Nozawa was recently rated by our print issue readers as their equal number #3 choice in the world (level with Hakuba, after Niseko & Whistler respectively at #1 & #2).
Why? The snow presumably has something to do with it, when it dumps here it, it dumps! And then there’s the onsen, including 13 free public ones which are maintained by the Yu-nakama (‘Friends of the hot spa’).
“We get 12 metres of snow a season on average, with dumps of 50cm or more not uncommon” reports long term Aussie local Mark Baumann, who’s done 22 seasons here, and had to do plenty of shovel outs over the years.
To get an idea how deep it gets just ski past the summer road signs alongside the Uuenotaira quad chair area mid-mountain. The snowpack usually puts these within touching distance by mid-season.
If you are here for a week or more you will likely score some great days. To get at it there are several designated powder zones, both on cut trails and in the trees, like the Yamabiko zone, between the main marked runs of the summit quad chair. Get up here and it’s hard to tear yourself away: a 500 metre or so long natural half pipe gully is perfect for lip rolls and pop offs for starters, and being over 3000 vertical feet above the village base level you usually find top quality snow here even days after a dump.
Apart from the designated pow zones, skiable at your own risk, there are a lot more areas where the attitudes toward skiing them appear to be changing from strict prohibition to laxer, if you know what you are doing and stay out of trouble.
Skiing around with another local (an 18 generations local in fact), Mori-san, from the famous Ryokan Sakaya, we dropped into a few of these areas, and no one chased us. On a stormy, dumping day no one would see you anyway. But equally, with this much snow even small slopes can slide enough to bury you, so get some local knowledge on your side via paid guiding if you don’t have the likes of Mark or Mori-san to ski with, and take care.
There are so many tasty, nicely pitched drop offs from the ridge-line spine runs that you could spend a long time before getting bored here. Hiking out a little opens up plenty more, with some incredible views over to surrounding areas like Madarao, with Shiga Kogen in the distance beyond that.
For the non-pow fiend the long, wide open, perfectly groomed cruising runs along the top ridge-line provide as good beginner/progressive terrain to learn on as you’ll find anywhere, all serviced by fast bubble lifts. The lifts are well maintained and efficient, and overall mountain services are exceptional. There’s one key reason for that, the lift company and mountain facilities are owned by a local co-operative effectively, who are fully aware the guest services are critical in this industry. They are proud of their ski traditions – Nozawa is one of the areas that claims to be first in Japan for skiing, over 100 years ago – and the local grommets are hot. The ski school is excellent, and the Salomon Station hire well stocked with new gear.
Of course the increasing popularity means more competition for powder, and that things can get busy, but in early February we hardly saw a lift-line worthy of the name. There’s enough terrain that everyone gets spread out, and as they tire a host of slope side restaurants are waiting.
Serious carvers get steeper, faster action continuing down the spine lines to the bases, and for non stop trucking try the Skyline run.
For mixed ability groups, couples, or families, the layout means everyone can be high up on the mountain enjoying the best snow, views and restaurants, and still stay in touch through the day.
The total variety and quality of the skiing makes it one of the best all-round options in Japan. Here it’s all on one mountain too, though you can start at several different base areas. Day trips to Madarao and Togari are easy with the daily bus, or organise your own transport to go over to the Myoko areas.
Good as the skiing is, the real clincher to make this a must ski destination is the town, functioning for centuries as an onsen destination. There are no high rise hotels complexes, like at so many Japanese purpose built ski resorts, so you lose a bit in slope side convenience, but a real town full of Japanese funkiness is a lot more fun anyway. Foot spas, street food stalls, and thirteen free public onsens, which have been looked after by the Yu-nakama (friends of the hot spa) since the Edo era, stamp Nozawa as the real deal. The onsen here are 100% natural. Of course a lot of the hotels and ryokan have their own onsen, but the public onsen experience is not to be missed.
There are numerous restaurants, karaoke bars and izakaya pubs to be discovered strolling around the village in the evenings.
To stay you can go from simple budget pensions and apartments to the luxurious Ryokan Sakaya, which was awarded Japan’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel at the World Ski Awards.
Some lodging is effectively slope side, but it hardly matters, and it’s nice to be in town in the heart of the action – storing your gear on slope just means a bit of an uphill walk past the cemetery at the top of town before hopping on the moving walkway.
Nozawa the ticket
Getting to Nozawa: Take the new Hokuriku shinkansen to Iiyama only 25 mins bus ride from Nozawa
Resort Info www.snowlove.net/japan
to stay Nozawa offers all levels and types of accommodation from top class ryokan like award-winning Ryokan Sakaya, to western hotels, cozy family run minshuku, to modern lodges.
Nozawa Holidays own and operate four great properties in Nozawa, and act as agent for many other accommodations in the village to cater for all budgets.