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Sushi, Snow and Skiing

Skiing in Japan can be as much about the cultural experience as it is about the skiing. HILARY DOLING interviews one family about their experiences with skiing, sushi and snow monkeys.

Terry and Melinda Timso-Louie took their three children, James, Cate and Lachlan on a snowy adventure to Nowzawa Onsen, Japan. Located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, Nowzawa is a hot spring and ski resort with a pretty, historic village. Here they share some of their travel tales.

Who went on the holiday?

We went with five other families, so there was a large group of us; twelve adults and thirteen children. We wanted a family holiday where we could all ski together and spend time with young kids on the slopes and we got it here.

Why did you choose Japan?

We did a lot of research, and decided it was the best combination regarding snow quality, the mountain, and the village (which is not vastly spread out and most things are within walking distance). You could find other places with larger mountains and steeper slopes, but they didn't quite have the offering of Nozawa Onsen village.

Where did you stay?

We stayed in a ryoken, which is a traditional Japanese inn. Being in Japan, we had to do it. They spoke very little English but that didn’t matter. We slept on tatami mats - you may visualize a hard floor and waking up with a sore back and stiff neck, but that didn’t happen. We found it comfortable and kids had a ball. The hotel had its own separate male/female onsens (public hot spring baths), which the kids enjoyed after being initially tentative about bearing their naked body to all. We actually didn't see anyone else there at the times we used the onsen. You can't wear your shoes in the hotel, you had to wear slippers and there were even different slippers to use for when you went to the toilet in your own room. Breakfast was traditional, comprising of miso soup, steamed rice, pickled vegetables and grilled fish. It's not everyone's idea of the best wake-up, but there were also bread buns and jam for the less adventurous.

What was the thing you liked most?

You couldn't single out a specific thing; it was more of a combination - the Japanese hospitality, snow quality, food, village atmosphere, and scenery. After a day skiing, we would slowly make our way around the village as we headed back to our accommodation. We would stop and look for souvenirs, snacks and have a general browse. It was part of the return walk back, to stop and buy steam apple buns or try food cooked in the natural hot springs.

Where did you eat?

When it came to dinner, there are so many choices. We would come across tiny restaurants that specialised in a particular thing. For example, one restaurant would only do sashimi and sushi or only ramen, but it was the quality of the food that was brilliant. A week wasn't enough time to find all the little restaurants and try dishes that you wouldn't typically find at home.

Did the skiing suit all family members?

Yes it did. We had a bunch of kids around seven years and adults that had only skied once in Australia prior to the trip. We also had older experienced adult skiers who also enjoyed themselves. The mountain didn't have a vast variety of steep slopes or long runs but for us experienced oldies, it was a great fun and a challenge in the powder runs.

Describe a couple of non-ski activities.

We had a week in Nozawa Onsen so we timed it for Dosojin on January 15, one of Japan’s most famous fire festivals, where people pray for health wealth and good fortune in the coming year.

I definitely recommend walking around the village the night before - make your way to the site where they hold the event so you can watch the construction of the timber shrine which is burnt during the celebrations. As we wandered, we were offered free sake served out of wooden barrels.

On the night of the festival, it gets pretty crazy. It’s minus 20 degrees, there's free alcohol being handed out, fire, and open drainage trenches of mountain water gushing alongside the roads - when you think about it, it could be a recipe for disaster but strangely we felt safe. We let the kids wander around and their curiosity drew them closer to the tower.

During our stay, we also made a trip out of the village to see the snow monkeys. From the drop off, it is a leisurely walk along a forest path over to the hot spring pools where you can get up close to these amazing animals.

Would you ski in Japan again?

Yes. It is so convenient. Jump on a plane and a direct overnight flight to Narita airport and you're there in the morning. With so many families in tow, we hired a bus that picked up our luggage from the airport and drove us straight to the ski resort. If you could only take a week out of your hectic life for a holiday, a trip like this wouldn’t disappoint.

If you're after night clubs and a fast past I don't think you’d find it here. But for us, a big day of skiing, fabulous food, sake and a relaxing soak in the onsen to relax the muscles and mind, well it doesn't get much better.

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