Resort Spotlight: Zao Onsen (Yamagata)

Zao Onsen
Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture

16/17 Season

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.  Private Lessons are available from 16,000 yen for a half day and from 23,000 yen One Day.

Lift Tickets

All lift tickets are valid on all of the lifts at Yamagata Zao Onsen resort.

16/17 Season

Adult Child Senior
4 hour ticket 4,000 yen
(3,500 yen)*
2,000 yen
5 hour ticket 4,500 yen
(3,700 yen)*
2,200 yen
Season 10 hour ticket 11,500 yen    
1 day ticket 5,000 yen
(4,100 yen) spring
2,500 yen
(1,500 yen) spring
4,400 yen
(3,800 yen) spring
Long 1 day
(nighta included)
5,700 yen    
2 day ticket
(nighta not included)
9,200 yen
(7,500 yen)*
4,600 yen
(3,000 yen)*
8,100 yen
(7,000 yen)*
3 day ticket
(nighta not included)
12,900 yen
(10,500 yen)*
6,500 yen
(4,500 yen)*
11,400 yen
(9,900 yen)
4 day ticket
(nighta not included)
15,900 yen
(12,900 yen)*
8,000 yen
(6,000 yen)*
14,200 yen
(12,200 yen)*
7 day ticket
(nighta not included)
21,600 yen 10,000 yen  
ZAO Exciting 10 37,000 yen 37,000 yen 37,000 yen
Season 64,000 yen 30,000 yen 59,000 yen
Nighta 2,000 yen 1,000 yen  

* Numbers in brackets are the charges for Spring Ski - from 21st March 2017 until 2nd April 2017 - period.


A returnable 500 yen deposit is required when buying tickets;
4 hour ticket, 5 hour ticket, Long 1 day ticket and Season tickets are all valid for nighta;
2 Day - 4 Day tickets are valid for consecutive days;
"Adult" rates are for those Junior High School age and over;
"Senior" ticket is for people of age 55 and over;
ZAO Exciting 10 ticket is valid on any 10 days in the season (they do not need to be consecutive);
Basic opening times:

Lifts.  8:30am - 5:00pm
Ropeways 8:15am - 5:00pm
Nighta 5:00pm - 9:00pm

Ski 'Kodomo no Hi' (Childrens Ski Day)
17th, 18th December 2016
7th, 8th, 21st, 22nd January 2017
4th, 5th, 18th, 19th February 2017
4th, 5th March 2017
On the above days, children of under elementary school age are eligible for a 1000 yen discount.

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):
The trees begin to be coated by super cool water forming ice.

January - Growth Stage:
The "Shrimp Tail" shapes begin to develop.

February - Golden Stage:
The snow monsters grow to large-scale statues.   This is the peak season for Juhyo.

March - Declining Stage:
The snow monsters begin to fade....

Light up - New Year, Weekends in January and all of February

Winter Night Crusing

This winter night cruising vehicle takes you to the illumitated snow monsters field. This service operates from late December until the end of February (please confirm operation days with the resort). The fare for adults is 3800 yen and the far for children is 3100 yen. Please note that reservations are required.

Hot Springs 

Zao Onsen is one of the most famous sulfurous hot springs in Japan. The hot natural volcanic waters will relax and refresh your body and mind. There are three public bathhouses in the village, three open-air hot springs ("onsen") facilities.  Onsen can also be found at hotels in the village.

"Dai Roten Buro" is one of the Open-Air Baths built into a beautiful mountain ravine (please note that this bath is only open from spring to fall due to snow).


Green Season

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 yellow

December 16 / January 17   February 17 / March 17
          23 24       1 2 3 4
        29 30 31 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
8 9 10 11 12 13 14 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
15 16 17 18 19 20 21 26 27 28 1 2 3 4
22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5 8 9 10 11 12 13
29 30 31                      

Juhyo light up plans to operate on the above dates (yellow color)

Operating hours: 5pm-9pm (last ropeway up at 7:50pm)
Charges: Adults - 2600 yen; Children - 1300 yen (ropeway return)

Yamagata Zao Onsen village

38 degrees slope

Nighta - floodlit slopes