Having worked for four winter seasons in Austria as a ski teacher I usually associate wintersports with screaming kids, crowded slopes, bad apres-ski music, schnitzels & gluhwein. Not to mention the very grumpy piste patrol threatening to take away your lift pass when you once again ignore the verboten signs in search for perfect powder.
Arriving in Nozawa Onsen on Monday the 31th of January I found almost empty slopes, free hot onsen (Japanese baths) to soak in after a long day of boarding, sushi & sake and so much fresh powder that there is no need to go in the areas that are closed off. Oh, did I mention the ever so friendly and polite lift people? This seriously couldn't be any more different from boarding in Europe!
The charming village itself is also a plus. True, it lacks any form of traditional apres-ski-bar but I can only say I'd happy not to hear Anton aus Tirol played too loud whilst getting my toes stepped on by some skibootwearing drunken idiot. In Nozawa Onsen apres-ski means soaking your poor muscles in one of the 13 onsens in the village. Nice, but these spas come with a manual (leave your bathing suit at home) and are hot as hell (no worries; you'll get used to that and the almost boiling water will make you forget all about your muscle ache).
On our holiday we stayed in Resort Inn Toemu and found this a real gem. Spacious tatami-style rooms, nice breakfast and incredibly friendly staff, I would really recommend this place. They can also prepare dinner for you but the village itself has several good restaurants with Hamacho Sushi being the best of all. (Once you've eaten there you'll keep coming back every night, definitely when you order the nigiri sushi and the tuna sashimi).
With a lift pass that sets you back 4600 yen (about 42 euros) a day for 22 lifts and 54 kms of piste Nozawa Onsen is in European terms a quite expensive and small resort. If you're into off piste it's worth it though. When you have fresh snow one lift can keep you happy for hours as you'll find new tracks through the powder every time you board back down. And what kind of powder! It's dry, fluffy and leaves sprays higher than your head when you ride it.
Some of the steepest runs have not been prepared by the piste bashers and are ideal to ride after a fresh dump. One downside of this: if it hasn't snowed for a few days all this terrain turns in to horrible, knee battering moguls.... And then 54 km of prepared piste, most of that being fairly beginner level (blue runs, be prepared to walk sometimes to get to the lifts) is not that much for the experienced boarder. All you can do is wait for new snow while your knees take a serious pounding on the moguls and all thats left of the delicious powder gets completely trashed in front of your eyes.
I've been warned that things get really crowded on a weekend here and therefore only stuck around till Friday. I think it's because of that and of the ever changing amount of new snow that this place gets very different reviews on this site.
If you're in the neighbourhood, it's a weekday and it has just snowed, make sure to check out this resort for some of the best off piste you'll ever find! If it's a weekend and there haven't been any freshies for the last few days though you'e better of checking out the snow monkeys in Jigokudani first or do a short trip to Tokyo whilst you wait for a weekday and some new snow to come - after all, the average snowfall a year here is over 14 metres. Enjoy.
From 31 January, 2011 To 04 February, 2011
Snow condition on visit:
Amazing first day, got worse after that
Things I liked:
When there's fresh deep snow, it's heaven on earth! Charming village.
Things I didn't like:
Brilliant off piste turns into moguls after a lack of fresh snow