Nozawa Ski Resort Terrain

Nozawa Ski Resort Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

  • Vertical (m)
    565 – 1,650 (1,085)
  • Average Snow Fall
    10  metres
  • Lifts (19)
    2 gondolas
    6 quads
  • Ski Hours
    8:30am - 4:00pm
    Late Nov- early May
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 36
    Longest run – 10 km
    Beginner - 30%
    Intermediate - 30%
    Advanced - 40%

Nozawa Ski Resort Terrain

The Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort sits below the tree line, with a range of courses for all ability levels, although the Nozawa Onsen skiing is best suited to beginners and advanced riders. The Nozawa ski resort used to prohibit snowboarders in the 1990s but it’s shaken its old school approach somewhat, and opened the ski area up to both skiers and snowboarders.

One of the strong points of Nozawa Onsen is the magnitude of the ski area. At approximately 300 hectares and 50km of courses, the Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan. Of course, relative to many ski resorts in North America and Europe, it is small.

By Japanese standards the vertical descent of 1,085 metres is impressive, although whilst the Nozawa Onsen skiing has a few reasonably long runs, there aren’t consistent fall line top to bottom runs because the vertical is chopped up into sections. It’s somewhat time consuming to get between various parts of the Nozawa ski resort. Advanced skiers may find the green Uenotaira run an annoyingly long link between the top of the mountain and the challenging runs below, whilst loops to do any of the short black runs off the Skyline ridge or sidecountry runs take a very long time.

Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort is a very good destination for powder hounds. The snowfall is plentiful, you can go off-piste without losing your lift ticket, and there are good backcountry options. Nozawa Onsen isn’t usually crowded, yet it certainly isn’t a hidden gem anymore. Freshies get chopped up quickly in the self-responsibility areas at the top of the mountain, whilst there are still plenty of fresh tracks to be found elsewhere, especially for experts with route finding nous.


Nozawa Ski Resort is one of very few ski resorts in Japan that has undertaken a lift upgrade in recent years (although they’ve got a long way to go to be on par with world class ski resorts). The Nagasaka Gondola was replaced and re-aligned, and opened for the 2021/22 season. The mid station was removed (which is a bummer for powder chasers) but now the gondola only takes 9 minutes from the base to Yamabiko station, rather than the tedious 20 minutes.

The Hikage Gondola is still an antique version of a gondora (the Japanese pronunciation of gondola!), a bubble type gondola that is egg shaped where you face out instead of in. At least it has retro-fitted racks for fat skis and snowboards.

The number of operational lifts is shrinking and the 2022/23 season saw the closure of the Shinyu pair lift, which was critical for slope access for hotels in the west part of the village. The Karasawa lift also didn’t operate, which impeded access for a few south village accommodations. It’s not clear if this was a temporary closure due to staffing issues, or a more long lasting issue. Of the 16 lifts at Nozawa, there are 2 gondolas, 6 quad lifts (including a couple of hooded fast quad chairs which are a welcome retreat during stormy weather), 2 triples and 6 double chairs. Some of the double and triple chairs are so sluggish that you may repeatedly ask “are we there yet?”. (NB Nozawa claims they have 17 lifts because it counts Yu Road, the access travellator as a lift.)

During absolute peak times, long lift queues can develop at the two gondolas, and the two quad chairs at the top can also be problematic.

Lift Tickets

The Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort lift ticket prices are standard for Japan ie inexpensive. Lift ticket configurations include single ride, half day (morning or afternoon), 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, or night skiing passes. Child tickets are under 15 years of age, whilst pre-school children are free.

Nozawa Snow Conditions

Nozawa Onsen gets lots of snow and like the other ski resorts near Nagano, the powder has moderate moisture content. It’s not Hokkaido light dry powder but it’s not the thick sludge that you commonly find in New Zealand, South America or California.

The top of the Nozawa ski resort has the lowest elevation of the main Nagano ski resorts (e.g. the top of Shiga Kogen is 655 metres higher), and considering the significant vertical of 1,085 metres, it’s not surprising that the quality of the snow can sometimes be a little second rate at the base. It’s a shame that some of the best expert terrain can be found from mid-mountain down.

The Nozawa Ski Resort has the snow advantage of aspect, with many slopes facing north to northwest, whilst only some runs face west. The top Yamabiko slopes have a great aspect as does the Uenotaira slope, which allows these runs to often stay open until Golden Week in early May (gondola download required).

Nozawa Onsen Skiing for the Beginner

Nozawa Onsen is really well set up for beginners, with large areas at all three of the main bases. Karasawa is a nice wide area and is typically pretty quiet because there aren’t many accommodations nearby (pending lift operation). The Nagasaka area is fine for beginners, whilst the Hikage is well set up and is the hub for many ski lessons. The only downsides of Hikage may be a throng of people and some really flat spots at the base which require poling, skating or walking.

Beginners can go up to the upper parts of the mountain on the Nagasaka Gondola and download at the end of the day. The 2km long Uenotaira run is really wide and perfect for learning. Beginners with plenty of stamina can tackle the Rinkan course, a 5km long tree lined run that snakes its way down the mountain.

Nozawa Skiing for Intermediates

Despite 30 percent of the trails being rated as intermediate (orange), Nozawa Onsen isn’t fantastic for intermediates. The best spot for intermediates is at the top of the mountain in the Yamabiko area where there are a few trails, the only problem being that the majority of skiers and snowboarders are also intermediates, so these few runs can be very overly popular.

Challenge is one good course that loops nicely off the Challenge chair or Hikage gondola. Confident intermediates can hit the long Sky Line trail, but snow quality may not be great and the run requires 3 lifts to get back up to the top to do laps. Otherwise, any orange trails are just very short and require a commute along beginners’ runs.

Terrain Park & Pipe

Whilst Nozawa Onsen has produced some ski racing Olympians, it’s unlikely to be the training ground for freestyling champions. The Nozawa ski resort only has a small terrain park with an assortment of a few little kickers, boxes and rails, and Uenotaira has a half pipe that’s sometimes formed.

Advanced Skiing Nozawa

Nozawa Ski Resort has plenty of great on-piste advanced terrain, some of which is delightfully steep. It’s probably amongst the steepest piste terrain in Japan. The runs are commonly covered in bumps, but after a big dump some of the black runs are epic. Schneider is a common favourite. It’s reasonably mellow with a maximum of 32 degrees, and the steeper Utopia will have you in utopia especially if it’s got freshies. The Challenge run has a maximum gradient of 39 degrees, but it’s rather popular and gets chopped up pretty quickly. Other classic steep black runs are Kurokura mid resort and Grandprix off the ridge, which border on being double black runs depending on conditions.

Of course, the real joy for advanced riders can be found in the off-piste areas, particularly if moguls make your knees creak.

Nozawa Onsen Off Piste Skiing

Off-piste skiing is only permitted in the self-responsibility zone serviced by the two upper lifts. The terrain is reasonably mellow and not heavily treed and is ideal for advanced riders. This also means that it’s incredibly popular and it gets tracked out quickly.

Elsewhere off-piste riding (ie inside the resort area) is officially off-limits but is not heavily policed. The tree skiing is absolutely brilliant and some areas are vast. One of the disadvantages of the new Nagasaka Gondola is that some of the great terrain is now on show for punters to salivate over, but be warned. This is terrain only for expert riders with the ability to negotiate tight steep trees, good route finding skills and avy expertise. The snow conditions can be variable considering the low elevation, so fresh is best.

Nozawa Sidecountry and Backcountry

Heading out in the sidecountry (ie outside the resort boundaries) via the two backcountry gates is allowed. As with all ski resorts in Japan, if you go out of bounds you do so at your own risk and are responsible for the costs associated with any backcountry search and rescue. There is no avalanche control so only go into the backcountry areas with a transponder, shovel and probe, and the know-how associated with safely navigating the backcountry. Ideally you should submit a mountaineering card.

The sidecountry to skiers’ right starts with some mellow lines, whilst the sidecountry to skiers’ left is impressive with some steep lines (including rock features and mini spines in parts) that pop back into the resort (eventually!). Considering the presence of cliffs in this area and the significant avalanche risk at times (the massive avalanche fence near the bottom of the drainage gives a hint about the extent of the problem), it’s worthwhile getting a guide.

Nozawa Onsen Snow Season

The Nozawa ski season typically runs from late November to early May. See the Nozawa Onsen ski season page for more information.