Skiing and snowboarding in Nagano
| Nagano Prefecture
Nagano Prefecture is the heart of mountainous central Honshu and home to the spectacular Northern Japan Alps. Nagano Prefecture has some world-class winter sports resorts within its boundaries, a number of which were used for the main events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Ski-jo can be found throughout most areas of the prefecture. The main regions are Hakuba and Otari, Shiga Kogen and the Nozawa Onsen area – all of which hosted Olympic events.
Hakuba is arguably the most popular winter sports region on Honshu and has a collection of resorts and a truly spectacular mountainous scenery backdrop. There are a number of ski & snowboard resorts lined up along a 30-kilometer stretch of mountains through the villages of Hakuba and Otari in this north western region of Nagano Prefecture.
The resorts in adjacent Otari village – Tsugaike Kogen, Hakuba Norikura Onsen and Hakuba Cortina - are often included by many when they think of ‘Hakuba’. Two of them even use the word Hakuba in their names! These resorts often are on the receiving end of more snow than their neighbours in Hakuba.
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of foreign people visiting the Hakuba area - in many ways similar to the pattern previously observed in Niseko. It’s not uncommon to hear English and other languages spoken around Hakuba these days, and this is sure to continue to increase.
Shiga Kogen is a giant of the Japanese resort areas and is actually one of the largest interconnected ski resort areas in the world. Shiga Kogen is actually made up of a number of individual resorts that are interlinked and you'll need at least a few days to slide down every course. Some of the larger areas and well-known areas are Ichinose Family, Yakebitaiyama, Terakoya, to name a few. The Okushiga Kogen, Kumanoyu and parts of Yokoteyama areas of Shiga Kogen remain skiers-only. All of the Shiga Kogen resorts can be found listed here.
Shiga Kogen often doesn’t enjoy the same huge volume of snow that other nearby areas do, but with consistently cold temperatures the snow quality usually remains excellent. It’s also the area closest to the ‘Snow Monkeys’ at Jigokudani. Many people visiting Shiga Kogen take half a day out to go say hello to the famously chilled-out monkeys who enjoy completely ignoring their many admirers.
To read more about the Snow Monkeys please read this Feature on SnowJapan.
Nearby Nozawa Onsen is the place to go if you want the feel of an old-time Japanese village, while experiencing one of the best single ski & snowboard resorts in Japan. This compact little village also offers a great selection of onsen hot springs that should definitely be experienced. Nozawa Onsen has somehow retained a friendly atmosphere that many visitors really enjoy. If you are wondering why one of the runs is called the Schneider slope, it is in honor of the Austrian ski pioneer, Hannes Schneider, who came to Japan 80 years ago. Nozawa calls itself ‘the birthplace of Japanese skiing’, and the Schneider course ends up at the door of the Japan Ski Museum where you can learn about the rich alpine history in the area. The museum is worth a visit. The Dosojin Fire Festival, held on the 15th January ever year, is also a highlight of the season at Nozawa Onsen.
Nozawa Onsen is also another of the resorts that has been rapidly gaining in popularity with visitors from overseas.
Other popular regions of Nagano include Sugadaira Kogen just to the south of Nagano City and connecting Madarao Kogen and Tangram Ski Circus resorts which are to the north of Nagano and also very easy to get to from the Myoko region of Niigata.
Many other ski hills are dotted throughout Nagano Prefecture. See them all on a map here.