Nozawa Onsen is renowned for both high snowfall and a fairytale traditional village, the kind of place with cobblestoned lantern-lit streets and where opportunities to buy vintage kimonos and eat locally harvested wild vegetables still exist. On the mountain, snow quality is superb and the layout of runs excellent, done in such a way that it suits skiers and snowboarders equally. As expected from the name, the destination founded back in the 8th century is famous for onsen, with over a dozen free public hot spring baths.
With pretty decorative shops and ryokan inns flanking narrow streets, Nozawa Onsen is one of the best Japanese ski towns to experience culture and history (skiing started here in 1912), festivals, and events. Among the best-known of these is Dosojin Fire Festival held annually on January 15. This amazing spectacle is one of Japan’s premier fire festivals, which are held to bring a plentiful harvest, health, and good fortune for the year to come. Witnessing and participating in Nozawa’s fire festival is a bucket list experience for many. Locals chant and sing atop a wooden shrine and then in the main event of the festival, a ferocious battle is re-enacted, waves of villagers ‘attacking’ with burning torches.
The ski town is just busy enough, with a full-time population of about 5000. A quirky fact is that the village is located at the foot of the 5413 feet (1650 m) Kenashi-yama which literally means Mt No-hair.