Where: Zao Onsen, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Best Season: February when the hoardes arrive
Best sights: Snow monsters and alien landscapes
Remember to bring: Skiis, sunblock and an advanced reservation
Watch out for: The Wall – don’t look down
Where It’s At
Zao Onsen in the Yamagata Prefecture is one of the oldest ski resort in Japan and has been On Piste since the 1920’s. Situated around 3½ hours from Tokyo, it’s an easy to reach spot, accessible from the city by motorway. Because of its history, there are certain traditions here, like riding the tram to the top of the mountain to see the famous “Juhyoo” snow capped trees also known as “snow-monsters” because of the thick packed layers of snow.
Going on Piste
The mountain has an altitude of over 4000 ft, with a mix of courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers, but it is thought of more as an easy-going family resort. The resort cover a massive terrain, with a mega 42 ski lifts. Because the resort is so popular, you need to book your ski lift tickets the night before or you could find that by early morning, the only lift spaces left are in the late afternoon.
For the intrepid skier, try “The Wall” course, it’s a ridiculously steep terrain with a 30 degree slope, though only 1000 ft long. The terrain is patterned in a European Alps style. There is also some fantastic opportunities for off-piste anarchy with freeriding and crazy jumping on the snow-monsters runs.
The Japanese ski all night, using lights around the piste for the ultimate romantic late night ski. The best time to visit Zao Onsen is late January to early March, but book early!
Other Things to See and Do
If the icy terrains get to much, you can relax in the many steaming hot springs situated throughout the cute resort town. It is said to have a fantastic, futuristic alien atmosphere, partly because of the amazing trees and landscape.
Go Ski Zao
Former Zao skiers impressions and tips on the resort.
Ski Japan: Yamagata Zao Onsen
Guide to the best runs and courses on the resort.
By Susi O’Neill