Even though international word is out on how great the skiing is at NOZAWA ONSEN (野沢温泉), this village of four thousand people, nestled at the base of Kenashi-yama (1650m), 50km northeast of Nagano, maintains a traditional atmosphere. Dotted along the narrow, twisting streets, you’ll find thirteen free bathhouses, all lovingly tended by the locals. Most impressive is Ōyu bathhouse, housed in a temple-like wooden building in the centre of the village; each side has two pools, one of which is so hot that it’s almost impossible to get into.
Nozawa claims to be the birthplace of Japanese skiing since it was here, in 1930, that Hannes Schneider – an Austrian who popularized the two-pole technique – gave skiing demonstrations to an awestruck audience. One of the resort’s most difficult runs is named after Schneider, and photos of the man in action, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, can be seen in the Japan Museum of Skiing (daily except Tues 9am–4pm; ¥300), housed in a white, church-like building at the bottom of the Hikage slope.
The ski resort (wwww.nozawaski.com; open late Nov to early May) is family friendly, has lots of English signs and varied terrain that will put all levels through their paces. Time your visit to coincide with the spectacular Dōso-jin fire festival, held every January 15.