The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

How Japan embarrasses other countries’ ski resorts in one picture

Posted by on Jan 29, 2018 in Japan | 0 comments

Some say it’s the powder.

Some say it’s the culture and food.

Some say it’s the ease of access when coming from down under.

But if you want to know how Japan really sticks a dagger into the side of most other countries’ ski resorts, this frame from the Nozawa Onsen ticket office sums it up.


If you don’t know your yen I am going to do some simple conversions for you.

An adult day pass in Nozawa Onsen is around $A55 a day; a child’s pass about $A25.

Then there’s single ride tickets (adult $A5) and the multi-day discounts.

It stacks up incredibly well almost anywhere in the world at half or less what you would pay in Australia and NZ and in the instance of some US resorts up to four-times less for a day ticket.

The cheap season pass model is obviously working really well for Vail Resorts but it does make life tougher for those less committed to the sport and purchasing day passes.

When I can pay $A25 for my daughter, who is not an avid skier, to ride for the day, it makes me think a whole lot less about whether we’re getting value for money.

If she wants to do four or five runs and call it a day, no problem.

That pricing extends to dining too.

A typical mid-range meal for four people in Nozawa was around $A70; including a couple of beers and soft drinks. Again, in my experience you’d be looking at close to double that elsewhere around the world.

As for the snow, we got five days of it. Light, dry powder dropping down between -5 to -14 degrees; around 1.2metres during that time.

Quite simply this was some of the best inbounds riding I have had for a decade.

Couple it with a fantastic village, bars and a myriad of onsens to choose from and you’re on a major winner.

Not that it’s all perfect.

If you’re looking for those thigh-burning intermediate cruisers of the Dolomites or many North American resorts you really won’t find too many of them.

Nozawa caters well for beginners and powder-seeking advanced riders but cuts in and out of intermediate fall line to really restrict traditional blue riding options.

The formal restrictions on much of the tree skiing (plenty of rope ducking goes on though) also cuts a chunk out of the potentially available terrain.

My other beef is the lack of ATM access for international travellers (two in a decent size village and with limited operating hours); coupled with many restaurants not taking credit cards. The fact a number of western-owned restaurants do this quite frankly sucks – they fully know the score but aren’t helpful to their main clientele.

But these are minor complaints in the scheme of things.

I first visited Nozawa Onsen in 2007 and got the sense it would be the next major Japanese resort to take off in the western market.

It has and deservedly so.

Nozawa Onsen top tips

Dining: Consider booking ahead as the better restaurants now seem to fill up fast. Try Wakagiri for a bit of everything Japanese, Tonkichi for Okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) and the Akari Swiss bakery for coffee and amazing empanadas.

Onsens: If you really can’t get your head (or anything else) around the nude thing there is a mixed outdoor onsen (Spa Arena) where swimmers are required. It’ll set you back around $A8.

Stay: We bedded down in two separate rooms at Nozawa Peaks. It’s traditional ryokan-style (updated) with shared facilities but at $1260 total for 5 nights represented great value during peak season compared to the little else that was left. Owner Kain couldn’t have been more helpful.

The Snow Gauge and family stayed and played at Nozawa Onsen at their own expense.


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