Think of skiing in
Honshu and most of us would think of Hakuba or Shiga Kogen. Located further north in lies Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort, one of the oldest ski resorts in the country. The slopes run from the very top, to the base of Mt Kenashi, which at it peak is 1650 metres tall. The abundance of fresh snow in the region makes for perfect conditions for both skiers and boarders alike well into early May. Nagano
According to the other travelers in the area Nozawa is a boarder’s mountain. There are heaps of places to drop off-piste and enjoy the fresh powder. If you do drop off-piste, you may just come across the Japanese Serow (a goat-antelope), or a Japanese Macaque. The
is located to the right of the Uenotaira run provides jumps and a half pipes for the more adventurous. Snow Park
However skiers need not be worried, most of the green runs are better suited to two planks than one; you’ll occasionally see a skier giving their boarding companion a tow. During my stay we had a fair dumping of snow and a white out on the first day, but this just meant an endless supply of fresh powder! When the sun shines through you can see as far as the
over the Japan Alps from up on the hill. Japan Sea
While the last Nagasaka gondola is 4:00pm, and the last Hikage gondola is 4:20pm, most nights you can continue on the night run for an extra 1500 yen which is accessed by the Nagasaka four lift. Slope side, there are many restaurants to choose from for coffee, cake, and the obligatory lunch/beer session.
A 7 minute walk from the ski lifts and in the centre of Nozawa town, Lodge Matsuya is little mid-range lodge run by a lovely family, who often also help out the local ALT. The rooms are nice and big (go for a Japanese style room) and charge per person, so you can spread out between rooms if you have a larger group. Should you have any questions or requests, nothing seems to be too much trouble for the Matsuya family. During peak times, you can get a room for 6000 yen per person (5000 yen for Sundays and weeknights), and if you take your own car you can marvel at the lodge manager’s car tessellation prowess in their rather narrow parking lot.
Tomii Rentals located opposite the Nagasaka Gondola, will set you up with all your gear needs and even give you a small discount if you stay at Lodge Matsuya. Although their rental policy says to have rentals back by 5pm on the last day of hire, they aren't so strict and will let you take them on to the night run, just let them know ahead of time.
One of the other marvels of Nozawa Onsen is the many free natural sulfurous
throughout the town. There are 13 in total, so just take your own toiletries, clean off, and jump in if you can. The local Obachans’ make it look like a walk in the park, but the scalding natural waters will leave your skin very pink. Try O-yu, there are 2 baths and in the ぬる湯bath you can turn on the cold water tap to get a little relief. hot springs
If you just can’t get enough of those Hot Spring Monkeys, tours run from Nozawa Onsen Resort to the
(Located close to Shiga Kogen Ski Resort). Just inquire at your accommodation for tours and pricing. The monkey park itself is only 500 yen for admission, so if you can make it out there yourself, it won’t cost you the earth and is well worth a look. Monkey Park
So now that you’re pumped for the fresh powder snow and onsens of Nozawa Onsen, how to get there? The cheapest and easiest way to get to the ski hills is the old night bus. Buses range from normal to sleeper and can be booked online at http://www.ski-e-bus.com/kansai-nozawa/index.html. Prices start from 5700 yen one way and from 11000 return. By train, Nozawa Onsen is a little difficult to access, from Shin Osaka station to Nagoya station takes 3 hrs and 2 transfers (11,670 yen one way) , then you’ll need to switch to a limited express bus to take you into Nozawa (1400 yen one way), which will take another 75 minutes. By car, Nozawa Onsen is a 20 minute drive from the Toyota Iiyama IC, but it takes around 7 hours to get there from Kansai, so be sure to bring alternate drivers.
Tips: Monkeys cause quite a lot of mischief in the area, so should you decide to use your balcony as a ‘fridge’, make sure you use a proper zip up bag to avoid its contents being stolen by these tricksters.
To avoid the long line for the Nagasaka Gondola of a weekend morning, take the Nagasaka triple and drop down into Hikage station instead.
If you plan to drive, make sure you have good snow tyres. The access roads in winter can be very very slippery so good tyres are not an option. If you have can 4WD is best, though you can get by with front wheel drive.