Zao Onsen

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Revision as of 16:49, 17 September 2010 by Colin Dayman (Talk | contribs) (On Mountain)

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Resort Summary
Resort Name Zao Onsen
Location Yamagata
Resort Altitude 1736m
Winter Season
Terrain Overall:
Lift System
Highest Lift 1661m
Lowest Lift
Longest Run
Avg Snowfall
Terrain Parks
Snow Sports
Nearest Town Yamagata
Lift Pass
Adult 5 Day $
Adult 1 Day $
Child 5 Day $
Child 1 Day $


Zao Onsen is particularly well known for two things. Firstly as a hot spring resort as the name suggests and secondly for the Juhyo or 'Snow monsters' that appear every winter on the upper slopes. It is a large fairly spread out resort with plenty of cruisy intermediate terrain. There are also relatively few foreigners - this may be a plus or a minus depending on your viewpoint.


Yamagata prefecture, about 45 mins by bus from Yamagata city.


The hot springs are very nice. The snow monsters are interesting to see and there is plenty of cruisy terrain.


Not all that much steep terrain. A number of flat spots in some of the transition areas which won't suit snowboarders.






Getting There

Catch the Tsubasa Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata city. Runs about once an hour and takes a bit under 3 hours. Then catch the Yamako Bus outside station from bus bay 1. There is an information counter in the station where you can check this. These also run about once an hour and take about 45 mins. Zao Onsen is the final destination. Cost (2009) is Y980 one way.

There is an information office next door to the Zao bus station where you can get village and trail maps etc. You may also get these from your accomodation.


Lodge Scole, In Zao Onsen, Would Have To Be The Best Value Ski Holiday You'll Ever Have!!

“Come & Experience A Real Japanese Skiing Holiday” “Booking Your Japan Ski Holiday at Lodge Scole, in Zao Onsen, Yamagata is EASY”


Address: 746 Zao Onsen, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture�“Book Your Japan Ski Holiday at Lodge Scole, in Zao Onsen, Yamagata NOW!!”

Discounts on multi-day packages with Lift Tickets “Getting to Lodge Scole, Zao Onsen, Yamagata.” From Narita Airport, Tokyo :- Either A) JR (Japan Rail) NEX (Narita Express) to Tokyo Station or B) Skyliner (Keisei Line) to Ueno. Change to Bullet Train (Tsubassa Line/Yamagata Shinkansen) 2hr 50min. to Yamagata Station (Via Fukushima) then Bus or Taxi to Zao, around 45min. By Car:- From Tokyo take the Tohoku/Yamagata Expressway 4 hrs, then the Yamagata Nishi Zao Road 30 min to Zao/Lodge Scole.

From Sendai:- Take the Tohoku/Yamagata Expressway 30 min, then the Yamagata Nishi Zao Road 30 min to Zao/Lodge Scole. By Bus from Sendai :- During Winter coaches run several times daily from Sendai Airport Bus Terminal direct to Zao, approximat“Spring, Summer, Autumn” (Outside the Ski Season) Lodge Scole is available as a self catering lodge, outside the ski season, for groups of 15 or more. The wild flowers, walking tracks and panoramic views to the rice fields in the valley below are waiting to be discovered. Miniature mountain bear and deer can be seen in the area as well as an abundance of bird species. Mt Zao’s volcanic crater lake is an enjoyable picnic destination, just 40 minutes drive then a scenic walk. (self catering available June – November. Special discount rates apply)

“Come & Experience A Real Japanese Skiing Holiday” “The Dining Room” Meals at Lodge Scole are a delicious Japanese experience. Western style food can be ordered.

Rooms” With just 12 rooms, Lodge Scole will make you feel special. There’s two, three & four person rooms, separate Japanese style bathrooms or Rooms with showers. Most rooms have panoramic views of the ski fields.

“The Lounge” A roaring fire will warm you after a days skiing, the big screen tv has satellite English stations & DVD player. Our in house

“Woodpecker Bar” will introduce you to Sake or re-acquaint you with an old favourite.

"Natural Outdoor Onsen” (Thermal Baths)Zao has several onsen, supplied by natural thermal sulfur waters from hundreds of metres below ground. The outdoor onsen can be a highlight of a ski holiday, relaxing tired muscles after a day on the slopes. Traditional Japanese Bath Houses are also dotted throughout Zao and are part of the true Japanese experience.

“Ski Runs” With over 3000 hectares of ski area Zao has something for all levels of skiers & boarders. The longest run is around 10km and can be negotiated by intermediate skiers. Black runs and off piste through the trees and “Snow Monsters” will test the most experienced. It would take most people 3 – 4 days to do all the runs not including the nearly unlimited off piste options. Beginner lessons by English speaking instructors are available. Ski & board hire is available at several outlets throughout Zao.

“Lift Tickets” Lift Tickets are reasonably priced and can be purchased for multiple, non-consecutive days. i.e. A 10 day pass can be used for any 10 days of the season.


Off Mountain

It would be possible to stay in Yamagata city in say a business hotel and just do a day trip using the bus. But then you would miss out on the Onsens. And Zao is worth visiting for a few days.

Lift Tickets

You can get 4 hour tickets as well as 1, 2, 3 or 4 day tickets. Accomodations will usually have discounted tickets, so make sure you ask them about this. eg. discounted 3 day pass was Y11700 in Feb 2009. These tickets are exchanged for Ski Data cards at the lift office with a Y500 deposit which you get back via a vending machine when you have finished. These are credit card size so can fit in your wallet inside you jacket which the sensors can easily detect.

Ski School

There are plenty of ski schools. Each little area seems to have one and they are usually busy teaching school kids. Don't know if there are any english speaking instructors.

Equipment Hire

There are a number of places in the village at the base of the lift stations.

Resort Facilities

Getting Around

Generally by foot. Hotels, Shops, lifts etc will generally be within 10-15 walk of the bus station. Some hotels will pick you up from the bus station by arrangement, otherwise taxi.





Firstly there are the onsens. Resort hotels will have indoor and outdoor ones. There are also public ones including a public foot bath. Worth a walk aroumnd the village to check out the springs.

Then there is the onsen shrine which is at the top of the steps above the main city street.

And of course the Juhyo (Snow Monsters) at the top of the mountain. To get there either ride the no 1 Ropeway from the bottom and then the no. 2 to the top. Alternatively if you are starting from the left side of the resort, get to the Paradise area and ride the no. 17 lift and ski the trail to the no. 2 ropeway. From the top if it is fine you can walk to the summit (about 10 mins) and amomgst the rime-encrusted trees.


There are a number of hotels and restaurants but generally people have dinner at their accomodation.

Bars & Entertainment

There are a few bars but these are generally fairly quiet during the week. Possibly busier on the weekend.


There are lots of souvenier shops. A speciality of this region is wood carving and in particular Kokeshi dolls. And like everywhere else in Japan there is always plenty of packaged confectionary.



Ride Guide

Beginner Areas


Groomed Runs

Most of the resort is well groomed. There are plenty of runs on different aspects so there is variety in scenery. Runs are mostly intermediate, some fall line, others gentle winding trails. Only a few steeper fall line pitches.

It can be a bit confusing to navigate at first with the number of lifts and some of the areas don't link up very well. Easiest way is to note the lift numbers. This is particlarly the case with the Paradise region which is a flat area with lifts heading off in 3 different directions. If you are transitioning through this area to another part of the mountain it will require a bit of a skate / shuffle and sometimes a sidestep if you are on skis or a short walk if you are on a board. Otherwise if you are just riding a particular lift there is no problem.

The run from the top amongst the Juhyo is very scenic, but not really great skiing. It is a long fairly gentle narrow trail and can be busy with large beginner ski school groups slowly working their way down.

Off Piste

Off piste is fairly limited. Skiing in the trees is not allowed, although there are a few possibilities.

Out of Bounds


Cross Country

There is a 5 km langlauf course.

Parks & Pipes

Don't appear to be any.


Only on a few runs. There were some in the Chuo area.

Powder Zones


Sheltered Runs


Night skiing

There are 2 areas open for night skiing.

1. Uwanodai - lifts 5, 6 & 7.

2. Yokokura - lifts 23, 26 & 27.

Cost is around Y2000. The pensions will have discount vouchers.


There is a track where you can ride big snow tyres. From memory this was around the Paradise area by lift 20.



The peak can get very windy at times.






[1] Ski area website including trail map in english

[2] Train timetable

[3] Yamagata - Zao bus timetable (japanese)

[4] Miuraya Ryokan (english page)