Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 565 metres

Top elevation: 1,650 metres

Number of lifts: 21

Number of runs: 36

Access: Tokyo has the nearest airports. There are a few direct coach transfers from the airport, otherwise it's a shinkansen (bullet-train) from Tokyo to Nagano City and then short coach transfer to Nozawa Onsen.

If you like culture and charm to complement your carving, you might just have found ‘the one’ in Nozawa Onsen. This is where the Japanese come to ski, and it really is about time we joined them.

Located on the main island of Honshu, north of Tokyo at the foot of the charmingly named ‘Mount No Hair’, the village has been popular since the 8th Century thanks to its bounty of hot springs (onsen); the resulting steamy cobbled streets, historic inns, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and authentic vibe make it impossibly atmospheric.

There’s still a healthy onsen culture today, and skiing has been very much at the heart of the village since Austrian Major Theodor von Lerch introduced it in 1912. As well as plenty of skiing in Nozawa Onsen and the surrounding resorts, there’s much more to discover, from ancient Shinto shrines and snow-laden temples to cheeky snow monkeys and traditional arts.

Skiing in Nozawa Onsen

The nearby Sea of Japan means plenty of snowfall – you can often ski well into May - but due to the relatively low elevation it pays to get up high, away from the village. Nozawa Onsen covers three ski areas presenting upwards of 50km of runs, and as it is popular with Japanese weekenders the slopes can be delightfully quiet on weekdays. The lift system is generally good, but a little old – it was last upgraded for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics – and there’s a pleasing distribution of slopes, from family-friendly blues to spine tingling tree runs and plenty of powder off-piste. Predominantly, the runs are wide sweepers which cut through forest to reveal stunning views. Night skiing is possible on Saturdays and during holiday periods.

Large areas of gentle terrain make Nozawa a good choice for newbies. All three of the main areas accommodate beginners, with often-busy Hikage the central point for lessons. Karasawa is a more peaceful alternative. You don’t need to stay low: The ‘Uenotiara’ and ‘Rinkan’ runs up top are lovely, long sweepers with fabulous views.

Only around a third of runs are rated orange (Japanese intermediate), but you’ll enjoy getting your speed up on wide, well-groomed pistes and challenging yourself with moguls, terrain park jumps and some off-piste. For enjoyable trails, we recommend Yamabiko at the summit, and there are a few shorter intermediates which peel away from beginners' runs if you don’t mind a combination. The long ‘Sky Line’ trail is a good challenge, even if the journey back up is painfully slow!

You’re never far from a steep challenge anywhere in Nozawa. The black runs are varied – generally either covered in moguls or bathed in oodles of powder. There are several testing runs from the Mukobayashi chair drop-off; we particularly like the steep, narrow ‘Grand Prix’, accessed from the ridge. Other favourites include 'Schneider', 'Utopia' and 'Kurokura'.

You can dip your skis in between ski runs and either side of the top lift (note the difference between ‘do not enter’ and ‘do not enter unless you are a good skier’ signs). There’s some fantastic tree skiing to be had, and for steeper terrain head to the Sky Line ridge. There’s no avalanche control in Nozawa, so the attitude to sidecountry and backcountry skiing is understandably cautious; if you’re well-equipped and experienced, you’ll find some thrilling long powder runs down to the village. Better still, try the other side of the mountain for virgin powder – but only with an expert guide.

The last of the old-fashioned restrictions were lifted in 2001, and today boarders make up half of Nozawa’s visitors. The main draw is bucket loads of powder, meaning it’s never difficult to make fresh tracks – particularly during the week when you’ll feel free as a bird as you slide down the mountain with refreshingly little competition. There’s also a board park and half pipe.

Vast areas of Nozawa are dedicated to beginners, and there is a superb ski school with English-speaking guides. Children also receive a healthy discount on lift passes. For us, Nozawa is a winning combination of immersive and accommodating; facilities for children include the Aqua Dome with children’s pool, Nozawa Onsen Arena’s wave pool and large slide, Nozawa Kids Park at Hikage base, and tobogganing by the ski slopes. Young children will be well looked after at Yumin Day Nursery in Hikage Information Centre – though it’s small so book early – or, alternatively, qualified English-speaking babysitters are on hand.

Nozawa has a great evening buzz - in the Japanese sense of the term. On the whole that means delicious dinners instead of a belly full of beer, and relaxed bars in place of clubs. The locals are trying hard to preserve this ancient retreat, so respectful visitors are much appreciated. Though the Japanese will often choose to dine in, eating out is a real highlight, with fabulous Japanese and Western food at good prices. If you’re peckish when you come off the slopes, try an onsen-cooked egg or the local delicacy Nozawa-na – a tasty spinach-like vegetable made into a variety of pickles or mixed with other ingredients to fill delicious steamed dumplings.

Large areas of gentle terrain make Nozawa a good choice for newbies. All three of the main areas accommodate beginners, with often-busy Hikage the central point for lessons. Karasawa is a more peaceful alternative. You don’t need to stay low: The ‘Uenotiara’ and ‘Rinkan’ runs up top are lovely, long sweepers with fabulous views.

Only around a third of runs are rated orange (Japanese intermediate), but you’ll enjoy getting your speed up on wide, well-groomed pistes and challenging yourself with moguls, terrain park jumps and some off-piste. For enjoyable trails, we recommend Yamabiko at the summit, and there are a few shorter intermediates which peel away from beginners' runs if you don’t mind a combination. The long ‘Sky Line’ trail is a good challenge, even if the journey back up is painfully slow!

You’re never far from a steep challenge anywhere in Nozawa. The black runs are varied – generally either covered in moguls or bathed in oodles of powder. There are several testing runs from the Mukobayashi chair drop-off; we particularly like the steep, narrow ‘Grand Prix’, accessed from the ridge. Other favourites include 'Schneider', 'Utopia' and 'Kurokura'.

You can dip your skis in between ski runs and either side of the top lift (note the difference between ‘do not enter’ and ‘do not enter unless you are a good skier’ signs). There’s some fantastic tree skiing to be had, and for steeper terrain head to the Sky Line ridge. There’s no avalanche control in Nozawa, so the attitude to sidecountry and backcountry skiing is understandably cautious; if you’re well-equipped and experienced, you’ll find some thrilling long powder runs down to the village. Better still, try the other side of the mountain for virgin powder – but only with an expert guide.

The last of the old-fashioned restrictions were lifted in 2001, and today boarders make up half of Nozawa’s visitors. The main draw is bucket loads of powder, meaning it’s never difficult to make fresh tracks – particularly during the week when you’ll feel free as a bird as you slide down the mountain with refreshingly little competition. There’s also a board park and half pipe.

Vast areas of Nozawa are dedicated to beginners, and there is a superb ski school with English-speaking guides. Children also receive a healthy discount on lift passes. For us, Nozawa is a winning combination of immersive and accommodating; facilities for children include the Aqua Dome with children’s pool, Nozawa Onsen Arena’s wave pool and large slide, Nozawa Kids Park at Hikage base, and tobogganing by the ski slopes. Young children will be well looked after at Yumin Day Nursery in Hikage Information Centre – though it’s small so book early – or, alternatively, qualified English-speaking babysitters are on hand.

Nozawa has a great evening buzz - in the Japanese sense of the term. On the whole that means delicious dinners instead of a belly full of beer, and relaxed bars in place of clubs. The locals are trying hard to preserve this ancient retreat, so respectful visitors are much appreciated. Though the Japanese will often choose to dine in, eating out is a real highlight, with fabulous Japanese and Western food at good prices. If you’re peckish when you come off the slopes, try an onsen-cooked egg or the local delicacy Nozawa-na – a tasty spinach-like vegetable made into a variety of pickles or mixed with other ingredients to fill delicious steamed dumplings.

Getting There

From Tokyo, the journey to Nozawa will take between four and six hours depending on how you travel. It’s possible to hire a car, but, given the winter road conditions and excellent public transport, we’d give it a miss. If public transport doesn’t appeal, we can arrange a private transfer instead.

If you arrive later in the day, the Nagano Snow Shuttle is a good option. It leaves Tokyo Narita Airport at 8pm, arriving in Nozawa at around 1am. The driver will drop you off at your accommodation. Alternatively, The Japan Skibus is cheaper if the times work.

Japan’s famous bullet trains are clean, comfortable and painfully punctual. From Tokyo Train Station, take the Nagano Bullet (Asama Shinkansen) into Nagano (90 minutes) and then jump on one of the express buses to Nozawa (80 minutes). Buses generally run between 9am and 4pm and the train station’s Information Office will point you in the right direction.

Resort Scorecard

Snowsure


Beginners


Intermediate


Advanced


Snowboarders


Après Ski


Families


Base elevation: 565 metres

Top elevation: 1,650 metres

Number of lifts: 21

Number of runs: 36

Access: Tokyo has the nearest airports. There are a few direct coach transfers from the airport, otherwise it's a shinkansen (bullet-train) from Tokyo to Nagano City and then short coach transfer to Nozawa Onsen.