Photo: Monkey chills in a hot spring at Nozowa Onsen - Sam Pullos
Nozowa Onsen is one of the most well-known resorts in the Nagano region of Japan. Nozowa is a popular place to work in Japan due to the relatively large terrain area, the large number of foreign tourists who visit each season and, of course, onsen (hot springs) culture, allowing seasonal workers to relax in the steamy water after a hard day riding or working.
Nozowa Onsen is located on the South Island of Tokyo, five hours south of Tokyo.
There are three main ways to make the transfer between Tokyo and Nozowa.
The first and most convenient way is by private transfer. With three or more people, this may also be the more economical option (transfers cost between $200 - $300, and provide door to airport service).
This option avoids lugging ski bags through multiple stations, missing connections, or spending a train journey on your feet in the aisle. The second (and quickest) option is to take a bullet train on the ‘JR Line’ from Tokyo Station to Nagano.
The ‘Shinkansen’ (bullet trains) cost around 8,000 yen ($80), depart fairly regularly, and the journey takes just over an hour. Once at Nagano, you will have to switch to a local bus line (whose office is just across the road outside the train station). These buses depart every 30 minutes, but the service stops at around 6:30pm.
Photo: A street winds its way through Nozowa Onsen - Sam Pullos
If you miss the bus service, you have the option of taking another local train from Nagano to Togarinozawaonsen Station, and then another local bus (ask the helpful staff at Nagano Station about this option).
The third (and cheapest) option is to take the ‘Highway Bus’ from Shinjuku Station to Nagano. The bus station is across the road from the main train station, off the main road next to the electronics district (you will have to ask around a bit!) The bus costs around 3 000 yen (or $30) and takes 5 hours (with epic seats and regular stops at bizarre food stations in the middle of nowhere).
From Nagano, you have the same option of either a local bus (ask at the tourist center directly where the bus will drop you), or if you miss the last service, a local train + bus (ask at the Nagano Station). IXSM Travel is a great (English speaking and operated) tour service that organise transfers.
Working at Nozowa Onsen is as much about enjoying the traditional village as it is about the skiing or snowboarding. The beautiful town has great Japanese architecture, a relaxing vibe and a deep cultural history. Most of all, you will get right into the onsen culture that exists at Nozowa. Onsens are natural hot-springs which the locals have used for centuries to warm up and relax.
The prices in town and for lift tickets at Nozowa are lower than at other popular destinations in Japan (Niseko, Hakuba), and free ski tours of the mountain are available at the Nagasaka Gondola.
Lift tickets are available for around 4,800 Yen (roughly 48 dollars) per day, although your season pass will likely be included in your employee package.
Madarao is another resort that is relatively close and worth a day-trip during the season.
Legend has it that the onsens in Nozowa date back to 8th Century. 30 natural springs service 13 public baths, which are maintained by the community. The heated water also runs down between the roads to melt the snow on the pathways. Onsen is an incredible way to finish a day of riding powder and a uniquely Japanese experience. Some of your fondest memories working at Nozowa will include onsen.
Make sure you read up about onsen culture before you visit the locations – otherwise locals will call you out on everything you’ve done wrong!
Photo: A monkey in an onsen - Sam Pullos
Nozowa is one of the larger Nagano resorts, with around 300 hectares of total skiable terrain and a large vertical drop of 1,085 metres.
The resort is best suited to beginner riders and experts with less in the way of intermediate terrain. The entire resort is below the tree-line with wide runs cutting through the trees.
Nozowa is great ski resort for beginners. Both sides of the resort have low gradient, long ski runs with quick lifts. Incremental progression can be made using both sides of the resort, which will mix up the skiing experience.
Nozowa is primarily a ski resort for experts and beginners so there is less in the way of intermediate cruisers. Nevertheless, up the top of the mountain around the ‘Yamabiko’ area you will find long, sloping runs with moderate gradient.
Nozowa has fantastic terrain for stylistic skiing and boarding. Avalanche walls, jumping courses, ungroomed black runs and racing runs are all available.
Nozowa is a great location for first time powder skiers. The well-groomed and moderately steep ski runs have long powder tracks down each side, and bowls underneath the ski chair are easily accessible from the ski runs (especially around Yamabiko.
For more experienced powder skiers, Nozowa is nirvana, however the Ski Patrol have recently made a conscious effort to crack down on powder skiing (following deaths in the area).
Inside the resort boundary, there is a fantastic bowl accessible from a few different faces with a cat track that leads back to the Nagasaka Gondola.
Outside the resort boundary, there is a north facing powder run that is accessible through hiking (it can be viewed from the left hand side of the ‘Skyline’ run).
However, if you decide to ski against the regulations at Nozowa Onsen (as with anywhere) you should carry the appropriate avalanche gear. Due to gradient, heavier snow and mixed weather patterns, Nozowa Onsen and surrounding areas are prone to avalanches. The ski resort does not post regular avalanche updates, nor does it open ‘gates’, so the unregulated nature of off-piste skiing makes self-responsibility even more important.
Photo: Wooden hut - Sam Pullos
Nozowa receives an impressive 10 metres of snow each year. On the other hand, the snow at resorts on Honshu is not as light and fluffy as the snow on Hokkaido (although it is still pretty amazing by world standards).
Nozowa is close enough to Tokyo for a weekend trip for the city folks, so don’t be surprised to see a 300m long run for the Gondola on Saturday (after having the resort to yourself all week!) This line will usually peter out by around Midday.
The main ways to find a job at Nozowa are with a tour company, with a local business at the resort or through a working holiday/internship company. There are quite a few English-speaking tourists at Nozowa so there are consequently quite a few jobs available for foreigners. Mountain operations jobs such as lift ops and groomers will generally go to locals.
Companies that operate package holidays tourists in Nozowa will have jobs available for seasonal workers. These companies include:
The Schneider Hotel and Hotel Yamaki both look for English-speaking employees each season.
The town retains a traditional charm as there aren’t ritzy hotels. However, there also aren't any places to rent! Your employer will almost certainly provide staff accommodation and you should question whether you want to work with a company that doesn't offer accommodation as this will surely mean living in (and paying for) a hotel room throughout the season.
Nozowa is a famous onsen destination as much as it is ski location. As such, the nightlife consists mainly of an ‘aprés ski’ onsen, small bite to eat and a drink with dinner. There are two or three bars, but the village is predominately a location for early rising and serious skiing.
Photo: Smells of Japanese food waft through the store front - Sam Pullos
Nozowa has a selection of exceptionally modern demo ski shops, right next to the Nagasaka gondola. Prices are quite reasonable, and demo powder skis are provided with the ski guide service (in the same building). These are good to test if you are looking to get a new pair of skis or a new board. Gear is generally very cheap in Japan, especially if you buy in the major cities before arriving.
Food wise – try the steamed buns from St Antons Cafe for breakfast. They are damn delicious.