Zao Ski Resort

Top ski resort, Snow Monsters and great onsen as bonus

Zao Ski Resort in Yamagata Prefecture is easily one of Japan's top ski resorts. It is well prepared to offer a fun winter sports holiday for families, couples, groups of friends and colleagues. Whatever your winter sports needs are, Zao Ski Resort can cater to them.

There are 4 gondolas and 41 chair lifts that will take you up the slopes quickly and that offer access to all the ski and snowboard courses. All in all, there are 14 slopes and 12 courses in an area measuring 305 hectares.

Being a top ski resort, there are many different slopes, some for beginners and some for experts, as well as slopes for skiers and for snow boarders.

There is a Family Snow Park on the Yokokura Course where families with children can have a jolly good time romping about in the snow.

The Snowboard Park is on the Nakamori Course. If you seek the adrenalin rush, then maneuver your snowboard down the Snow Jump Course and jump of a 40 meters or a 70 meters ramp.

The ten kilometers long Downhill Course leads you through the icy winter landscape in a more gentle fashion while the 8 kilometers long Juhyogen Course, the Snow Monster Course, is ideal if you want to see the strange-looking snow and ice creatures close up.

If you find this too long a course, then try out the four kilometers long Ohira Course or some even shorter courses which are just one kilometer or two kilometers long.

Back to the adrenalin junkies: the Yokokura Wall and the Omori Wall are slopes with a decline of 38 degrees and 30 degrees respectively. Only experienced skiers should venture there.

What I like most about Zao Ski Resort is the Night Skiing. From 5 pm to 9 pm during high season (until mid March), you can enjoy skiing at the lit up Uwanodai Course (daily) or at the Yokokura Course (Friday to Sunday and National Holidays), if weather permits.

I am not so keen on fast and furious rides down the slopes but I really like the Zao snowshoeing tours.

For example, the Wakanjiki Snowshoeing Tour starts at 9 am and it lasts around five hours. One of Zao’s experienced Winter Tour Guides will lead the group of colorful looking snowshoe trekkers through the beautiful Zao winter landscape.

Alternatively, you can also go snowshoeing by yourself by just following the sign-posted snowshoe trekking trail.

You need to register in advance for the snowshoeing tours. The booking price includes the snowshoe equipment.

Zao Ski Resort also hosts a number of events, for example the Snow Monster Festival and a Night Light-up, which take place at the first weekend of February each year.

If you want to see all of Yamagata Prefecture's mascots in man-size, wobbling over the icy slope and posing for snap-happy fans, then mark this weekend in your calendar and bring along your kids.

Let's not forget that this is not just a ski resort but also an onsen resort. Zao Onsen boosts so many hot spring baths in one place that you are spoiled for choice. Even better, the onsen facilities are just a short walk away from your hotel, pension or ski lodge.

If you need one more reason to come here, then check out the Zao Snow Monsters. They are at their best in February.

Come back in summer though to enjoy superb trekking across the Zao mountain range, as well as bathing in Zao Onsen's many hot springs.

Practical information:

Season: The main season runs until March 20th but the after-season lasts until the end of April/beginning of May, depending on the snow conditions.

Ski pass: There are several options and different price levels. For example, there are 4 and 5 hour passes and 1, 2, 3 or 4 day passes. Prices also vary for adults, children and seniors. There are price reductions in the after-season.

Information in English: Check out The Zao Onsen Tourism Association's website or call them for information, brochures and advice in English at 0081-23-694-9328.

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