Zao Onsen is a large-scale ski and snowboard resort located about 16km to the south east of central Yamagata city in Yamagata Prefecture. In terms of area for an individual ski resort, it is the largest in Japan. Zao Onsen is actually both the name of the traditional onsen hot spring village nestled high up above the city and also the ski and snowboard resort. Many of the base ski lifts and courses are within walking distance from the main village with a lot of ski-in ski-out accommodation available. Zao Onsen has a long history, first opening in 1925 with the first ski lift being installed in 1951.
Zao Onsen is one of the most well-known ski and onsen resorts in Japan and famous for the juhyo ‘snow monster’ (or ‘ice monster’) formations that can be found on the trees on the mountain during the peak winter season. Juhyo can only be found on a limited number of mountains in Japan. This beautiful natural phenomenon makes for spectacular scenery and is one of the reasons why many people visit Zao Onsen each season. The Juhyo near the top of the Zao Ropeway are lit up in the evening during the peak season, with that Ropeway operating for sightseeing purposes (dates below).
Yamagata Prefecture is located in the south-west part of Tohoku with the west coast facing the Sea of Japan. The boundaries of Yamagata Prefecture are all mountainous with Niigata Prefecture and Fukushima Prefecture to the south, Akita Prefecture to the north and Miyagi Prefecture to the east. The ski and snowboard ski hills in Yamagata range from very small one-lift local hills to the biggest individual ski resort in Japan (Zao Onsen) and are spread across the Prefecture.
Ski and snowboard lessons are available at Zao Onsen.
Ski and snowboard equipment rental is available. Ski and snowboard wear rental is also available.
There are a number of places in base areas for sledging and general playing in the snow.
There are snowboard park areas on the Nakamori and Chuo areas of Zao Onsen.
Zao Onsen Season & Opening Times
Typical season is from Early December until Early May
Weekends and holidays
Normally open from 8:30am until 5:00pm
Normally open from 8:30am until 5:00pm
'Nighta' (night skiing)
Weekends and holidays
The lifts at Zao Onsen are normally open from 8:30am (ropeways from 8:15am) until 5:00pm during the daytime. Nighta, when available, is from 5:00pm until 9:00pm.
Nighta in the Uwanodai area is scheduled daily from 22nd December 2018 until 3rd March 2019 and then Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8th March until 10th March and on 16th March 2019.
Nighta in the Yokokura area is scheduled for New Year (22nd December 2018 until 6th January 2019); and then on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11th January and 10th March 2019.
The Zao Ropeway opens in the evenings on the below dates for 'Light Up' sightseeing purposes - to go and see the Juhyo monsters (* not for skiing or boarding). There is an extra charge for this night time operation - 2,800 yen for adults and 1,400 yen for children (return):
December 2018: 22nd, 23rd, 29th, 30th, 31st January 2019: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th-13th, 18th-20th, 25th-27th February 2019: all days apart from Tuesdays March 2019: 1st-3rd
Zao Onsen Lift Ticket Charges
Elementary School age & under
High School age
60 years & over
Season 10 Hours
The hourly tickets are valid from the time of purchase and can also be used for nighta.
The Season 10 Hour ticket can be used in units of 1 hour over the season and can be used for nighta.
A 500 yen returnable deposit is required for lift tickets.
Early and late season ticket discounts are available.
Ski-kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day) is 15th and 16th December 2018; 5th, 6th, 19th, 20th January 2019; 2nd, 3rd, 16th, 17th February 2019; 2nd, 3rd March 2019. On those days, a 1 day ticket is 1,000 yen for children.
Getting to Zao Onsen
By public transport
16.4km from Yamagata Station on the Yamagata Shinkansen line
13.6km from Zao Station on the Ou Honsen Line
16.4km from Yamagata Station on the Ou Honsen Line
The main Yamagata Station, a stop on the Yamagata Shinkansen line, is about 18km from the resort and a 40-45 minute or so bus journey. Bus shuttle services are available from Yamagata Station and Sendai Station.
There is a bus service to Zao Onsen from Yamagata Station.
11.4km from the Yamagata Kaminoyama IC on the Tohoku Chuo Expressway
17.1km from the Yamagata Zao IC on the Yamagata Expressway
Nearest national route: Route 13 (11km away)
Nearest prefecture road: Prefecture Road 21
Zao Onsen resort is located to the south east of Yamagata City. Those travelling by car from the Sendai or Tokyo regions will likely arrive via the Tohoku Expressway and then onto the Yamagata Expressway, coming off at the Yamagata Zao IC which is just over 11km from the resort. There are a few roads going up from Yamagata to the ski resort - if you use the most direct from Yamagata Zao IC, a part of the road (Nishi Zao Kogen line) is a toll road. From Route 13 to the west the two roads going up the mountain are Prefecture Roads 21 and 14.
At the time of writing more than 40% of the ski hills in Japan have still not updated their own information for the upcoming season - even some of the larger ones! We are continuing to manually check and update information within SnowJapan on a daily basis, but for the moment things remain a mix of new and old. In most cases ski resorts open and close around the same dates each season, so even if the planned season dates shown on this page are still from the 2017-2018 season, that is usually a good indication of what to expect this time round.
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