Want a great day on the slopes at a traditional Japanese ski village? Visit Japan’s Nozawan Onsen Ski Resort with nearby 5,413-foot Mount Kenashi.
The area is one of the country’s best and most expansive winter sport destinations, and it’s known for an abundance of powder snow all season long. Skiers and boarders can often enjoy their sports here well into the month of May.
At Nozawan, there are two gondola lifts, 18 chair lifts and a moving walkway to whisk you to your chosen run. Boarders flock to the Challenge Wall to perfect their tricks at a 39-degree grade, and skiers looking for a long glide can go all the way to the top of Mount Kenashi and fly down 1,085 meters of altitude differential top to bottom.
After a cold day on the slopes, head down the cobblestone lanes to one of 13 community bathhouses – called soto-yu. Owned collectively by the villagers these thermal spring pools have no entrance fee. Each soto-yu has separate areas for men and women, a nod to modesty since traditional bathhouse rules require soaking au naturel.
Bathhouse rules also require stripping down and scrubbing clean before entering the pool, so you’ll have to check your inhibitions at the door.
After you soak, drop into a local pub like Libushi, where the amber and other local pours are on tap, brewed onsite using spring water. Try a Nozawana-zuke, a low salt pickle made from locally grown turnip leaves. It’s a surprisingly satisfying and tasty snack paired with a beer or ale.
Traditional ryokan (Japanese inns) blend local elements like tatami-matted rooms with modern western amenities like wifi and western bathroom fixtures. The family-run Kiriya Ryokan has both Japanese and Japanese/Western rooms and is located close to the covered moving walkway that links the village to the ski resort.
The Kiriya Ryokan offers 15 guestrooms featuring refrigerators, flat-screen televisions, laptop compatible safes, and coffee/tea makers. The location is ideal, just minutes from skiing, the Japan Ski Museum, and cultural destinations including Kemmei-ji Temple.
When to go:
A great time to visit is for the annual Dosojin Fire Festival on January 15. It’s an experience you’ll brag about for years: a sake and flame-fueled battle that pits local men ages 25 and 42 against the remaining village males.
The yakudoshi build a wooden tower which the 42 year olds climb, the 25 year olds defend, and other torch-bearing villagers eventually burn down. Awesome! It’s an epic battle, but relax…there have never been any casualties.
Photo credit: Facebook/Nozawaonsen Snow Resort