It might not be 5 star, but this cute little known resort north of Nagano prefecture (80 min bullet train from Tokyo station) combines all the best that Japan has to offer for family winter fun, our hosts are keen to keep it a secret but can’t resist recommending to others.
Our group consisted of kids ranging from age 3 to pre-teens both ski & boarders, all were catered for within this extremely pretty Onsen village and up in the ‘unbelievably simple to get to’ snow park (using the short ‘free’ to use moving walkway, that even the 3 year old found a breeze – phew!)
The village, all stunning traditional wooden architecture that keeps your camera busy, has spectacular Onsen (hot bathing) choices that can make you feel like a goddess and remove any traces of muscle ache (forget massage) Choose from local or private (i.e. cleaner and without that eggy smell) Bit too hot for Sophie age 3 but Archie really got into it, don’t think he has ever been so clean, although some of the Onsen etiquette got him a bit nervous, he wasn’t so keen on displaying his bits to all so waited for a quiet moment then made a mad dash into the springs.
Onsen eggs and veggies are also available to cook in the hot springs and munch on post ski as you head back to your digs. My kids liked the ‘idea’ of this but then didn’t actually eat any of it, found debris in their ski clothes once back in HK, nice… More fun was bathing with yuzu, supposedly to ward off any colds or flu for a year… hmmm not entirely sure that had the desired effect as have been battling with a chest infection since our return… maybe was supposed to eat the hot yuzu rather than just bathing alongside it, who’s to know?
The village has many apres-ski options offering hot Sake and plenty of home-made grog made from local fruits & various insects to warm you up & keep the parents glowing. A multitude of small local family picture perfect restaurants offering many types of slurpy noodles, Okonomiyaki (pancake) Teppanyaki, Sushi, Sumo & Sukiyaki Hot Pot with melt in mouth Wagyu beef and tons tons more, all perfect for kids to dip in and out. With friends to guide us through the menu’s we certainly got to try a bit of everything Japan has to offer and it was ADDICTIVE… we heard there were good steak restaurants and an Italian in the village but who needed those when the local food was this good…
On days when we were in need of something simple and a little more Western to grab for lunch we headed to the bakery in the village or on the slopes & most days just hung out at the Western family run (ski-in/ski-out) Schneider Hotel right in the snow park. Eggs Benedict, sliders, French toast with berries, burgers and more. The hosts were brilliant let the kids play freely throughout this large hotel enjoying the table football, games, toys and oversized bean bags and generally make tons of noise whilst waiting for bits of clothing to dry by the fire.
When done with the snowman building for the day Sophie & I would head there to wait for the others to come down the mountain. What’s better than a roaring fire and a mulled wine in the Base Camp Bar. Easy peasy as all ski hire came from here and as the owners of our village house were always happy to give us the odd lift back to village if starting to get dark.
Combined with a Tokyo stay, for us in a traditional Ryokan for fun – Kamagawa– kids adored sleeping in heavenly comfortable tatami beds on floor (duvets were divine ‘no geese bottoms were spared in the making’ forget John Lewis – so much so we tried to source & take home) Right dead centre of the cultural area that is Asakusa with temples and markets galore… and some of the nicest city dwellers we have ever come across…
Japan, we hope to be with you again very soon, although maybe a little later in the season for a future ski trip…
Nozawa-Onsen Snow park – the facts:
Extending from the top to the foot of Mt. Kenashi (1,650m), Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort boasts an altitude differential of 1,085 meters and a total ski slope area of 297 hectares.
Hours: 8:30 ~ 16:30 (17:00)
Night-time: ~ 20:00 (Please check schedule in advance. Need seperate ticket for Night skiing))
36 ski slopes & courses plus the snow park
Longest ski run: 10,000m (from Mt. Kenashi summit via Yamabiko Slope – Uenotaira
Slope – Paradise Slope – Forest Course – Karasawa Slope)
Altitude differential: 1,085m (Mt. Kenashi summit: 1,650m / Karasawa Slope bottom: 565m)
Advanced terrain: 30% / Intermediate terrain: 30% / Beginner terrain: 40% / Max gradient: 39° (The Challenge Wall of 39°)
Gondola lifts (2), regular ski lifts (18), moving walkway (1)
Powder Hounds Nozawa-Onsen
Note: most instructors are Western, hailing from Canada or the States and can be organised via Schneider hotel pre arrival. No language barrier here.
Advanced skiers may prefer other resorts such as Niseko, but if its a more cultural trip for the whole family then this is the place… Onsen Snow Monkeys and a Bicester Village type luxe retail village is also available a short drive away.