My family holiday to Nozawa Onsen & Hakuba
“It’s too good not to!” we all said when Qantas released a cracking sale to Japan in May last year.
The following feedback is from Sasha Emmery (Product Manager - World Snowfaris) who travelled with her family and friends.
In Feb/Mar 2015 we skied/snowboarded in Hokkaido, and in Feb/Mar 2016 we chose Nozawa Onsen & Hakuba. The bluebird days and lack of crowds makes it all worthwhile taking our kids out of school in the middle of 1st Term. So off we flew on the QF direct flights from Brisbane to Narita/Tokyo.
1 Week - Traditional Japanese Village, Nozawa Onsen
After a hair-raising transfer through the night in rain & snow… we arrived at Nozawa Onsen. Our driver managed to get the minivan wedged down a tiny lane and had to back out inch by inch with a drop off into freezing waters gushing past on one side, and cars banked up in the snow on the other. He finally found our accommodation and we exchanged a relieved thank you and goodbye. He was surely shaken. I felt like giving him a big hug but we just bowed to each other over and over…
We stayed in a 3 Bedroom Apartment with friends at Nozawa Central. The kids loved having the huge loft to themselves (to play and sleep) because us “rather tall parents” could not stand up easily in this space and we loved having the open plan living/dining room as our own adult space. The advantage to having an apartment was the room to relax and cook for ourselves, but as it turned out, the Japanese restaurants both on the ski slopes and in Nozawa village, were so good and inexpensive that we only cooked breakfasts and the occasional dinner.
The kids loved skiing the Paradise run right to the front door of Buna and the other on-slope restaurants where they devoured steaming bowls of ramen or soba noodles or pork katsu curry don. It was great to see them eating so well, a pleasant change from the not so healthy meal options in most Western ski resorts. I could travel over and over to Japan just for the food alone :) ...and the craft beer at the Craft Room Bar next to the Nagasaka Gondola was a top Apres Ski option too. For snack time you can't go past the apple cinnamon steam buns for sale in the main street of Nozawa… perfect to warm tummies on the walk back home.
But yes, we did come to SKI & SNOWBOARD! After an unseasonally warm start to the week we got lucky with several fresh snowfalls during our stay, including a few 20cm+ dumps. Plenty of fresh powder was found within the trees; over the back on the Skyline run ;and in the unrestricted areas up on the top at Mt Kenashi.
The bonus of Nozawa Central Apartments is its central location in the village and the use of their Ski Locker just down from the Nagasaka Gondola (so we could walk home without lugging our ski gear). There is also a new public onsen across the road, SPArena, which incorporates indoor/outdoor onsens. The big difference between SPArena and the other 13 Onsens in Nozawa is that you can wear your swimmers and onsen with men/women/children together. There is one onsen as large as a swimming pool, with not only stunning views, but a section where the water is not so hot (as most onsens) so the kids could handle the temperature.
Overall, Nozawa Onsen is a very compact, traditional Japanese village which offers not only fabulous skiing/snowboarding terrain but a rich cultural experience not found in the larger westernised resorts. Don’t forget to take time out off the slopes to visit Ogama Cooking Onsen, a very mystical part of the village surrounded by steam... I won’t spoil it by explaining in detail.
Enroute from Nozawa Onsen to Hakuba we stopped to visit the Snow Monkeys (Japanese Macaque) in Jigokudani Forest Park. You can also do this as an afternoon tour from Nozawa.
1 Week - Hakuba (Goryu, Hakuba 47, Happo One, Sanosaka)
For our Hakuba accommodation we chose Bears Den Mountain Lodge. Partly because I am a sucker for a bit of luxury every now and again, but mostly because it’s located in the small village of Goryu just outside the main tourist area of Hakuba. Our host, Lesley is an Aussie girl from Perth and she and her staff ensured our stay was seamless. From helping my 75yr old dad with his washing, to transferring us to our ski field of choice each morning and arranging special catering, no request was too much trouble. We stayed with guests on their 8th visit to Bears Den so this speaks volumes for the level of service and enjoyment.
Our 7yr old reckoned, "the best thing about Bears Den is you can ski through the trees all the way back to the front door (the lodge is 300m from Hakuba 47 Ski Resort), take off your gear and jump in the hot tub with a snowy view of the forest”. Not a bad way to skip school for a fortnight!
If I was asked to choose between Nozawa Onsen and Hakuba I couldn’t. Nozawa offers a richer cultural element, yet Hakuba offers far greater ski terrain. With 1 week in each you can barely scratch the surface of what these areas have to offer. We have no choice but to return :)