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Nozawa Onsen


If you like culture 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 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 it was introduced in 1912. As well as plenty of skiing 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

Nozawa Onsen covers three ski areas presenting upwards of 50km of runs, and whilst 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, and due to the proximity of the Sea of Japan it is often possible to ski in Nozawa as late into the season as early April.

Off Piste

You can dip your skis in between the ski runs 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 up here, 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. 

Advanced

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.

Intermediate

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!

Beginners

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.

Snowboarders

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.

Après Ski

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.

Family Suitability

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.

RESORT SCORECARD

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Season:  December - April

Base elevation:  565 metres

Top elevation:  1,650 metres

Vertical drop:  1,085 metres

Number of lifts:  21

Number of runs:  36

Longest run:  10 kilometres

Access:  Tokyo is 160 miles away, so you'd fly to Haneda or Narita Airport and then take a road transfer to the village in the Japan Alps. It takes circa four to five hours and the alternative is to take the shinkansen (bullet-train) from Tokyo to Iiyama Station, from whhich it is then short coach transfer to Nozawa Onsen.

Suggested Itineraries featuring Nozawa Onsen

These suggested itineraries will give you a starting point for what your ski holiday to Japan could entail. Sometimes we combine ski resorts and we often cherish the opportunity to explore and experience Japan beyond the ski slopes. We hope these itineraries will inspire, excite and inform you as we begin the planning process. They’re not set departures or tours, as every holiday we plan is completely tailor-made for you - treat them as inspiration only.

Geisha, Onsen, Snow & Sake

Nozawa Onsen - Takayama - Kyoto - Hiroshima

Duration: two weeks

Explore old Japan – the temples, the shrines, the ryokan, the Geisha & the onsen. Ski in Japan's prettiest, most authentic ski village.

from £2,540 per person, including flights

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The Japanese Ski Safari

Niseko - Tokyo - Nozawa Onsen - Kyoto

Duration: two weeks

The best powder snow, a bit of culture, the mountains, onsen and the capital! We can't improve on this - the perfect ski holiday to Japan.

from £2,884 per person, including flights

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The Japanese Alps Explorer

Tokyo - Nozawa Onsen - Hakuba - Kyoto

Duration: two weeks

Bullet-trains, snow monkeys, atmospheric villages, shrines, geisha and vibrant neon cities. Oh...and some of Japan's best skiing.

from £2,498 per person, including flights

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Prices are indicative only and include accommodation (low season), lift passes, transfers and – because we are ATOL-bonded – your flights from the UK. Different Snow can also include ski hire, backcountry and off-piste tours, rail passes, private transfers, English-speaking guides, cultural excursions and activities.

Accommodation

This is not a purpose-built ski resort (quite the opposite, thank goodness!) and, consequently, there isn't any planned ski-in, ski-out accommodation. You'll likely find yourself down in the village – which is where you want to be for the atmosphere – with a short walk uphill to the slopes, or you can take the Yu Road travelator. This is a place in which many choose to stay in a ryokan – traditional Japanese inns where the focus is on peace, comfort, and onsen culture, providing a window into authentic Japan. Traditional beds are in the form of futons on tatami mats, though many of Nozawa’s ryokans will also offer Western breakfasts. In addition, there are several Western style hotels and cheaper pensions if you prefer (most with shared bathrooms), though very few apartments and no 'chalets' to speak of.

We can offer many options in the village and the following is a hand-picked selection of a few of our trusted favourites.

Sakaya Ryokan

The best ryokan in Nozawa Onsen. Indeed, the nicest accommodation in the entire village.

Right in the heart of the village sits Nozawa’s smartest – and largest – ryokan. Sakaya has 29 rooms sleeping either two or four people, mostly in the traditional style, though a few Western rooms are available. The majority of rooms have en suite bathrooms, some with soaking tubs.

Sakaya has a good central location – five minutes’ walk to the Yu Road travelator that takes you to the slopes, and just two minutes from one of the favourite public onsens in town; there’s also a more private indoor-outdoor onsen at Sakaya, which can be reserved for private use. 

The food is particularly noteworthy, from the tasty traditional breakfasts to the incredible multi-course kaiseki dinners. They have English speaking staff and Westerners are made to feel very welcome - they've had more practice here than elsewhere.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 3 minutes' walk

Ski lifts: 8 minutes' walk

Village centre: 3 minutes' walk

Tokiwaya Ryokan

Classical, historic inn which is authentic in all respects. Wonderful onsen baths.

Ancient and storied Tokiwaya Ryokan has been in business for four centuries. A traditional Japanese feel dominates, with rooms sleeping up to four people on roll out tatami mats and futons. Rooms do however have modern comforts such as satellite TVs and fridges. The restaurant is renowned as one of the best in Nozawa and you could also do it the Japanese way and dine in the privacy of your room if you wish.

In addition to its character and its fabulous choice of onsens (four in total, with certified drinking water), said to be the largest in Nozawa Onsen.​ This ryokan also has an excellent location: the front door tips you out on the main street in the village, just two minutes from the travelator. There’s no bar inside, but with such a central location this won’t be a problem.

Distance to…

Ski lifts: 8 minutes' walk

Village centre: 0 metres

Restaurants & Bars: 10 metres

Jon Nobi Ryokan

A pleasingly modern-take on the traditional ryokan. Our most popular selection.

With a name which translates as ‘relaxed and comfortable’, you know where you stand; and from the moment you slip on your yukata (a Japanese dressing gown) and slippers you’ll be very comfortable at this cool little place in the centre of town. There are both Japanese and Western style rooms, most of which have en suites and are pretty spacious by Japanese standards.

Separate men’s and women’s onsens, as well as smaller, private options, provide a relaxing escape from the slopes. The cozy fire festival inspired bar downstairs is a mellow, atmospheric place with local sake and Kirin beer on tap; and Yuyado Jon Nobi also has a reputation for its food – fresh, zingy and lengthy dinners creating quality time with your travel buddies.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 5 metres

Ski lifts: 6 minutes' walk

Village centre: 0 metres

Elizabeth Hotel

Recently refurbished hotel, ideally situated between the village and the ski slopes.

Comfortable, clean and well-located family run hotel. Under new management (it used to be the indifferent Yamaki Hotel) the transformation is good; good service, spotlessly clean and welcoming. With a cosy log stove in the lobby and clean, comfortable rooms, the all-new Elizabeth Hotel is a dependably good base in Nozawa Onsen.

As you’d expect in Nozawa Onsen, there’s a big steamy onsen for guests to soak in at the end of the day. Each morning the restaurant serves up a western-style breakfast which is simple, but filling breakfast. There’s a ski room and drying room.

Distance to…

Ski lifts: 4 minutes' walk

Restaurants & Bars: 3 minutes' walk

Kawamotoya Ryokan

Contemporary downstairs, a traditional ryokan upstairs. One of our favourite selections.

Whilst the public areas have a contemporary twist, all the rooms at Kawamotoya are resolutely Japanese with tatami mats and futon bedding. There are various sizes of room (accommodating from two to six persons), with the premium rooms on the higher floors having great views over the village and the mountains. Each has a toilet and basin, but its only the Deluxe Rooms that have an en suite shower.

In keeping keeping with the Nozawa tradition, guests bathe in the in-house onsen, or one of the 13 free public onsen in the village. A buffet Western or Japanese breakfast is available daily.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 2 minutes' walk

Village centre: 3 minutes' walk

Ski lifts: 6 minutes' walk

Bus stop: 5 minutes' walk

Shimataya Hotel

Otherwise know as 'Nozawa View' - self-explanatory really. Friendly & comfortable.

With amazing views over the village, this once-run-down hotel has found a restored lease of life under new management. The majority of the rooms are Japanese - tatami mat floors, futon bedding and toilets only in the rooms though there are handful of rooms with Western beds and en-suite facilities.

Service has also improved markedly - most of the staff can speak English which certainly was not the case when we first stayed here. All told, a pleasant option.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 4 minutes' walk

Ski lifts: 8 minutes' walk

Village centre: 4 minutes' walk

Kiriya Ryokan

In the heart of the village, this authentic ryokan is calm and tranquil, the rooms clean and simple.

Set back from the street within pretty snow-engulfed gardens in the oldest part of Nozawa, Kiriya is a little utopia just a few minutes from the hubbub of town. Like many of Japan’s traditional inns, Kiriya Ryokan has been in the family for generations, and the current hostess 'Ko' is classically courteous and amiable.

In the public spaces there is some utterly unintentional 70s chic going on, whilst the guest rooms are all traditional Japanese. Some are en-suite, others only have toilet and a basin. There are a few Western mix rooms (i.e. conventional beds) and most can accommodate between one and five people. A stay at Kiriya is very rewarding - comfortable, relaxing, interesting, and very good value.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 3 minutes' walk

Ski lifts: 5 minutes' walk

Bus stop: 5 minutes' walk

Gastof Schi Heli

Small, Western-style hotel. A real home-from-home in Nozawa Onsen.

Right in the very heart of the village, close to the central bus terminal and surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants, is this small (only seven rooms), simple and unpretentious hotel. Western beds and friendly service are its hallmarks. There is a comfortable lounge to relax in upstairs and a café / coffee shop on the ground level.

Western style breakfast is served in the dining room. The hotel does not have hot spring bath but the guests can enjoy 13 public natural hot spring baths around the hotel. The friendly family who own and run the lodge can help you with snow monkey tours and other transfers...they own the local taxi service also!

Distance to…

Ski lifts: 4 minutes' walk

Restaurants & Bars: 20 metres

Lodge Matsuya

Cheap, cheerful & friendly, in the very centre of the village. Budget achieved!

Affordable and central, with Japanese charm and homeliness thrown in, Lodge Matsuya is a family-owned pension run by amiable couple Takashi & Mika. Accommodation is without frills but perfectly adequate – in smaller Western rooms or Japanese-style sleeping one to four people, most using shared bathrooms.

There is a small onsen downstairs, with a beer vending machine conveniently placed as you exit. 

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 1 minutes' walk

Village centre: 10 metres

Ski lifts: 6 minutes' walk

The Address

Various apartment types

Funky and colourful apartments in a converted ryokan. One of a kind!

In a previous life, this building was just another traditional ryokan in Nozawa Onsen, but it has since been transformed into a collection of stylish and playfully colourful serviced apartments, sleeping between two and six guests. You can reach both skiing and village amenities easily on foot, but there’s a fully-equipped kitchen and homely lounge for evenings spent staying in.

The concierge is on hand between 9am and 6pm if you need any assistance, and there’s lockable ski storage and communal washing facilities. Address also has a great children’s play room if your little ones need time out; and if you need time out, then the male and female onsens allow you to relax and rejuvenate.

Distance to…

Village centre: 15 metres

Ski lifts: 8 minutes' walk

Restaurants & Bars: 2 minutes' walk

Address Nagasaka

1 and 2-bedroom apartments

Ski-in, ski-out self-catering apartments. Unheard of in Nozawa Onsen!

The apartment at the Address Nagasaka were refurbished in 2012, thus freshening up these stylish ski-in, ski-out (well, almost) accommodation. There are only a few One Bedroom and Two Bedroom apartments in the building, and let's call them...."compact". This is the sacrifice you pay for a superb location.

Each apartment contains within a perfectly serviceable kitchen, a table and chairs, a flat screen TV, bathroom and toilet - one of those Japanese hi-tech toilets, no-less. Fluffy duvets and great mountain views complete the picture. Downstairs in the building is the popular 'Craft Café' - equally good for coffee and granola in the morning as it is for a cold après drink.

Distance to…

Restaurants & Bars: 25 metres

Ski lifts: 15 metres

Village centre: 5 minutes' walk

Activities

Wandering the cobbled streets past ryokans, onsens, cafés and souvenir shops is a delight in itself, and you couldn’t possibly leave without seeking warmth and refuge in at least one of the hot springs. This is why most Japanese people visit Nozawa - not always necessarily for the snowsports - and you really must experience the therapeutic benefits of soaking in these mineral rich waters, made all the more wonderful when your body is aching from the ski mountain. The town has more than 30 natural hot springs, many of which are within ryokans and hotels. 

Onsen are not just for humans - if you head to the nearby Jigokudani valley you’ll see Japanese snow monkeys doing just the same. You could also spend time simply exploring the Shinto Shrines and the Japan Ski Museum of Nozawa.

Skiing in Madarao Kogen

Spend the day creating fresh tracks between the trees in a nearby resort. 

This nearby resort, where there are 15 lifts, is largely left ungroomed. They love their powder here! Hike to the summit of Mount Masarao with your guide and then splendid isolation is all yours in the most pristine backbowl you’ll ever be fortunate enough to ski or board. From the top of the ski lift, it’s a half hour hike to the summit of Mount Masarao – the jumping off point for a day or half a day in unprecedented powder and perfect isolation. Due to the terrain and snow conditions, this self-guided full day excursion is best suited to the powder junkies amongst you. Different Snow will proide all the information you need in our 'How To...' guides.

The onsens of Nozawa

Visit the 13 sotoyu, the free public onsen baths spread across the village.

There couldn’t be a better place to try a traditional hot spring bath. Rather like us, the Japanese believe in the health-giving properties of mineral-rich mountain water – and thanks to the volcanic landscape, theirs are warm! Believe us, you’ll never appreciate the steamy, healing waters more than you will post-ski. Beyond the onsen baths you will invariably find in your accommodation, there are 13 free public onsens in Nozawa – varying in size, temperature, ambience and water quality. Some, like Oyu, are just for weary feet; others are for bathing; and some are reserved for cooking eggs and vegetables. The etiquette can seem a little bamboozling, but never fear – we’ll fill you in before you go.

Half-day Snow Monkey Tour

Take an afternoon off the slopes and go see the monkeys!

Afternoon excursion (departing 1pm) to the local snow monkeys hangout - Jigokudani, otherwise known as Hell’s Valley. Photo opportunties galore as these Macaques monkeys have grown accustomed to humans watching them bathe and play in the natural onsens. Your guide will take you through the small farming villages of ‘Snow Country’ to Joshinetsu National Park, where you’ll hike for half an hour to reach their bathing pools, learning about the local plant and animal life as you go. Often the tours also visit the ancient onsen village of Shibu on the way home, which has served as a place of convalescence for Samurai, artists and travellers through the centuries and displays wonderful historic buildings.

Ski Concierge

In Nozawa we can include transfers, lift passes, equipment hire, ski guiding & ski school. In each instance, the price you pay with Different Snow will be cheaper – or, at worst the same – as what you would pay locally. And we can assure you of quality - this is a smaller ski resort than Hakuba and Niseko and, consequently, choice is more limited and standards can slip a little. However, we know the best....and only use the best and therefore we get no complaints.

Lift Passes

As it's one mountain and one ski area, it's all reasonably straight-forward in Nozawa. Ski passes can be bought for full and half days. Children are under 12 and seniors are over 60. Standard. Pre-school kids ski for free – bonus!

Equipment Hire

There are quite a few options available to us in Nozawa, but experience has lead us to one tried, tested and trusted supplier. These guys have the latest model skis and snowboards, professional staff and a decent range of premium specialist powder equipment. You can bank on none of the above if you choose to simply 'walk-in' in to a ski hire place in Nozawa Onsen - there's some real dodgy kit around. And because the outlet we use is part of one of the two main ski bases, in the gondola station, you can leave you equipment with them overnight, meaning there's no need to lug it down in to the village and back each day. 

Lessons

Nozawa Ski School is located at the base of the Hikeage Gondala, at the top of the Yu Road travelator (a moving footway from the village).

Lessons are run daily with one day and half day (10-12 noon and 1.30-3.30pm) sessions. Qualified English speaking instructors can teach the basics or fine tune your powder technique. The school customises lessons to three age groups; infants (3-6 years), kids (7-16 years) and adults (17 years+), offering group lessons for beginner to intermediate skiers and snowboarders or private lessons for all levels.

Travel Insurance

Winter sports travel insurance is an important part of your holiday booking and we strongly recommend that you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy to cover all your winter sports holiday requirements. We're happy to be able to offer our customers a 10% discount on all policies from Ski Club Travel Insurance.

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