, onsen
Expect over thirty public and private onsens dotted throughout the village. Local villagers use the public town cooking onsen to cook their eggs, locals and visitors soak their feet in the foot onsens and visit the public full body soaks or private onsens in the more upmarket accommodation. The volcanic waters hold healing properties and there is an art, ritual and etiquette to soaking in Japan. Be warned, après ‘onsen-ing’ is highly addictive.
The Dosojin Fire Festival
If you time your ski trip for mid January then you’ll be privy to one of Japan’s top three fire festivals when the quiet town of 3600 locals explodes with visitors from all around the country. The three day festival culminates with the fire lighting when 42 year old male locals sit on the top of a three story flammable effigy and the 21 year old males fend off fire yielding villagers at the base. It’s a wild mix of sake drinking and fire flames that could go horribly wrong, but doesn’t. An experience you will never forget.
Location location location
Nozawa Onsen is half an hour from Madarao and an hour from Myoko Kogen so you can certainly add day ski trips to your holiday, should you so desire. Fancy half a day off? Head to the Snow Monkey Onsen for some site seeing with the mineral soaking primates. Getting to Nozawa is also easy with a direct shuttle from Tokyo (5 hours) or take the bullet train to Iiyama station and then a taxi or bus (3-4 hours).
The skiing and snowboarding
Nozawa has the longest ski run in Japan (10 kilometres). Add night skiing and over 1000 metres of vertical, some of the best off piste tree skiing around and a solid mix of 40% beginner, 30% intermediate and 30% advanced plus the 39 degree pitch Challenge Wall and you’ll be needing extra time in the onsen come the end of the day. The back and side country here is phenomenal and you can grab a guide from the ski school to show you the other side of the ropes.
Brilliant food super cheap. Four words to keep any skier or boarder happy. Okonimiyaki (savoury pancakes), soba noodles, yakitori, katsu-don, gyoza you name it this town has it. Add Italian, burgers, western fusion, pub fare and you could be dining for weeks.
The good folk of Nozawan Onsen have thoughtfully provide a covered escalator to get to the slopes from the village. The crew at Nozawa Snow Holidays have a ski locker and drying room near the Nagasaka Gondola so you can store your equipment and footwear. What’s not to love?
Then there’s the usual Japan madness with slopeside and street side vending machines, hot coffee in cans and Karaoke till the cows come home (they won’t).
The crew at Nozawa Snow Holidays have a Magic March deal staying at Lodge Nagano or Kaiya Nozawa for 7 nights including breakfast, a 5 day lift pass, use of onsens, guided mountain tour for 63 150YEN (around AU$790) per person.
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