Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort
Located around 50km to the north-east of Nagano City, Nozawa Onsen is one of the most popular resorts in Central Japan. Boasting a long history as a hot spring town and place of healing, the heavy snow of winter led to the introduction of skiing in Nozawa in the 1950s, since which time it has steadily increased its reputation as one of Nagano’s best resorts stemming from its blend of traditional charm and great powder.
Nozawa offers skiers and snowboarders around 300 hectares of terrain accessible via 36 trails and courses. By Japanese standards this makes Nozawa Onsen a medium-sized resort which is easy to move around given a good setup of gondolas and lifts. Ideally-suited to snowboaders who love its powder and youthful atmosphere, Nozawa continues to grow in popularity year-on-year.
The appeal of the resort stems as much from what is available off the slopes as the action on the mountain, with the lively village offering a good range of accommodation, restaurants and bars. Several free public ‘onsens’ (natural hot springs) in the village add to its appeal, while events including the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin (Fire Festival) held each January draw big crowds.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s on offer:
NOZAWA ONSEN SNOW RESORT: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Nozawa is a medium-sized resort with a lively village. Its compact size and great variation of courses make is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Particularly well-suited to snowboarders given its compact nature, Nozawa retains a youthful and lively atmosphere both on the mountain and at night in the village, which is well-serviced by a range of restaurants, bars, and accommodation.
Operating Dates & Times
Dependent on snow conditions, areas of the resort typically open from late-November and remain in operation until early-May. The full resort should be open from the second half of December until the end of March or into April. Lifts operate from 08:00 to 16:30 or 17:00. Night-skiing is available from 17:00 to 20:00 every Saturday from the second half of December until the end of March.
The resort has 36 courses serviced by 2 gondolas and 19 lifts, offering around 300 hectares of terrain. Courses breakdown as: beginner 40% / intermediate 30% / advanced 30%. Situated between 565 to 1650 metres, Nozawa offers an impressive 1085 of vertical however the lower altitude at the bottom can make the snow a bit sketchy. Nevertheless, the resort is usually blessed with outstanding powder in the upper areas and when everything is open, Nozawa lays claim to Nagano’s longest course at an impressive 10km!
Nozawa can be accessed through three base areas – Karasawa, Nagasaka and Higake. Approaching the resort from Nagano/Iiyama Station, you will first pass Karasawa from where you can access the ski runs however there is no gondola in the area and for most visitors, it will be most convenient to do so via Nagasaka or Higake. Nagasaka is the most central area – located at the top of the village – while Higake is located on the western-side of the village. Both areas have gondolas – including the new Nagasaka Gondola set to open for winter 2020/21 – ascending to the upper areas of the resort. Riding the Nagasaka gondola takes you the Uenotaira ski area, from where you hit-up the Uenotaira Park or descend into the popular (and often crowded) Paradise course before splitting into multiple trails that drop down into Higake including the long but often crowded and flat Rinkan forest trail. This is a good option for beginners however for intermediate and advanced skiers/boarders, when you get off the gondola we recommend heading-up again to the Yamabiko ski area where you’ll find great powder, and from where you can hit the Skyline Course back down to the Nagasaka or Karasawa base areas. Another option from the upper station of the Nagasaka Gondola, is to head along the Bunabauyashi and Yunomine trails. Often overlooked, these areas are usually empty and can have great powder.
Tickets & Passes
Lifts generally operate from 08:30 to 16:30 or 17:00 with night-skiing is available every Saturday from 17:00 to 20:00 from the second half of December until the end of March. A day-pass costs: adults (15+) JPY5200 / children (under 15) JPY2900 / seniors (60+) JPY4200. A range of other ticket options are also available including 4-hour passes (valid for 4-hours of use from entering the first gate) at a cost of: adults JPY4400 / children JPY2500 / seniors JPY3500. A night-skiing ticket costs: adults JPY1900 / children JPY1050. Night-skiing is not covered by the day-pass, requiring visitors to buy a separate ticket.
Rental & Ski School
There is no shortage of rental options in Nozawa with some guesthouses also providing in-house services. The quality of gear can vary greatly so if that is important to you, shop around to make sure you get what you’re after. Rental is available in the Nagasaka Gondola base station with English-speaking staff on-hand to assist, otherwise you’ll find other outlets immediately outside the building and spread through the village. Nozawa Ski School typically provides both group and private ski and snowboard lessons however, due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will only be offering private lessons for winter 2020/21. Prices vary depending on the what is required and the length of the lesson. Contact the school for details.
While the powder, trees and vertical on offer at Nozawa Onsen are an enticing prospect, backcountry is strictly prohibited. This can be frustrating but the rules are in place for the safety of visitors and are enforced. Should you be seen heading into unauthorised areas and are caught, expect to have your lift-pass taken from you. Backcountry guides are available in Nozawa so should you be set on heading off-piste, stay safe and take advantage of that service.
Kids & Families
Nozawa offers a good range of facilities for children starting with the ‘Kids Park’ located at the base of the Hikage ski area. Families and children can enjoy a range of snow activities such as sleds and tubes or ride the ‘magic carpet’ free of charge between the hours of 09:00 to 16:00. To make it easy to reach the park from the main area of the village, a free ‘Naski-go’ sleigh – carriage pulled by a snowmobile – operates to and from the park and the Nagasaka Gondola. Inside the Hikage Information Centre building, ‘Yumin’ day-care is available for children aged 1 to 6, and costs JPY2500 for a half-day or JPY4000 for the full-day. The ‘Nasuki Room’ is located on the second-floor of the same building, providing a rest and play area of children and families between 09:00 and 16:00.
Accommodation & Village Info
Nozawa Onsen village offers a wide-range of accommodation options including large hotels, traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouses), private accommodation and budget/basic ski lodges. As one of Nagano’s most popular resorts, accommodation is likely to be fully-booked on weekends and holidays so make sure to plan ahead or aim for weekdays, when the resort should be notably less crowded. As the name suggests, Nozawa is a traditional hot spring town and to this today, multiple public onsen are spread through the town for the free use of visitors and residents. When using the facilities please be sure to follow the usual etiquette and be mindful that many residents use the facilities on a daily basis. Many guesthouses have their own hot springs with a couple of paid facilities also available – a great way to unwind after a long day on the mountain. After dark, Nozawa has a lively scene with lots of restaurants and bars to choose from. The popularity of the resort for international visitors has grown massively in recent years, with plenty of restaurants and bars catering to Western tastes. Continue this trend to continue with more and more establishments in the village being bought for renewal. This has positives and negatives as Nozawa tries to cling onto its traditional character and appeal to locals. It’s a tricky balancing act…
For listings, see our ‘Nozawa Onsen Area’ hotel page.
Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri (Fire Festival)
On January 15th each year, Nozawa hosts one of Japan’s most famous fire festivals – the Nozawa Onsen Dosojin. Officially taking place over three days, the festival reaches its climax on the night of 15th, when a large wooden shrine is simultaneously attacked and defended by men of the village. The festival draws large crowds who come to revel in the raucous display which ends with the shrine being set alight – a striking event in the deep cold and snow. Should you wish to stay in Nozawa around the 15th, make sure to book well in advance as accommodation will be fully occupied many months before the festival. Alternatively, for guests staying in Hakuba or Nagano City, our 1-Day Nozawa Fire Festival & Snow Monkeys Tour combines the festival with a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park and early-dinner – a great way to enjoy one of Japan’s most famous winter festivals.
Please note – due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the festival and tour will not take place in January 2021. We hope both will be available again in January 2022.
GETTING TO & AROUND NOZAWA IN WINTER
Our ‘How to Get to Nozawa Onsen – Nagano Ski Resorts Info’ page provides information on how to reach Nozawa from locations including Nagano Station, Tokyo and the airports. For many if not most visitors, using the Hokuriku Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Iiyama Station – via Nagano – will be a convenient option.
Located around 20 to 25-minutes from the resort, Iiyama Station (top image) is easy to reach from Tokyo and the airports. Once at Iiyama, the Nozawa Onsen Liner bus runs directly from the station to the resort with multiple services each day in winter. Arriving in the main village, the bus will drop you at the Nozawa Onsen Chuo Bus Terminal from where it’s an easy walk to most accommodation in the central area. Nozawa is a self-contained village and resort with almost all areas of interest accessible on-foot.
Visitors wanting to combine their visit to Nozawa with some of Nagano’s other fantastic resorts including Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort – or the multiple ski fields of Hakuba Valley, might want to consider arranging private transport to and from their accommodation.
Based in Nagano, we can provide both private charters and tours including pickup and drop-off at any accommodation in Nozawa Onsen and/or any regional destination.
Our vehicles and drivers are fully certified, with the capacity to arrange transport for individual and couples, families and friends, and large tour groups including multiple vehicles and transport of ski and snowboard gear. Operating all year round we are ready to help you plan and package you trip, so you can time and money and focus on the fun stuff – see below for details!
PACKAGE & SAVE: BOOK YOUR NEXT TRIP TO NOZAWA ONSEN
Locally-based and operating all year round, Snow Monkey Resorts is Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the region’s many ski resorts.
As a registered travel agent participating in the national ‘Go To Travel’ campaign, we can package your next trip to Nozawa Onsen or any other ski resort in Nagano including transport, accommodation and more!
For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.
Vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Nozawa Onsen this winter? Feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!