Nozawa Onsen is considered the second oldest ski resort in Japan. Skiing was introduced to Japan in January 1911 by an Austro-Hungarian soldier named Major Theodor Edler von Lerch. A year later skiing was taught in Nozawa Onsen. In 1923 the Nozawa Onsen Ski Club was founded, yet the sport didn’t really take hold until one of the world’s most famous ski instructors, Hannes Schneider, visited Nozawa Onsen.
In 1930, the Austrian “skimeister” from St. Anton, a small ski village roughly the same size as Nozawa Onsen, demonstrated his renowned Arlberg technique in front of hundreds of Japanese skiers as his instructions were translated and relayed over megaphones. This ushered in the modern age of skiing in Japan.
The Schneider Hotel pays homage to the skiing legend that played such a pivotal role in the village. His visit created a connection between his hometown of St. Anton in Austria and the Nozawa Onsen. The Schneider Course – Japan’s first competition course – was named after him, as was The Schneider Hotel, which bears his name. The Japan Ski Museum, near the Hikage Gondola, has an entire section dedicated to St. Anton as well as Schneider. On February 7, 1971, the two villages officially became sister cities and middle school students from Nozawa Onsen and St. Anton do annual homestays between the ski villages.
A century ago, Nozawa Onsen villagers would have fallen over in the rice fields if you had told them skiing would become the lifeblood of the village. Today they have sent more athletes per capita to compete in the Winter Games than arguably any other place on earth.