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PLANETSKI HEADS SOUTH ON OUR JOURNEY IN JAPAN - James Cove, Nozawa Onsen, Japan
Tuesday October 1, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

We're having an autumn look at the mountains in Japan. First Hokkaido & now it's time for the Japanese Alps on the main island.


 

 

 


Nozawa Onsen is like no other ski resort I have ever been to.

That includes summer & winter.

And I've been fortunate enough to have visited resorts in Europe, North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Approaching the ski village the locals are in fields harvesting their rice in the traditional way.

The way it has been done for centuries.

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And more paddy fields line the approach to the village with the mountains and ski runs in the distance.

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No matter the snow has not yet fallen.

This is October and I'm just here to take a look around with a view to coming back in the winter months.

There are more than a dozen ski areas in this valley alone and I'm simply having a little recce to pick the right ones for a winter return visit.

I've already spent a week or so in the north island of Hokkaido - hiking in the mountains and checking out a few of the ski areas.

On the edge of the village of Nozawa Onsen it was refreshing to see ski jumps - always a sign of alpine traditions and skiing history in my book.

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Nozawa Onsen literally means ‘Nozawa Natural Hot Springs' and it's easy to see why.

The villagers are cooking vegetables in the natural hot springs as I arrive.

The way it has been done for centuries.

Why use energy boiling hot water when it simply bubbles up from the ground?

The water here in the Ogama hot spring in the village is 90 degrees.

It is known as the 'Kitchen of Nozawa Onsen'.

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I don't speak Japanese but I predict that, along with the cooking, the ladies are gossiping and passing on village news.

The way it has been done for centuries.
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One of the villagers offered me some food as they saw me taking an interest in their traditions.

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I have no idea what vegetable it was but it was utterly delicious.

Cooked to perfection in the mineral-rich boiling water.

The way it has been done for centuries.

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But I'm kind of here to find out about the skiing.

It has been taking place for more than a century.

The ski resort began in 1911 - the first ski resort in Japan.

I had a meeting with the President of the resort, Mikio Katagiri, and we sipped green tea and talked skiing.

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The village is steeped in tradition, but the ski resort has its eyes very firmly on the future.

The area has big plans and first up is a £2.5 million development with state-of-the-art lift and information centre.

It opens in 2020/21.

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The resort has a total area of 785 hectares, with 297 hectares of groomed runs.

The longest run is 10km and the resort has a height of 1,650m with the base at 565m.

That's a healthy 1,085m of vertical descent.

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"People come here for the powder snow - like many resorts here in Japan the snow is light dry and superb to ski in," said Mikio Katagiri.

"But why is it so good?" I enquired. "We are on the same latitude as Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa."

"The cold weather blows in from Siberia and the Arctic, it picks up moisture over the Sea of Japan and then hits the mountains here in the Nagano prefecture and, hey presto, - perfect powder!"

Nozawa Onsen is 30km from the coast and ideally positioned for the powder dumps.

And with that Mikio and I headed up the mountain to take a look at the terrain.

At the base of the resort was a vegetable patch - I was assured many would soon be in the hot waters of Ogama and then the stomachs of the villagers.

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The UK ski company Inghams is offering Nozawa Onsen in its brochure for next winter - more of that in the link below as we wrote about it on PlanetSKI over the summer, plus there's more information at the end of this article.

And so to have a look at the slopes.

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But what is that white construction down at the resort base?

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It's a plastic ski slope.

With some race training going on.

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The locals made me more than welcome as they explained how they can ski here in Nozawa Onsen pretty much year round.

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And a short walk away another surprise lay in wait - the largest ski museum in the world.

What I didn't realise was that I had arrived in the birthplace of skiing in Japan.

It's very first ski area.

And it was introduced by an Austrian, Lieutenant Commander Theodor Edler von Lerch in 1911.

He was on an exchange officer programme with the Japnese Army and saw soldiers marching through snow.

He advised them to put skis on to move through the snow like some did in his native Austria and gave them lessons on how to do it.

Soon it became a popular pastime with others with Nozawa Onsen at its cente.

Skiing in Japan was born.

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And it turns out Mikio Katagiri has loaned the museum a pair of his own skis.

His treasured race skis - 210cm in lenth.

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Why?

He is a modest man and had not mentioned his pedigree.

But I pressed him.

He is perhaps the best ski racer Japan has ever produced.

He competed at the 1976 Innsbruck and 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

It also turns out he lived in Austria as a youth while he was training and his ski resort of Nozawa Onsen is twinned with St Anton in the Tirol in Austria.

He returns often and we soon realised we had many mutual friends in the resort, as St Anton is also one of my favourites.

It is, as they say, a very small world.

Here on PlanetSKI we will shortly be posting a special feature on the museum and have already mentioned some of it in this month's Skiing Secrets on October 1st.

It is an absolue treasure.

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And what is there to do for après ski in Nozawa Onsen?

You could do worse than just wander round town.

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And nose about the temples and shrines.

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But what Nozawa Onsen is famous for, apart from its skiing, is in the name.

Onsens.

There are 30 different hot springs in the village - 13 are public ones.

The first one was built for a visiting samurai warlord in the middle ages.

The village itself was founded in 724AD by a Buddhist monk, who discovered the hot springs flowing under the ground.

Archaeologists have found pottery and evidence of dwellings going back 3,000 years.

The O-yu onsen is regarded as a symbol of the village.

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Here is the Kawahara-yu onsen.


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The Japanese tradition is to be naked in them, but the mixed-sex public ones require a swimming costume.

And if one is trudging round taking a look at the onsens then I can recommend this one too.


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And the one I chose was back in my hotel.


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And in this part of the world it is not just humans that like the hot springs.

So do the snow monkeys.

They come down in the winter to warm up in the hot springs.

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They are a 40-minute drive from Nozawa Onsen and I'm off to see them later in the week, along with some other local ski hills.

Madarao has some of the best tree skiing in Japan and Nyuoo some of the best views from the top of its cable car at 1,770m.

And after my Onsen in the Oozawa Grand Hotel it was time for dinner - Japanese style.

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FACT BOX:

Inghams offers a five-night trip to Tokyo and Nozawa Onsen from £1,952 per person based on two sharing.

Price includes return flights (direct from London Heathrow), coach transfers, accommodation with ensuite facilities (including the Nozawa Grand Hotel), four breakfasts and a three-day lift pass.

The package is valid for travel departing on 29th February 2020.

To book, visit this section of the Ingham's web site.

Nozawa Onsen started life as a hot spring village for resting travellers: the first onsen (traditional Japanese bath house) was constructed in the 16th century.

Today, the onsens are still managed by the local people and are a perfect remedy to aching muscles after hitting the slopes all day.

There is varied terrain, long runs and a great section of tree-lined off-piste skiing, plus the area has a reputation for the heaviest snowfall in the Nagano district.

Accommodation in these resorts range from more Western in style to traditional Japanese-style hotels with communal onsens, offering a choice for all who seek convenience, comfort and an authentic, cultural stay.

The Hakuba Valley, which spans across 10 diverse ski areas, is all included in one lift pass (which is included in the price of the holiday).

Inghams guests will be able to stay in the main resort of Happo-One, with easy bus links accessing the other resorts.

Put on the map after the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the Japanese Alps provide abundant snow and pristine powder conditions for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities to enjoy, making them the envy of their European skier counterparts.

Inghams in Japan:

This vibrant country offers plenty to discover beyond the ski runs too, and Inghams guests can also lose themselves in the bright lights of Tokyo or the tranquillity of the temples in Kyoto since Inghams ski holidays to Japan also encompass an immersive city break.

Combinations and durations are flexible, with the option to ski in either one of Inghams' resorts and add on Kyoto, which was the Imperial Capital of Japan for over a thousand years.

All trips start with at least one night in Tokyo.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

 


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