I’ve wanted to ski in Japan for a long time. Friends keep coming back raving about the powder, and I’ve been itching to hit the slopes. Now I finally have the chance, and I’m excited to go skiing in Nozawa, Japan.
Located in Nagano Prefecture near the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort lies at the base of Mt. Kenashi. My boyfriend’s Australian friends have come here for years, and we’ve finally decided to join them for 2 days of skiing.
We stay in the village, which is beautiful in its own right. The main street has shops, restaurants, and all kinds of street food wafting delicious scents into the air.
There are onsen hot spring baths galore, and temples and shrines dotted throughout the streets. The architecture is a mix of traditional and modern, but there’s a firm sense of heritage here.
Skiing in Nozawa, Japan
As for the skiing, the powder is every bit as good as I’ve heard. It flurries the day we arrive and all through the night, making great snow for our time in the resort.
The actual experience of skiing in Nozawa is a bit surreal. Everything from the gondolas and chairlifts to restaurants and signage looks the same as it does on the pistes of North America and Europe, but with a twist.
For an obvious start, the language is different (although everything is translated into English). Then there’s the politeness on the slopes. Nobody seems to be skiing too fast or getting out of control. And the English-language overhead announcements are all spoken by Australians. In fact, this place is so popular with Aussie skiers that I keep having to remind myself I’m not on Mt. Buller.
The actual slopes are fun to ski. There isn’t a lot of expert terrain, but I’m rusty and we’re skiing with our friends’ young children, so I’m happy to stick to the intermediate runs and a few semi-challenging ones.
Nozawa Fire Festival
When we’re not skiing in Nozawa, we’re enjoying the good food, hot springs, and entertainment. The highlight is the annual Nozawa Fire Festival (also called the Dosojin Fire Festival), which takes place every year on January 15th. One of the three great fire festivals in Japan, it’s held to pray for a plentiful harvest, health, and good fortune.
While that might sound tame, it’s actually an intense battle between the village’s 25 and 42-year-old men (all of whom have consumed A LOT of sake), and the rest of the men in the village (all of whom have also consumed A LOT of sake).
The 25 and 42-year-olds defend a large wooden shrine built for the occasion, while the the other men charge at them for hours, beating them and the shrine with huge bundles of burning sticks. Eventually the whole structure is burned to the ground.
We were warned that the festival was a bit violent, but we weren’t prepared for just how aggressive the assailants would be. Even I almost got whacked in the head by a man while he walked to the festival with his flaming bundle. Apart from that, it was fun to be a spectator and get a glimpse into such a traditional Japanese festival.
And that’s how I felt about the whole experience of skiing in Nozawa. It was a fun way to do something I love and experience it in a completely new way at the same time. Now that I’ve finally done it, I hope it won’t be long until I get to go again.
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