Japanuary – Nozawa Onsen

The adventure continues… and hits the powder jackpot in Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen may just be the complete combo of charming Japanese culture and brilliant snow that an overseas ski trip is all about! After visiting Hakuba and Shiga Kogen which are surrounded by relatively sprawling urban areas, Nozawa in contrast is a compact and beautiful hillside township dotted with big old trees, bath houses, street side shopping and accommodation.

The silky thermal water of the area is central to not only the local way of life but has been attracting visitors for centuries. Streets are kept clear of snow by running hoses with holes in them (we thought there was some serious maintenance issues going on!) trickling the steaming water across the main thoroughfares. Food stores capture the steam from the subterranean waterways, using it to cook delicious nikuman to order and there are convenient and somewhat decadent “foot bath” stops everywhere! There is even a public onsen kitchen (well….locals only to keep us ignorant visitors safe!) where veggies are dropped into the 90 degree plus water and cooked for dinner! But the most divine aspect of this area’s amazing natural resource is of course the actual bath houses. We enjoyed an onsen daily at our hotel and any of the 13 public baths scattered in beautiful traditional buildings around town.

Our stay at the Ryokan Sakaya (owned by an 18th generation local!)gave us an insight into the tranquility of top Japanese style accommodation with large apartment style rooms complete with roll out futon beds, tatami mat flooring and a heated table! After drifting out of the onsen post ski, sipping green tea with Sumo wrestling on TV (yup we got quite addicted!) we would then sit down to a 12 course meal. Despite the ”interesting” appearance of much of the food, I was consistently surprised at how delicious it all was! One night following Wagyu beef at a local restaurant and pre-Karaoke bar session, we were even treated to deep fried grasshoppers and sake from a bowl with a freshly cooked fish! That was a first! (and probably last…)


Oh yeah…that’s right, I haven’t got to the powder yet!

A quick stroll up a cobbled street in our ski boots bought us to the awesome Yu Road (moving walkway) which sent us a whisking casually uphill minus the effort and arriving at the base of one of the two gondolas. The Nozawa Onsen ski area spreads across the slopes of Mt Kenashi (1650m) with 297 hectares of skiing to be had. This most likely refers to the piste available but let’s not forget the awesome tree lines at this place! While there is a lot of terrain still fenced as out of bounds, we found more than enough wide open glades with great pitch to make the most of what I would like to declare “ the most ridiculously light and dry powder I have skied in my life!” Yeah yeah you’ve heard it all before… BUT let me try to explain. White smoke springs to mind! There was no way in hell we could ski behind each other for the fact that every powder frother was throwing up a dense snowy fog. It was light enough to blow off your clothes. It sort of crested around your legs like a soft breaking wave. And it was like wafting on silky smooth slopes of whipped cream. Enough? Get it?

Our appetite for off piste skiing was more than satisfied but on checking out the rest of the ski area it is clearly a fantastic, easy and accessible option for family and group holidays with PLENTY of snow and slopes for all levels. The mix of fun ski terrain, tasty Japanese pow and the traditional charm of Nozawa Onsen makes is a super appealing location that is well worth breaking the piggy bank for.

Words by Julia Atkinson
Photos by Camilla Stoddart

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