This traditional ski resort reigns supreme in Japan
The historic hot spring town of Zao Onsen lies within the Zao Mountain Range, an impressive cluster of stratovolcanoes 40 minutes from Yamagata City. Legend has it that a wounded warrior stumbled upon the first spring-head in the area after a battle over 1,900 years ago. The waters have since earned the title ‘Springs of Beauty’, for their rich concentration of cleansing and refreshing minerals for the skin.
Zao Onsen is also famous as the home of Zao Onsen Ski Resort, one of Japan’s most unique. This is one of the only places that ‘snow monsters’ come out to play, a natural phenomenon formed by ice crystals expanding and contorting on high-altitude stands of fir trees. Known as ‘juhyo’, they populate the slopes of Zao Onsen Ski Resort’s 1,331-metre Juhyo Kgen gondola station. There are 12 courses and 14 slopes in total to be enjoyed at Zao, ranging widely from gentle beginners’ slopes to pro racing courses, and the resort is family-friendly with a kids park and childcare facilities. The high-altitude Paradise Slope offers a great combination of courses for all levels, with the challenging Yokokura-no-kabe wall for experts, and mellower, open sections for beginner and intermediate riders. The slope is surrounded by Zao’s snow monsters, and is open until early May – a true paradise for skiing and snowboarding. And after a day on the slopes, the famous hot springs of Zao Onsen village are pure bliss.
There are five hot spring facilities for day visitors to the area, as well as three public hot spring baths with entry fees of just ¥200.
Almost 50 different spring-heads are clustered around Zao Onsen, and many of the resort’s accommodation facilities offer the luxury of hot spring bathing just minutes from the slopes of Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort. This adds to the village’s allure in winter, making it a perfect destination to experience authentic local Japanese culture, while enjoying the magic of its powder snow to the fullest.
Kinosato is a traditional Japanese accommodation in the centre of Zao Onsen. It is a small, homely ryokan-inn with 22 Japanese style rooms. The real treat at Kinosato is their baths pulled from an all natural sulphuric spring. The inn is located within walking distance to some of Zao Onsen’s ski resorts, so this would make for the perfect reward after a day in the snow.
The seasonally updated menu at the restaurant will fill you up with delicious meals amongst friendly conversations with the staff.
It’s hard not to feel at home in their comfortable and warm atmosphere.
Zao Onsen Ryokan Kinosato
1271-1 Zao Onsen, Yamagata city, Yamagata
With three types of private open air hot spring baths, Jyurouzin, Ebisuten and Daikokuten on offer 24 hours a day freely, you can rest assured that you’ll get to relax to the max after hitting the slopes at Oohira Hotel.
Oohira Hotel offers both Western and Japanese style rooms (no smoking is allowed inside the building) so you can choose what’s best for you.
It’s located five minutes from the slopes, local courtesy shuttle bus service available within Zao Onsen resort area, and the hotel courtesy shuttle bus between JR Yamagata station and Zao Onsen as well.
Bookings for courtesy hotel shuttle buses;
A great long term discount is also available. For dog lovers, upon arrival don’t forget to say hello to their adorable dog, Hotalu!
Oohira Hotel Mogamitakayu Zenshichinoyu
825 Zao Onsen, Yamagata City, Yamagata
Sangoro Onsen Lodge
Sangoro Onsen Lodge was made for those who believe in ‘more the merrier’! Sangoro Onsen Lodge in Zao Onsen, Yamagata, provides the dream accommodation for large groups travelling with 16 or more people.
This is a fully self-contained apartment block with 4 bedrooms, 16 futons (sleeps up to 25 people) and 3 bathrooms plus spacious living and dining areas. The apartment comes with all the basics for the kitchen as well as wi-fi, karaoke and net TV (Netflix) facilities.
The company also has a hotel in Zao Onsen Ski Resort, so be sure to check out their website for further information.
Sangoro Onsen Lodge
Chuo area, Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Yamagata City, Yamagata