Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort Japan
Nozawa Onsen Japan is a hot spring and ski resort village near Nagano. The Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort almost takes a bit of a backseat relative to the charming village that offers an interesting and traditional Japanese experience. The village is famous for the abundance of hot springs that were discovered in the 8th century. Steam rises up everywhere amongst the bustling narrow cobblestone streets and the traditional ryokan inns and shops.
The culture of Nozawa
skiing is also historic. Skiing was introduced to Nozawa Onsen Japan in 1912 by an Austrian, and Nozawa is considered by some to be the birthplace of skiing in Japan.
These days, the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is one of the most popular ski resorts in Japan for international travellers due to its diversity of terrain, abundance of snow, the lovely traditional village, its family friendliness, and because English speaking guests are well catered for.
Nozawa Onsen Ski and Snowboard Terrain
The Nozawa Onsen ski resort is only made up of one ski area, unlike some of the other ski areas near Nagano, but it is reasonably large with 300 hectares of terrain, 50km of slopes, and an impressive vertical drop of 1,085 metres. Piste runs are equitably distributed for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders, although Nozawa Onsen skiing
is best suited to beginner and advanced skiers and boarders.
The Nozawa Onsen ski area is situated on Kenashi-yama which literally translates to "Mount no-hair", yet the mountain is far from bald considering that the Nozawa ski resort is below the tree-line. The ski runs have been cut through the trees with many wide groomed runs as well as an abundance of mogul runs.
Nozawa Onsen Snow
The sight of all those egg carton shaped runs can make a powder hound howl, but powder hounds shouldn’t despair because the moguls generally don’t have long to form. Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is blessed with over 10 metres of snow fall each season, thanks to its proximity to the Sea of Japan and the precipitation that’s picked up during storms. Nozawa Onsen is definitely a great destination for powder hounds and there are lots of days where the face shots come fast and furious.
Nozawa Skiing Off Piste
Officially off-piste skiing is banned but you probably won’t get into hot water with the patrollers for going off-piste. Hopefully the only hot water you’ll end up is in the onsen for après ski! Nozawa also has some amazing sidecountry and backcountry terrain.
Where is Nozawa Japan?
Nozawa Onsen Japan is located in the northern part of the Nagano Prefecture on the Honshu Island. The resort is 46km northeast of the city of Nagano and 249km northwest of Tokyo
. There are various other Nagano ski resorts
, so Nozawa Onsen can easily be combined with other ski areas on your Japan ski holiday.
There are two main options to get from the Tokyo Narita Airport to Nozawa Onsen. The first transport option is to get a shuttle from Narita Airport to Nozawa Onsen. The other method is to catch a train to Tokyo then a bullet train to Iiyama, and catch a bus to the resort. See the getting to Nozawa Onsen
page for more information.
Nozawa Onsen Accommodation
Nozawa Onsen is not a purpose built ski village so there are no towering hotels or glitzy monstrosities. The village has lots of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), many with their own onsens, as well as Minshuku (pensions that are a little more rustic) and more Western style hotels.
Japanese style rooms are quite common in Nozawa. Tatami flooring and futon bedding is great if you want to fully experience the local culture, but if you need a little bit more padding on your bed there are also some Western style rooms (but not many), typically with twin beds. Many lodgings have English speaking staff, and there are various lodgings where a little “Engrish” is spoken. This is all part of the fun of being in Japan!
The Nozawa Onsen accommodation
options range from lodgings for the budget oriented up to first class Japanese properties with superior facilities, service and dining.
NB If you are looking for lodging for Xmas to New Years, the fire festival, and Chinese New Year, please note that many properties sell out very early. You can look at accommodation availability here.
- Japan Ski Resort for Kids
The town and the ski resort have reasonably well developed services and facilities such as ski school and rental equipment shops (that have large sizes!). Nozawa is one of very few Japan ski resorts where it’s easy to take the kids because they have ski lessons with English speaking instructors as well as child care and babysitting. Check out the Nozawa Onsen facilities
and where to ski in Japan with kids
pages to see that Nozawa Onsen comes up trumps regarding family friendliness.
Nozawa Onsen Activities
Considering the abundance of geothermal activity, the focus for après ski and off-slope activities is the onsens. The town has more than 30 natural hot springs that supply the ryokans as well as the 13 public baths (sotoyu). Be sure to do some man-scaping before you arrive!
The hottest spring is the Ogama Onsen. With waters bubbling up at about 90 degrees Celsius, the hot spring is used by the locals for cooking vegetables and to entertain the tourists!
Also hot is the Dosijin Fire Festival which is held on the 15th January each year. This festival involves lots of kanpai, fireworks and fire – a wonderful highlight of any Nozawa visit.
Other activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing, and the swimming pool has a waterslide and a wave pool. Or you can visit the famous snow monkeys
Why Ski or Snowboard at Nozawa Onsen?
At Nozawa Onsen it’s not just about the skiing or snowboarding. Sure the ski resort provides some delightfully steep tree skiing and plenty of variety, but the main event is the charming village where you can enjoy lots of relaxation and rejuvenation, the traditional architecture, the history, and the fascinating culture.
Some people call Nozawa Onsen the “Kyoto” of Japanese ski resorts because it has such a rich cultural history. There aren’t hundreds of temples in Nozawa Onsen and you won’t see geisha girls wandering down the street dressed in a silk kimono. You’ll only see men wandering down the street in their yukata (informal cotton kimono) on the way to the onsen! Nevertheless Nozawa Onsen undoubtedly provides one of the best cultural experiences of
the Japanese ski resorts
Summary of Pros and Cons
- The village is a highlight and lots of the buildings are traditional Japanese style, which adds to the cultural experience of Nozawa.
- Nozawa Onsen has a range of accommodation types (Japanese style inns, hotels, self-contained apartments and houses) and accommodation to suit a range of budgets.
- Nozawa has lots of different onsens, although most of them are indoors.
- You can visit little temples and nearby Nagano also offers other cultural experiences.
- The ski resort is reasonably large (by Japanese standards) so there’s enough variety for a week long experience, and you can also do day trips to other nearby ski resorts such as Madarao or Togari Onsen.
- The ski resort has a couple of in-bounds and side-country areas with reasonably steep terrain, which is a bit of a rarity for Japan.
- It is close to other major Nagano ski resorts so it’s easy to combine it with other destination resorts.
- Nozawa caters wells for children. This is one of only a handful of Japanese ski resorts that can provide group ski lessons in English and child care/babysitting with English speaking staff. There is also a great snow play park for the kids.
- The village has reasonable nightlife (for a Japanese ski resort) and the restaurants and Japanese cuisine are also a highlight.
Pro or Con Depending on Your Perspective
- There is no perfectly located Nozawa Onsen accommodation that is ski-in ski-out and also close to the centre of town. Generally you have to compromise on either proximity to the slopes or the hub of town.
- As with the other Honshu ski resorts, the quality of the powder is a fraction heavier than that found in Hokkaido, but it’s still really good!
- Nozawa Onsen has so many pros so its popularity has increased dramatically in recent years - you’ll need to book your trip early. Lots of westerners now visit Nozawa and it’s losing a fraction of its traditional Japanese charm. The upside is that it’s very easy to get by in Nozawa if you don’t speak fluent Japanese.
- If you’re looking for a luxury western style resort hotel with soft queen/king beds, you won’t find it.
- Most of the accommodation is very traditional Japanese. Except for the high-end ryokans, don’t expect a room with a full ensuite bathroom. If you don’t want to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture, sleep on the tatami floor with a futon (or two) and beanbag type pillow, eat Japanese food, or bathe in an onsen with other people, then perhaps go to Niseko instead. Or maybe Canada?!
Tours That May Include Nozawa Onsen