Early in January, we decided to go on a 3 day snowboarding break to the accessible-from-Tokyo resort of Nozawa Onsen in Nagano. Just a 15 minute bus ride from Shinkansen station Iiyama, we were there in what felt like no time and checked into Lodge Matsuya.
Immediately striking were the huge snow drifts and incredible volume of snowfall the area was experiencing – good news for those of us wanting to board. We wandered around the historic onsen town and dropped in for some tapas and wine just in time for happy hour at the classy and newly opened Australian run Ivy Tapas Wine and Cheese Bar.
The next day we started by having a refresher snowboarding lesson on the beginner slopes with Nozawa Holidays. It was only a few hundred metres to get to the lifts from the centre of this bustling town and definitely one of the most convenient resorts we have stayed in. We stopped for lunch at the busy Vietnamese restaurant Wabi Sabi Kitchen and then spent the afternoon honing our skills on the slopes.
Over the next two days we explored new slopes by taking the magnificent gondola up the mountain. This was worth the lift price in itself as the views over the Nagano mountains were stunning. We spent the bulk of our time going down the Yamabiko slopes, which offered wide open pistes with fantastic powder snow, perfect for snowboarders.
Overall we thought Nozawa Onsen was a perfect resort for a short break without car. The ski resort and wide selection of excellent quality restaurants and craft beer bars were all within a few minutes walk of each other. Particular highlights were the following 3 venues: Gochisou Pizza Bar for incredible ramen pizza, Pig & Barrel for excellent local craft beer and Wabi Sabi Kitchen for quick and excellent breakfast.
There are also a wide array of free public onsens in Nozawa Onsen that offer a truly authentic Japanese experience. The locals traditionally use these public baths instead of home facilities after a day’s work and this can be equally refreshing soak after a day’s skiing or snowboarding. One thing we did find is that the water was extremely hot though, in fact too hot for some. Don’t expect soap, towels or a lot of space to get changed – they seem to be a bit on the rough and ready side. Should this not meet your standards, there are one or two (equally busy) paid onsens where you can enjoy a little more comfort though.
We stayed in Nozawa Onsen Wednesday – Saturday and enjoyed two excellent days of snowboarding on Thursday and Friday with shortish lift queues and space on the piste, however, this is a very popular resort for obvious reasons and Saturday was a different story. We were quite glad to escape the crowds later that day. I would also be nervous about finding a seat on the shuttle bus to Iiyama station in an ordinary, non-Covid, year and finding myself at the back of a long queue. But, if you are lucky enough to find a couple of days mid-week and are coming from the Tokyo area, this is a top choice for a winter snow break.
Have you been to Nozawa Onsen? What is your favourite snow resort in Japan?
Interested in winter holidays and snowsports in Japan? Then these blog articles might be of interest to you –