When it comes to skiing vacation destinations in Japan, Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano are the two most well-known resorts. But one name that’s getting thrown around a lot recently is Nozawa Onsen. Located in northern Nagano Prefecture, this laid back hot spring town is quickly becoming one of the nation’s most hyped snow hot spots. Nozawa boasts an excellent balance of foreigner-friendly accessibility, and old-world charm. Having also hosted events during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic, you can trust the conditions are world class. If you’re looking for somewhere new to enjoy the winter sports season, be sure to add this one to your itinerary. To get you excited, here’s what a day of skiing at Nozawa Onsen looks like.
Before you hit the slopes, you need the grab your gear, so make a stop off at the Olive Rental Shop. A welcoming, English-friendly ski rental outlet, you’ll find Olive Rental on the second floor of Olive Cafe in the Hikage ski area of Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort. Specializing in cutting edge Salomon and Atomic gear, the shop offers rental equipment for skiers and boarders of all levels, including kids' equipment and accessories. The friendly staff are also more than happy to give beginners a few pointers on how to get kitted up. If you don’t want to trudge back to your accommodation with all your gear, you can leave it at the shop and pick it up en-route to the fields the next day.
The entire resort is well connected via a network of chairlifts and gondolas, and after a day on the slopes, you’ll have Nozawa's layout pretty well mapped out in your mind. The best way to get to the heart of the action is to take the Yu Road from the center of town next to Yuzawa Shrine, from there you’ll be able to access the Hikage ski area. If you’re wanting to go higher, go to the Nagasaka ski area, and then ride the Gondola all the way up to Yamabiko Station.
There are a variety of ticket options depending on how much of the resort you want to access. To begin, a single lift ticket for the day will cost 450 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. For unfettered access, grab the full day pass which is 4,800 yen for adults and 2,200 yen for children. For more serious skiers, the longer you stay, the cheaper it gets, a three-day adult pass will only set you back 13,000 yen.
No matter where you are, Nozawa is dotted with picturesque runs and incredible mountain views, but there are a few distinct highlights. The Yamabiko ski area is at the highest point of the ski resort. From Yamabiko you’re privy to a variety of runs for skiers of all levels, and being the highest point of the mountain, it’s home to some incredible sights. Around here, and at some of the other higher points of the resort, you’ll be able to get a great view of Myoko's mountains which on a clear day look almost surreal in their picture-perfect, blue-backdropped, natural beauty.
Thrill seekers should be sure to make some time to visit the Skyline Course which is one of the highlights of the resort. Running 4,500 meters long, the Skyline Course is one of the longest runs in Nozawa. The run offers plenty of variety, including points along the route where some skiers say it feels like you’re about to ski off the edge of the mountain. It’s best reserved for slightly more experienced skiers and boarders.