fantastic snow in a charming
A world-class winter resort area that blends a traditional Japanese hot spring town with the aura of a European Alps village.
Nozawa Onsen owes its popularity to an abundance of light powder combined with the allure of a traditional Japanese hot spring village. Not only is it Japan’s oldest resort, it is also known worldwide as one of the country's best, having long attracted skiers and snowboarders from around the world. It's no coincidence that Nozawa Onsen is the sister city of Austria’s prestigious winter paradise, St. Anton.
There is on-piste and off-piste fun to be had on the resort's slopes, and in addition to fantastic skiing and snowboarding, visitors can join snowcat tours and do some winter trekking. The lively town running along the base of the slopes offers a mix of Western-style and Japanese-style lodging, and the hot spring baths, restaurants and bars draw plenty of visitors every night.
World Cup pro skier Katsuyuki Kohno calls Nozawa Onsen home. Kohno was born in the town on January 31, 1981. After graduation from middle school, he relocated to Austria to master alpine skiing. He returned to Japan at the age of 21 and began participating in Ski Cross World Cup events. He spent four years living in Tokyo, where he became involved in video production for the sport. Presently he runs Shirakaba Rental, which has two locations in Nozawa Onsen. He is also is the proprietor of the Shirakaba Hotel and coaches the Nozawa Onsen Junior Ski club. Learn more about Nozawa Onsen through his insider knowledge and photos.
Nozawa Onsen's renowned snow is surprisingly accessible from Tokyo. The ride to Iiyama Station takes about 90 minutes on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It’s then a comfortable 25-minute ride on the Nozawa Onsen Liner bus to central Nozawa Onsen. The bus is efficiently scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the train.
The main street in town is called Oyu Dori and runs from the central bus terminal along the mountainside. It is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and some of the town's trademark bathhouses. At the northern end of Oyu Dori is Yu Road, a conveyor-belt sidewalk that moves people quickly to the ski slopes. It is free of charge and operates in both directions.
Fresh, fluffy snow is guaranteed to make visitors head straight to the slopes. While all of Nozawa Onsen experiences plenty of high-quality snow, the Yamabiko area at the peak of Mt. Kenashi is a favorite for powder hunters. On a clear day it’s possible to see the Sea of Japan from the mountaintop.
One of the most satisfying runs on the mountain is the Skyline Trail. Marvel at the stunning scenery of the Myoko mountain range opposite you as you make your way down the 4,500m-long run from the peak to the base. The trail has some narrow points, so it is recommended for intermediates and above.
At resorts with so many runs, it’s a common problem for skiers to get stuck at a base area far from where they intended to finish. But Nozawa Onsen's intuitive layout means all trails lead you to the same base. There's no need to worry about what lift will take you back to your final destination.
The Kandahar Trail is used for official competitions and races such as the Far East Cup. It is usually only open to pro athletes, but it opens to the public for several days during the season. Check the resort’s website for the days it is open for general use. Give it a try to experience speeding down the mountain like a pro.
The moving walkway that runs from town takes you directly to the Hikage area. This is the ideal place for kids to try skiing for the first time or simply play in the snow. The snow park is perfect for sledding and kids 3 years old and above can take lessons. For children who are not yet ready to join, daycare services are available at the Hikage Information Booth.
Local residents collectively manage 13 public bathhouses called sotoyu. Visitors are welcome to use them free of charge. The practice of hopping from one to another, known as sotoyu-meguri, is one of Nozawa Onsen’s particular pleasures. Located near the center of town is the beautiful wooden bathhouse Oyu that was built in the style of traditional Edo-period (1603-1867) architecture. The water here is famously hot; even those that love their baths piping hot will find this one especially warm.
In front of Oyu, you’ll find hot springs just for your feet. Remove your shoes and socks and take a seat at the public foot bath. Not only will it comfort your tired feet, it will raise your overall body temperature as the blood circulates from your feet throughout the rest of your body.
One entertainment option in Nozawa Onsen is its stamp rally. The hot springs village has a total of 27 tourist spots — including the 13 public bathhouses — where you can collect a stamp. Gather more than 10 and you’ll receive a Nozawa Onsen commemorative towel. Stamp rally books are available for purchase at the information center.
After a day of skiing or snowboarding, enjoy a lively evening of après-ski. From Japanese-style izakaya to Western-style bars, the town has a variety of options. Spend some time in the baths, then head out for a bite or a tipple. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, you can still enjoy the sights and sounds of the town. Don’t miss the chance to experience Nozawa’s evening charm.