We took our kids to learn to ski in Japan last year. And it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
The Godfrey family in Nozawa Onsen Japan. Picture: Alison Godfrey
We asked friends on Facebook for resort recommendations as we began to plan our trip. The top town that kept being mentioned by families was Nozawa Onsen.
This small town is only two hours from Tokyo by bullet train. It’s close to the Olympic centre of Nagano. Many companies offer bus transfers from the airport, but we opted to get there on our own. That way we got to ride the bullet train. From the airport simply catch the monorail to Tokyo Station and from there board the shinkansen to Iiyama. The shuttle bus to Nozawa will be waiting for you. And don’t worry. English signs are everywhere. You won’t get lost.
Nozawa Onsen is two hours by train from Tokyo. Picture: Google Maps
As the name suggests this is an onsen town. Hot springs are everywhere. We had a few in our hotel. One across the road and loads down the street. Hoses of warm onsen water are even used to keep the roads free from snow.
Just imagine stepping off the ski slopes, taking off your boots and plunging your aching feet into a warm bath. That is Nozawa Onsen. Once you have experienced it, you will want to come back again and again and again.
A warm footbath after a full day of skiing? Yes please. Picture: Alison Godfrey
We stayed at Ryokan Jon Nobi. It’s a weird name, but a great place to stay.
This is a traditional Japanese Inn. When the children ran into the room they both looked around and said: “Where’s the beds?”
Futons are set up on the tatami mat floor every night. During the day they are stowed away and the room contains a table and chairs.
Ryokan Jon Nobi in Nozawa Onsen. Picture: Alison Godfrey
To get to the slopes in Nozawa Onsen guests take the U-road – a moving undercover walkway. It’s a novelty the kids will love and a life-saver at the end of the day when your legs are tired.
I booked ski lessons for myself and the children. I had decided it was time to change from snowboarding to skiing. When there’s a few of you – it’s cheaper to book private lessons. And that’s great because it means you get personal tuition and a great mountain guide.
Our teacher Chloe was brilliant with the kids. Our first morning began on the magic carpet, learning to snow plough (pizza) and to do “french fries”. After lunch we took off up the gondola. Chloe showed us how to cruise a ski slope finding little kicker jumps behind trees. With her expert guidance the kids felt brave and capable.
With Chloe holding onto my daughter’s poles we managed to take on the rollers in our first day.
The rollers and jumps at Nozawa Onsen are brilliant fun. Rollers are small rollercoasters-like up and downs in the snow. The kids loved trying to jump at the top of them. We had to do them every day. Even though this ski resort is huge.
Nozawa Onsen’s awesome jumps – are you brave enough? Picture: Alison Godfrey
One of the best things about learning to ski with the kids is that it pushes you to be more courageous. When my son decided he was going to take on a large jump – someone had to go with him. So I did. When the snow is powdery and soft – it’s much easier to push to the next level without fear. Not only did I do this jump above with him, but his sister, aged 5 also took it on.
Nozawa Onsen has a huge range of terrain. During the week it can feel like you have this resort all to yourself. It can get crowded on the weekend. But our big tip is to take those days to explore some of the furthest terrain. Most Japanese weekend skiiers tend to stick close to the main runs.
Nozawa Onsen Japan. Picture: Alison Godfrey
Apart from the rollers, our kids favourite run was Paradise then down the Valley trail. It is possible to go up the top of the mountain in Nozawa Onsen and spend the entire morning cruising back down. That’s how much terrain this place has.
Paradise offers a wide open run with plenty of hidden kicker jumps. While the Forest Trail offers the chance to do rainbows up the edges of the track and take on tight turns.
The end of Paradise in Nozawa Onsen. Picture: Alison Godfrey
The food options in Nozawa are great. We love Japanese food so we tended to go for sushi, noodles and anything local. For a quick snack, try the steamed dumplings sold at Haus St Anton. They are delicious. For kids who aren’t adventurous eaters you can find pizza and pasta and western food.
Nozawa Onsen also has great food on the mountain. So you can stay up there all day. On Paradise close to the Uenotaira chairlift you will find gourmet options. For a quick coffee before you hit the slopes – go to Haus St Anton. The kids loved the free drink refils at Haus St Anton. I loved the hot hearty soups.
Japanese snowmen at Nozawa Onsen. Picture: Alison Godfrey
Japan has plenty of cheap ski deals available, including ones to Nozawa Onsen. It’s also possible to fly to Japan on Jetstar. So skiing Japan can work out to be cheaper than Australia or NZ.
After a week of skiing you could also combine the snow holiday with a trip to Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka (hello Harry Potter Wizarding World!). All of these famous Japanese towns are possible to reach on the bullet train system.
Make sure you buy a Japan Rail pass before you go if you plan to travel anywhere other than the snow. It will save you hundreds of dollars.