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.