Resort Spotlight: Zao Onsen (Yamagata)
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.
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.
All lift tickets are valid on all of the lifts at Yamagata Zao Onsen resort.
* Numbers in brackets are the charges for Spring Ski period.
Ski 'Kodomo no Hi' (Children's Ski 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):
January - Growth Stage:
February - Golden Stage:
March - Declining Stage:
See below for 2020/2021 season dates
Winter Night Cruising
This winter night cruising vehicle takes you to the illuminated snow monsters field. This service operates from 26th December 2020 until the 28th February 2020, usually on Fridays, weekends and also every day except Tuesdays in February - please confirm operation days with the resort. The fare for adults is 4,500 yen and the far for children is 3,800 yen. Please note that reservations are required.
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.
Getting to Zao Onsen
Zao Onsen village is nestled in the mountains of Yamagata but is easy to get to. It is about 17km from the Yamagata Zao IC of the Yamagata Expressway (which in turn is just 35.5km from the Murata Junction on the Tohoku Expressway).
Using the train, once you arrive at Yamagata Station (about 2 and a half hours from Tokyo), Zao Onsen is about 40 minutes by bus.
From Yamagata Airport a shared van service (booking required) is available
The famous Juhyo "Snow Monsters"
10km long downhill course
Juhyo light-up, dates as shown below in blue
| December 2020
Juhyo light up plans to operate on the above dates (blue color)
Operating hours: 5:00pm-9:00pm (last ropeway up at 7:50pm)
Charges: Adults - 3,000 yen; Children - 1,500 yen (ropeway return)
Yamagata Zao Onsen village
38 degrees slope
Nighta - floodlit slopes