Nozawa Onsen is a premier ski resort nestled in a secluded corner of central Japan. Unlike Japan’s other well-known resorts, Nozawa Onsen retains an authentic and traditional atmosphere. It has no shinkansen (bullet train) station, it’s far from any major highways and retains a distinct culture that predates snow sports.
From cherry blossoms in spring to central Nagano’s glorious autumn colors, the valley promises a spellbinding getaway every season. For outdoorsy types, several hiking routes begin and end in Nozawa Onsen, with the village overlooking the Shin Etsu Trail: an ancient walkway known to generals, priests and merchants for centuries.
Hitting the Slopes
This isn’t to say your time sliding across snow will be any less thrilling. Accessible via a network of 18 lifts and two gondolas, Nozawa Onsen provides over fifty kilometers of trails along an impressive 1,085-meter drop. Nozawa Onsen’s trails offer something for everyone. 30% of the terrain is considered advanced, sporting moguls, tree runs, jumps, rails, boxes, as well as natural bowls, booters and halfpipes. Those seeking a little less adrenaline will find open pistes and a world-class ski school. Nozawa Onsen also caters especially well to children; it’s one of the few Japanese ski resorts offering English-language ski lessons and childcare.
Beneath the slopes, Nozawa Onsen village barely feels like a resort at all. Despite boasting a wide variety of bars, hotels and restaurants—from Michelin-starred eateries to karaoke parlors—the valley retains a centuries-old tranquility.
This tranquility is best experienced at one of Nozawa Onsen’s 13 free public onsen. These range from secluded hole-in-the-wall tubs to vast steaming basins dotted throughout the village. Nozawa Onsen’s public onsen, heated by thermal springs under the mountain, are also tattoo-friendly. Though, be sure to brush up on Japan’s onsen etiquette before jumping in.
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