Getting to Zao Onsen is relatively easy. We chose to go to Zao onsen from Osaka by Shinkansen on the way there and fly from Sendai to Osaka on the way back. Shuttle from Yamagata station to Zao onsen takes about 40 minutes and costs 980 yen. There is 1 every hour and usually leaves not long after the shinkansen arrives at Yamagata station. We took the bus back to Sendai at 4:30pm which got us back to Sendai station at 6:10pm. Ticket costs 1500yen.
After arriving to Zao onsen we checked in and ate dinner and headed to the mountain for Nighta on the Yokokura course. Nighta costs 1800 yen with coupon and is quite nice to get your feet wet and good to start teaching beginners so you can prepare them for action.
Speaking of beginners, Zao Onsen really provided my girlfriend a good place to learn with its relatively wide and long courses giving a beginner the time they need to complete turns. Some green runs can be steep in some sections but it can give a beginner an opportunity to concentrate on the basic things they need to know.
Zao Onsen though does not provide to many challenges for those above intermediate. I am not sure of my own level but I didn't really find Zao that challenging. If I wanted a challenge I had to go find some lines through trees. I found you could get a nice little run down the quad lift area near omori. Just don't go to far that you end up at the road. The run can be continued once you take the Omori giant course back over the road.
Zao Onsen is the type of resort you really need to study the map and choose where you want to go, if you don't you could be heading up the old dinky lifts over and over again trying to get where you are wanting to go. My advice take the rope ways all the way and make your way down and avoid the old dinky lifts. some of the quad lifts were of reasonable speed such as the omori quad lift.
The last day we had at Zao Onsen was a really sunny and a little warm. The really sunny conditions really show how beautiful Zao is especially if you go to the top. It is recommended if you go up top on a sunny day to venture past the top station to Mt Jizo or even further to Mt Kumano. This will give you awesome views of the valley and the snow monsters. Snow monsters are also a must see on a bright sunny day as being able to see so many of them is a beautiful sight. On cloudy days they look good but a sunny day really brings the best out in them.
Overall Zao Onsen provided me and my girlfriend a good experience and a fun few days. I'd like to say this is a resort I want to come back to in the future.
Tips for Zao Onsen
Tip 1. Do you like potato wedges? Then head over to the Omori restaurant. For 400 yen you get potato wedges self service. Which means you can stack your plate as high as you want! By stacking really high 400 yen turns in to really good value. The wedges arent that bad too and you can get free tomato sauce with it
Tip 2. Are you thirsty and cold? Then head over to either the number 21 or 28 lift( cant remember which one). They have free hot tea which can help you rid your thirst and cold.
Tip 3. Want an extra 30 mins on the mountain cause most lifts close at 5pm? Then head over to Lifts 23 and 25 on the Yokokura course. They are open to 5:30 for the 1 dayers.
From 23 February, 2014 To 26 February, 2014
Snow condition on visit:
Snow conditions were great on the 24th and 25th soft and not so bad when you fell over. Visibility up top in the afternoons was quite poor and was unable to see the snow monsters. Visibility on 25th afternoon was particularly bad and couldn't even see 10 meters in front of me. So I had to stick to the bottom of the mountain.
The 26th however was an absolutely perfect blue bird day. Visibility was awesome and allowed me and my girlfriend to enjoy the scenery while we were going down the mountain. Later in the day in shaded areas were a little dicey as they were icing over.
Things I liked:
First thing I like was it was a good place to teach beginners, even on the map it shows some courses are quite narrow but they are not. This allowed my girlfriend to go to many places on the mountain and experiment with turning. She was relatively a beginner before going to Zao but now shes able to do turns quite comfortably.
Second thing I liked about Zao Onsen was that if you choose carefully you can have some really long runs with the longest being about 8km.
Third thing I liked was that the resort was not that busy on weekdays, sometimes we felt like we were the only ones on the mountain cause we would hardly see anyone sometimes. This also made it easier to teach my girlfriend as she was always too conscious of other people around her. So my advice go on a weekday!
Things I didn't like:
First thing I didn't like about Zao Onsen was as a boarder there were many long relatively flat spots. My girlfriend is a beginner and she found it hard getting around to some of the lifts because she isn't confident enough to get a lot of speed. Even for me there were many spots it didnt matter how much speed I had I just couldn't make it across. So my advice for beginner boarders choose an area of the resort you don't need to walk around too much.
Second thing I didn't like about Zao Onsen was the snow park. It was a little shabby and not well maintained. The jumps for example had a ramp and landing area but in between was a ditch so if you landed short you were not going to have a happy landing. Other places I have been to at least have the area between the ramp and landing area flat so if you did land short you had a chance to land on a half decent surface.
Authentic Japan experience
Not recommended for: