Zao Onsen is one of the most famous and traditional skiing & snowboarding resorts in Japan as well as a popular all year traditional onsen hot spring resort village. Located in Yamagata Prefecture, about 30-40 minutes from Yamagata City by car, the Zao Onsen snow resort is known for excellent powder conditions, a wide range of courses covering a large area and the famous Juhyo “Snow Monsters” (see below).
The resort has 14 different slopes and 12 courses, and offers a wide variety for most levels of riders – from beginners to experts, children to seniors. The slopes are serviced by network of including 3 Rope Ways, 1 gondola and 35 other lifts with the longest course offering 10km of downhill riding.
Zao Onsen also offers other resort attractions including a fun Family Snow Park and snowboard park.
The resort also has easy to understand signs in English, Korean and Chinese as well as Japanese and the friendly people in the small village are always very welcoming to guests from overseas.
Where to stay:
Ski & Snowboard School
If you are interested in improving your skiing and snowboarding techniques, there are seven ski schools and one snowboard school at the resort, allowing you to choose according to suit your individual needs. English speaking instructors can be pre-booked for private lessons. Private Lessons are available from 16,000 yen for a half day and from 23,000 yen One Day.
The famous Zao Onsen “Snow Monsters” (Juhyo)
Climate Condition for the Creation of the Juhyo
Zao Onsen is rightfully well-known for it’s spectacular “Snow Monsters”. One of the natural wonders of Zao Onsen, these can be found at the top of the mountain during the coldest months, usually from late December to the middle of March. These Snow Monsters (“Juhyo”) make for some truly spectacular and unique scenery which combined with the wide panoramic scenery make Zao Onsen one of the best resorts in Japan for scenery. The Snow Monsters can be also fully appreciated during the night illuminations at the top of the mountain during the peak season.
Juhyo can be found on a limited number of mountains in the northeastern areas of Japan. There are a few climatic conditions necessary for them to appear – evergreen conifer, fixed strong winds and super cool water droplets and snow depth of between two and three meters. The super cool water gradually adheres to the trees and develops the Juhyo unique shapes. The locals call this shape “Shrimp Tails”. Whatever they are called, it makes for spectacular scenes and is one of the reasons why people visit Zao Onsen each season.
December (Early Stage):
The trees begin to be coated by super cool water forming ice.
January – Growth Stage:
The “Shrimp Tail” shapes begin to develop.
February – Golden Stage:
The snow monsters grow to large-scale statues. This is the peak season for Juhyo.
March – Declining Stage:
The snow monsters begin to fade….
Light up – New Year, Weekends in January and all of February
Winter Night Crusing
This winter night cruising vehicle takes you to the illumitated snow monsters field. This service operates from late December until the end of February (please confirm operation days with the resort). The fare for adults is 3800 yen and the far for children is 3100 yen. Please note that reservations are required.
Zao Onsen is one of the most famous sulfurous hot springs in Japan. The hot natural volcanic waters will relax and refresh your body and mind. There are three public bathhouses in the village, three open-air hot springs (“onsen”) facilities. Onsen can also be found at hotels in the village.
“Dai Roten Buro” is one of the Open-Air Baths built into a beautiful mountain ravine (please note that this bath is only open from spring to fall due to snow).
Zao is a popular resort throughout the year. From spring to fall, trekking and sightseeing is popular with countless paths and routes suitable for all generations to enjoy. There are various short and long trekking courses. Mountain guides are available to guide you to vantage points and areas of interest.
Yamagata Zao Onsen village
38 degrees slope
Nighta – floodlit slopes