The Best Japanese Ski Resorts to Visit for Onsen

Onsen, or natural hot spring baths, are a major part of Japan’s ski scene — here are the best places to experience this unique part of Japanese culture and get in some killer powder runs.

Unless you happen to love wintry weather, the first thing most skiers want to do after a long day on the slopes is warm up as quickly as possible. And when it comes to skiing in Japan, there’s no better way to achieve that goal than by beelining to an onsen.

Created by volcanic activity, these hot spring baths can be found all over the country. The geothermally warmed, mineral-rich waters are celebrated for their benefits to users’ health and skin (especially during the cold, dry months of winter). The hot springs also make up an essential part of Japan’s ski scene, and no ski trip here would be complete without at least one onsen visit.

Nearly every Japanese ski area features onsen in some shape or form, but several stand out from the pack for the variety and beauty of their available springs. Some of these onsen are outdoor, some are indoor, but all brim with luxuriously warm water that will help soothe your sore ski muscles.

So, if you want to plan your ski trip around these gorgeous hot springs, get to know the best Japanese ski resorts to visit for onsen. Oh, and don’t forget to brush up on your onsen etiquette before you go.

1.Nozawa Onsen

Though better known these days for its skiing and powdery snow, Nozawa Onsen is among the most famous onsen resorts in Japan. The first bathhouse in this picturesque village was constructed during the 16th century Edo period, and today’s visitors can still enjoy both indoor and outdoor springs all over this peaceful town. A stop by the Ogama spring is a must, but the waters of this national monument are far too hot for bathing — instead, you can watch locals boil eggs and vegetables, which can be purchased from nearby shops. Afterward, take your time exploring the other, slightly cooler springs around Nozawa Onsen, including 13 public bathing facilities.

2. Zao Onsen

Similar to Nozawa Onsen, Zao Onsen also got its start as a hot spring resort town before gaining a bigger reputation for its skiing. Sometimes called “The Springs of Beauty,” the onsen here are filled with highly acidic, sulfuric water that’s purported to offer countless health benefits — chief among them soft, smooth skin. Several excellent public baths can be found in Zao Onsen, as well as a small number of private onsen that open their doors to the public. The most iconic hot springs here, the Zao Dai-Rotenburo baths, are unfortunately closed in winter, but you can still get your soak on at the other onsen around town while enjoying the spectacular snowy scenery, Zao Onsen’s other draw.

3. Niseko

In addition to being one of Japan’s largest and most popular ski areas, Niseko is also among the best spots in the country to enjoy onsen. The indoor and outdoor baths around the ski area are rich in a number of different minerals, like iron and sulfur, said to improve physical health and wellbeing. Whether or not that’s true, it’s definitely worthwhile to soak in at least a few onsen if you choose to visit Niseko, especially the ski-in-ski-out Goshiki hot springs located in the resort’s backcountry. The onsen are located all over Niseko and each have different amenities and views, so do your research ahead of time and choose your onsen wisely to make the most of your time in the area.

4. Naeba

Pretty much every resort in the Yuzawa ski region has a few onsen, but the springs in Naeba are some of the best in the area. For starters, there’s Naeba Prince Hotel, which anchors the ski resort and opens the doors of their onsen to guests and non-guests alike for a low fee. Most other onsen here are located within guest houses and lodges, but as for public baths, you’ll have to stop by Yukisasa Hot Spring for a good, long soak. The appearance and sulfuric smell of the iron-rich spring may be a little off-putting, but you’ll soon forget all about that once you sink into the warm, calming waters. Need even more onsen time? Head about half an hour down the road to Yuzawa, a hot springs destination in its own right.

5. Shiga Kogen

Shiga Kogen is one of the largest ski resorts in Japan, so you’re all but guaranteed to have a few aches and pains at the end of a ski day here. To help rejuvenate those tired muscles in time to grab first chair and hit the ski runs tomorrow, there are dozens of public and private onsen ideal for your recuperating needs, mostly located in the small towns of Yamanouchi and Yudanaka near Jigokudani Monkey Park. Many facilities also include amenities like saunas and spas with luxurious treatments, so you can turn your onsen visit into a comprehensive wellness retreat if you so desire. A heads up: the smell of sulfur can be a little pervasive, as the springs are quite high in this mineral, but after a few soaks you’ll hardly notice it.

6. Myoko Kogen

Myoko Kogen is home to some of the most historically significant hot springs in all of Japan. The main onsen here, Akakura, was originally opened by a feudal lord in the early 1800s and the Japanese imperial family continues to use Myoko Kogen as a winter retreat. You don’t have to be a royal to enjoy the skiing or onsen, though — visitors can soak in seven famous springs at the base of Mt. Myoko, each with different mineral contents, scenery, and potential health benefits. Some have even been reported to assist with conditions like diabetes, but all will certainly help you relax and recharge after a lengthy skiing or snowboarding session.