Tag Archives: snow

Nozawa Onsen: from the inside looking out

Every year hordes of people write to us asking for insights or an ‘insiders’ guide to the Japanese resorts of Hokkaido and Honshu. While we’ve visited our fair share of the Japanese resorts, our time in these beautiful places is often too short. So although we’ve had a taste of what these resorts have to offer, nothing makes up for the experience of ‘living’ in the resort. ‘Seasonaires’, or those lucky enough to have lived in a resort know the lay of the land better than anyone; and are thus far more qualified than we are to write about them.

This year we were fortunate to meet Alex Parsons, professional snowboard instructor and blogger at “Big World, Little Cat“, who has spent several seasons living and working in Japan. Alex agreed to write this sweet little review of one of Japan’s most popular resorts: the quaint but awesome Nozawa Onsen.

We’ll leave it to Alex to explain the rest. Thanks Alex!

Alex in her natural habitat

Review by Alex

As a snowboard instructor who has explored over a dozen ski resorts, I’m frequently asked, “What’s your favourite resort?” And every time my answer is the same: “Nozawa Onsen”.

Nozawa Onsen has the perfect mix of Japan’s famous powder snow, tree riding, a big enough village that has a traditional Japanese feel, and of course those free onsen. I love Nozawa so much that I once lived there for 9 months and was lucky to see it in autumn, winter and spring. This helped me to see how Nozawa is a living, breathing village that is run by Japanese farmers and local business people, instead of feeling like another slice of bogan pie in Japan.

With all that said, here’s a review of all things Nozawa Onsen:

The culture on offer at Nozawa is second-to-none
Its called Nozawa ‘Onsen’ for a reason!

The mountain

Nozawa has a family-friendly mix of terrain with about 40% beginner, 30% intermediate and 30% advanced runs. Nozawa is well known for tree skiing at the top of the mountain in the Yamabiko area, which is surprisingly allowed by ski patrol. It receives plenty of dry powder at a height of 1,650m and has natural half pipes, jumps and tree jibs.

Nozawa is lesser known for its excellent sidecountry and backcountry, which is plentiful and best explored with a guide. Unlike a lot of Japanese resorts, Nozawa also has a decent park with boxes, the occasional rail, beginner and intermediate jumps and a small pipe. There are some nice long runs like Skyline, and awesome vertical of 1,085m but riding from top to bottom will always mean running into a cat track or flat green run somewhere.

For a more detailed article on Nozawa’s terrain for families, intermediates, advanced riders, powder hounds and park rats, check out this article on my blog.

Snow

Nozawa frequently gets over 10 metres of snow a season. The mountain gets storms full of precipitation from the Sea of Japan and you can sometimes wake up to the village covered in a metre of snow overnight. Being on the mainland of Japan, Honshu, means that the powder isn’t quite as dry as the Hokkaido resorts but on the plus side, you don’t need to endure the bitter cold to get into the white room.

Note that like many Japanese resorts, there are no snow making facilities at Nozawa. The snow at the bottom of the resort can be patchy in early and late season so January and February are your best bets for reliable snowfall. The top Yamabiko area is the best place for fresh tracks between the trees, while the lower slopes can get slushy at the end of the day. There is also night skiing on the lower slopes.

Food and drink

Nozawa has a fantastic mix of Japanese restaurants owned by long-time locals and varied western food run by Australians and international couples that have taken up residence in the town. My favourite Japanese spots are Wakagiri for unfaltering good food, Wanryu for classic ramen, and Biliken for their great range and the fact that you get to hang out with the owner’s cats.

When it comes to western food Genki Burger is an absolute must for burgers after riding, Junto’s Mexican is for delicious burritos and margaritas, and Gochisou is best for your pizza fix. When you need a good espresso coffee, you’ll need to head to Tanuki, Craft Room, Winterland or Mt Dock. If you’re after a comprehensive list of Nozawa’s breakfast options, check out this article I did for Nozawa Holidays.

Apres

Nozawa has plenty of good bars, both Japanese and western, and it’s often fun to wander around the town and see what you can find. Beer lovers will appreciate the craft beer at Winterland and Craft Room. Stay bar is an absolute classic and where all the seasonal staff hang out. Neo Bar is a super cool place to chill out with old school snowboarding paraphernalia, and Heaven is a solid choice run by a long-time local. If you’re looking for something very Japanese and off the beaten track (that may or may not involve karaoke) see if you can find my old workplace Minato bar.

Accommodation

Nozawa is blessed with no high rise buildings or chain hotels. It’s all family-owned ryokans, Japanese hotels and the odd self-contained apartment. Nozawa Holidays owns a number of properties and is one of the easiest choices because of the English-speaking staff and wide range of options, especially if you’re after self-contained rooms. If you’d like the traditional Japanese experience then Matsuya Lodge is well priced, while Kawaichiya is mid-range and Sakaya is luxury.

Highlights

Traditional village: A large part of the reason that Nozawa is so popular is because it maintains a traditional Japanese village feel. There are still plenty of local-run businesses, traditional architecture and hidden temples and shrines dotted around the village. Going for a stroll through the winding, ramshackle streets of Nozawa is a true joy.

Free onsen: Nothing beats a hot spring bath (onsen) after a big day of riding. Most accommodations have their own onsens but it’s well worth having a go at one of the 13 free onsens around town to really immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Yes, you need to be naked and bring your own towel and soap, but it is an experience you’ll never forget.

Fire festival: The Dosojin Matsuri, Nozawa’s fire festival, has been drawing massive crowds for years. It’s held on January 15 annually and is an important festival for the villagers as the 42 and 25 year old men battle it out to help ensure health and good fortune. It also happens to involve a lot of sake, people getting hit by burning torches, and a massive wooden tower that is set on fire and burned to the ground. It simply must be seen to be believed.

Japanese onsens are a pure delight and a cultural must do

Lift ticket prices

For such a popular resort, Nozawa’s lift tickets have remained reasonable.You can get an adult day pass for 4,800 yen, while kids under 15 are just 2,200 yen and seniors over 60 are 3,700 yen. You can see more options for lift tickets here.

Getting there

Thanks to the beloved Shinkansen (bullet train), getting to Nozawa is relatively easy. From the airport, take a bus or train to Tokyo, then the Shinkansen to Iiyama and the Nozawa Onsen Liner bus up to Nozawa. The whole process should take less than 4 hours.

If you’re not a fan of dragging your luggage around public transport then opt for one of the shuttle bus services. Chuo Taxi and Nozawa Holidays both offer good shuttle services that you can read about here.

I am actually in Nozawa Onsen now, as I finish up writing this article. I’m sitting on my futon in my tatami mat room and it’s snowing outside. I’ve only got a few days left in this beautiful town but I know I will be back. No matter where I go in the world, I think Nozawa Onsen will always be my favourite resort.

The famous Shinkansen

Fancy a trip to Japan?

Snowriders Australia is this year (January 2019) running a group trip to the Island of Honshu, taking in resorts of Madarao, Nozawa and others in the Nagano Prefecture. Special discounts, free lessons and a free inter-resort shuttle bus are just some of the inclusions in our great package deal. Send us a message if interested. You will not be disappointed in Japan, it really is next level for snow, culture and value for money.

Tokyo Disney: a must visit as part of your Japanese snow holiday

For avid skiers and snowboarders, a trip to Tokyo is often nothing more than a convenient, yet interesting stop-over point while en-route to the Japanese snow fields. 

But for the young at heart, a visit to Tokyo presents a great opportunity to visit many of its other attractions, including the most famous theme park of all, DISNEYLAND.  At just over 10 hours from Sydney and 15 hours from Perth, Tokyo Disneyland is a lot closer than its sister resort in Anaheim California (the birthplace of Disneyland). 

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The architecture and attention to detail was amazing

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At 51 hectares and with 43 attractions, Disneyland Tokyo is enormous. Don’t try and do it in anything less than a day, as you’ll just leave disappointed.  For me, the most striking feature (and therefore my strongest memory) was the attention to detail.  Everything is immaculate – from the gardens, to the paint on the walls, to the architecture (wow, the architecture just amazing).  On top of all that, the rides, parades, the attractions and the sheer fun of it all were just a bonus. 

In the centre of the park stands a statue of Disney’s creator, Walt Disney. In the words of Walt, Disneyland is a ‘happy place – a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure and feel better because of it’. While staring at his statue, I couldn’t help but think he’d be enormously proud of his creation, which is now lovingly maintained by his disciplined (and very well trained) staff. 

If you’re thinking of taking your family to Tokyo Disney this year, either prior to or on the back of your ski trip, do it – you won’t be disappointed.  Below is a review compiled by my better half, Rachael, who as a second time visitor (first time Anaheim) and mother, can offer a unique perspective.

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The kids looovved the spinning cups

When I was a child I was fortunate enough to visit the birthplace of Disneyland, in Anaheim California.  I’d always dreamt of taking my children, aged 6 and 8 to Disneyland, but at 20 hours from Perth a trip to California seemed…well, seemed a ‘long way’.  So, imagine my joy when I found out we were going to Tokyo and realised it presented an opportunity to visit  Disneyland. 

Before visiting Tokyo’s version, I was a little concerned it might be an inferior, or a ‘B’ grade cousin to its counterpart in California.  However, upon visiting I discovered that nothing could be further from the truth.  Tokyo Disneyland is a near duplicate of Anaheim: the rides are the same, the parades are the same, the buildings are the same, as is nearly everything else. It is, however, just that little bit ‘quirkier’ given it is staffed by Japanese, whom bring a friendly, colourful and excitable personality to the attractions (check out this video for instance!).

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Tokyo Disney consists of two resorts, Disneyland and DisneySea.  You really need two days to explore them both and because we only had a day before we flew out, we chose to visit Disneyland, the original of the franchise.   Tokyo Disneyland is just a short 25-30 minute train ride from Tokyo station to Maihama, an area just to the west of Tokyo on the shores of Tokyo bay.

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Tokyo Disneyland is just 25 min by train from the Tokyo station

We set out early in the morning from our hotel in Shinagawa and caught a connecting train to Tokyo central.  Tokyo station is enormous. We actually underestimated our total travel time because we didn’t take into account the 20 minute walk across Tokyo train station to the platform for the connecting train to Tokyo Disneyland. Otherwise the journey from Tokyo to Maihama is literally 25min from platform to platform.  Navigating the stations was straightforward as the signs have English translations (a big bonus).

Exiting the Maihama Station at Tokyo Disneyland there was a huge sign that showed us that DisneySea was to the left and Disneyland  to the right. Crossing the walk bridge we could see the official Disney themed hotels, the Disneyland Bus (with Mickey Mouse windows) and the Disneyland Monorail (which takes guests from the hotels to the parks).

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The Disney monorail
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The Disney bus

On entering Disneyland I was delighted to see all the familiar Disney icons – characters, architecture, rides, gift-shops and landscaping. A Disney theme park is really an enormous stage where a “show” is presented everyday in each of the themed lands. Because of this, the staff are called ‘cast members’ Cast members are incredibly well trained and disciplined, right down to the way they wave at guests (fingers apart, just like Mickey – only with five fingers per hand), the way they wear their hair, and even to the length of their finger nails.

I found myself marveling at the design of Cinderella’s castle with multiple turrets and the lopsided engineering of the buildings in ‘Toontown’. Disney has gone to a huge amount of trouble (and no doubt expense) to create a proper fantasy world.  The rail is also impressive, and the fact they have gone for real steam trains (when they could have used electric) is further proof of their commitment to the dream.

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Toontown

A visit to Disneyland of course is not complete without  visit to the iconic rides, from Space Mountain (of the 70’s), to the spinning cups, to the roller coasters.  The rides are very popular and even with the fast pass (see below), the queues are long and upon first glance can be daunting.  However, one thing Disney does really well is queue management.  The lines move fast…really fast.  From a shuffle to (I swear) a brisk walk.  Be warned, though, once you enter the queue there is also no easy way out, so if like us you’ve got kids in tow, and especially if they just finished a large lemonade, make sure you take them to the toilet before entering the queue. We found out the hard way what happens when you don’t 🙂

Some of the rides are more appropriate for kids than others. While both children loved Big Thunder Mountain, the Inspector Gadget Go-Coaster, the Spinning Cups and the Jungle Cruise, our 6 year old found Space Mountain a bit scary. We particularly loved Big Thunder Mountain and it was such a pleasure whooping and laughing with along with the kids as we bolted around the tracks, ducking and weaving as we entered caves and flew over bumps and rollers.

As a family we agreed that our favourite rides were the Western River Railway; Jungle Cruise; Big Thunder Mountain; Space Mountain (a high-speed rollercoaster in the dark); Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse; Chip and Dales Treehouse; Inspector Gadgets Go Coaster; Alice’s Tea Party (Spinning Teacups) and Cinderella’s castle (the attention to detail in the castle is amazing).

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The Western River Railway with real steam trains
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The Jungle Cruise
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Big Thunder Mountain
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The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House
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The Go-Coaster

A great tip for avoiding the queues is to grab yourself a “Fast Pass”. The pass gets you access to the express line of the more popular rides.  But you can only access one quick pass at a time.  Printed on the quick pass is the time you are eligible to book the next quick pass.  This obviously helps with crowd flow, and in my experience is something Disney does very well.

We ate lunch and dinner at two of the large themed eateries, where the kids and dad indulged in the American hotdog plate and later than night, Space Port Pizza.  I found the food was quite processed at most of the eating places but of course the kids loved it. This was a bit of a theme across the resort actually: heavily processed American inspired foods, hotdogs, fries, pizzas, popcorn.  I understand its all part of the experience, but if you are not into that kind of stuff, then I suggest you take something relatively healthy along with you. Also take plenty of water as the size of the park means lots of walking and thirsty children.

One of the eating highlights was the popcorn.  Each of the different ‘lands’ across the Park had a different popcorn cart. Each cart had a different theme and the most unusual one (that was baffling for me to get my head around) was curry flavour. Hard to imagine it as enjoyable. My favourite was the caramel popcorn found in  “Toontown”

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Popcorn flavours

By the time we walked out of the Park at the end of the day we were all very tired and it was getting cold so we decided to catch a taxi back to hotel instead of the train. Considering our overtired kids, this was a great decision.  In all, we had a great time. And as a once in a lifetime experience, the entry price (Y7,400 per adult, Y6,400 for children 12-17 and Y4,800 for children 4-11) was truly worth it. I know the kids had a great time as did my husband, even when he had to carry the children the last kilometer to the taxi after they were too exhausted to walk. 

One other tip is take lots of warm clothing.  If like us you visited toward the end of winter, the weather during the day was nice (maybe +15 degrees), but when the sun went down it became very cold, very quickly. 

If you have any comments of questions please feel free to post below.

Facebook, why do you hate us so much?

We’ve had it up to our eyeballs! Why? Well, as you might be aware, social media juggernaut, Facebook, recently changed the way it decides whether a post SHOULD or SHOULD NOT appear in your news feed. Yep, they decide, not you.

We just can’t keep up. First Facebook decided it liked photos, then it changed it’s mind and gave preferences to videos until that went out of style. Then it got all excited about live posts until that too became passé. Finally, they’ve decided anything is OK, but if you want to reach your followers you’d better be prepared to pay.

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*Scream!* We’ve had enough!

It is all part of Facebook’s new social responsibility thingy, or if we were more cynical, their efforts to restore some modicum of credibility after stealing your data for years before (most likely) selling it to the Russians. Only kidding Mark Z! Honest!

Facebook has gone all warm and fuzzy as it tries to restore the love between friends, lovers, family and neighbours. What that means for YOU is your news feed will now be filled with posts from friends and family (which is cool), and advertising (not cool) from companies that can afford to pay.  So, prepare to be inundated with posts from your Aunt Berril and the likes of Coca Cola and Pepsi.

While the latter is what’s really getting our goat (we like Aunt Berril, really!), we also reckon plenty of you would still (albeit occasionally) like to hear from us, a poor volunteer organisation, just trying to bring you the latest snow industry news, and the occasional rad video clip of skiiers and snowboarders hucking cliffs and riding neck deep powder.

Are we right?

If so, there’s something you can do. Simply go to our Facebook page, click on ‘follow’, then change the ‘default’ setting to the ‘see first’ setting. Ignore what it’d says. You wont see evening we publish at the top of your news feed. No – Facebook would never allow that.

What it does mean though is that our post will now have a snowflakes chance in hell (pun intended) of appearing somewhere on your page, from time to time. And we reckon that’s OK.

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At SRA our team of volunteers work hard to bring you this stuff. We don’t get paid, so it would be great if you could at least see the results of our efforts, from time to time, or even at all.

Wayne-o the Snowboarding Bogan

Wayno lies on a single futon on the third story of his staff accommodation block. Wearing nothing more than a stained pair of bonds and a three day growth, he stirs, lets out an audible fart, and rolls over.

Wayne – or Wayno – as he’s know to his mates, is an Australia Day bogan, a not so elusive creature, but one which peaks one day a year.

With a dry mouth, a bourbon aftertaste and half a mongrel, he opens one eye. He makes a dry smacking noise with his mouth, and reaches for his iphone.

Then it dawns on him. A smirk appears on his mouth. It’s Australia day, the one day a year when red blooded Australians, brimming with nationalistic pride, get to celebrate their white, middle classed ‘Aussieness’.

He emerges. Squinting, he surveys his surroundings. It’s cold. Snowing. The air ordinarily crisp and clean, is broken only by the acrid stench of his morning cigarette. Dressed in best koala onsie, he trudges to the bus stop.

The bus is full. Not deterred, he climbs on but only to be met with jeers from other Aussies, all dressed in onesies too. There’s a giraffe, a giant banana and strangely, several other koalas, one holding a inflatable doll, mouth gaping, draped in red lipstick

There are no seats. Perched on an arm rest, he reaches for his hip flask. “Hair of the dog”, he announces loudly, as he chugs it back. The giraffe, the banana and the numerous koalas cheer in chorus.

15 minutes later the crowd emerge at the top of the ski run. Some sober but most still too pissed to legally drive, they set of. It’s a Cannonball run. First to the bottom wins. Winner is first to the bottom and first to scull a pint of VB. Wayno is in his element. Yep. It’s Australia day in the mountains…If you’re not Australian “you’d better run, you’d better take cover”. Stay safe out there folks, and if you’re an Australian in the mountains, have fun and try not to piss too many people off 🙂

Blocking high pressure systems prevail

With a monster high pressure system hovering over the mainland, unfortunately there isn’t much chance of natural snow in the forecast this week 😦 High pressure systems block snow bearing cold fronts and push them south-east into the Tasman Sea, where they typically continue on their journey before crashing into New Zealand (great for our Kiwi friends, but not us).

The good news is high pressure systems typically bring sunny days and crisp, cold nights.  If it’s cold enough (and it should be), rest assured the snow guns WILL be cracking.

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Monday’s chart showing that big ar*e high over the mainland

 

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Wednesday’s chart with the high moving slowly east

Analysis of the BOM and Weatherzone charts tonight (10 June) shows the continued dominance of the high pressure system at least until Wednesday, after which the charts get a bit weird.  Some of the charts show the presence of an east coast low (ECL), moving from north to south down the east Australian seaboard – and it’s packing a lot of moisture, and not the frozen kind either 😦  Hopefully the models sort themselves out by the end of the week, and that ECL buggers off into the Tasman Sea.

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Friday’s weird chart showing the ECL on the eastern seaboard

Let’s pray to Ullr those pesky high pressure systems start to weaken soon 😦

 

Kid’s n’ snow gear: why you don’t need to take out a 2nd mortgage

By Clare Shiell

“We love dressing our kids in expensive gear only for them to grow out of it after one season!” – said NO ONE EVER!!!

Kids take a lot of effort – I never had grey hairs before I had kids, just saying – and the snow requires a lot of gear, and when it comes to gear, working out what’s essential and what’s not can be tricky.  As the Snowriders Australia – Victoria President, I clearly love skiing, and fortunately for me, my two kids love it too.  They also have champagne taste… but I’m a renowned bargain hunter and in my many years of planning and taking ski trips, I’ve got the kids outfitting down to a fine art. Continue reading Kid’s n’ snow gear: why you don’t need to take out a 2nd mortgage

Aussie alpine Frog on the brink of extinction

The corroboree frog

With contrasting black and yellow markings, the corroboree frog is an obvious and striking example of the beauty of Australian nature.  What isn’t obvious is that it shares with skiiers and boarders an unusual geographic overlap: we are both at home in the Australian alpine environment.  Because these frogs lie dormant beneath the winter snow and ice, there’s every chance you’ve been within meters of these iconic and beautiful animals, without even knowing it.   Continue reading Aussie alpine Frog on the brink of extinction

Jon Hutchins, Hotham CEO: on the challenges of operating a ski resort in the 21st Century

Hotham Alpine Resort, nestled in the Victorian highlands, is clearly an Australian favourite. Boosting average annual snow falls of 3 m, and some of the most challenging and picturesque terrain on offer anywhere, Hotham is an iconic destination for skiiers and boarders alike.

In this article, the latest in our 15 minute series, we caught up with Hotham CEO, Jon Hutchins, to get the low down on what’s happening at the resort, the challenges it faces, and most importantly, whether he and his staff are allowed to ski/board on powder days…..  Continue reading Jon Hutchins, Hotham CEO: on the challenges of operating a ski resort in the 21st Century

So you like yoga, but HAVE you tried Snowga!

Trackers Mountain Lodge, in the heart of Falls Creek Alpine Village, is building a reputation for its Yoga Retreats in the picture-postcard alpine resort’s snow season.

To enhance its standing amongst yoga enthusiasts the owner (an enthusiastic yogi follower) has pulled off quite a coup! Byron Bay-based Tara (pronounced ‘Terra’) Fitzgibbon, who has embraced all things yoga for over 18 years, is coming south to host the second September Snoga Retreat at Trackers Mountain Lodge.

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Image: meet Tara

Tara will incorporate Yin Yoga into her repertoire at the quintessential ski lodge when she hosts a five-day Snoga Retreat between 11-16 September. With over 18 years experience, Tara’s yoga classes and Yoga Nidra meditations are deeply restorative and nourishing for the soul.

Yin Snoga Retreat $1195 per person twin share including: Lodge-style accommodation, Daily Morning and evening Yin Yoga Sessions, Breakfasts, Dinners and daily afternoon teas, all day tea and coffee, Welcome and departure functions, Cross-country ski adventure, High country picnic, Laughs, lightness and joy.

Enquiries to info@trackers.com.au  Lodge Manager Brian 035758 3346 or Janette 0400 77 00 34

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