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Zao


The Resorts

Zao Onsen is as unique as it is incredible, its soaring mountain’s littered with rogue fir trees that are blanketed with snow forming strange aberrations that have been dubbed ‘snow monsters’. An awesome, yet somewhat creepy, phenomena that has come to be a defining image of the Zao Onsen ski resort. By no means a large Japanese ski resort, Zao Onsen has been able to maintain a very traditional and quaint environment, boasting plenty of ryokan accommodation and having a distinct lack of monstrous, monolithic hotels that many resorts now feature. It also provides a fantastic environment for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, with 20 courses that have been generously split between beginner (40%) intermediate (30%) and advanced (30%).  

Beginner and intermediate skiers will have a blast at Zao Onsen, with plenty of runs for you to just cruise down and enjoy the scenery or some quality black runs to truly test yourself on. Seasoned powder hounds won't really get a huge kick from much, however it does have a pretty steep drop off (881m) that really makes you feel the burn. Another topic of interest for the experts is tree skiing, whilst it is not banned or heavily patrolled as such, it is frowned upon. Ducking in and out of the the snow monsters is pretty surreal, so pack some white camo gear…...

Resort Facts
  •  
  • Start Season: Mid December
  • Season End: Mid Apr
  • Night Skiing: No
  • Max Elevation (m): 1,650
  • Vertical Rise (m): 1,085
  • Difficulty (beg/int/adv): 40% / 30% / 30%
  • Longest Course (m): 10,000
  • No. of Courses/Runs: 20
  • No. of Lifts & Gondolas: 20
  • Max Gradient: 39 degrees





Getting there

As the ski fields of Zao garner more international attention, Zao Onsen has been a winter destination for Japanese skiers and snowboarders for generations. Located in the Yamagata prefecture in the Tohoku region, the standard way of getting to Zao Onsen is via train and shuttle bus. Board the Shinkansen at Tokyo station bound for Yamagata station, the gateway station for Zao Onsen, which has a rough travel time of 2.5 hours. Once you are at Yamagata station you will need to hop onto a shuttle bus to your accommodation in Zao Onsen, which will take roughly 45 minutes but is highly dependent on the conditions. The most cost effective way of getting from Tokyo to Zao Onsen is using the 5-day Flexible JR East Tohoku pass, this will give you access to the Tohoku Shinkansen and can be used for any 5 days within a 14 day period.  

Narita/Haneda Airport to Tokyo - Train, 20mins-1hr
Tokyo to Yamagata - $249 per adult (5 day flexi JR East pass, 2.5hrs)
Yamagata to Zao - Bus, 45mins






The Snow

The science behind the snow monsters of Zao Onsen is not as profound as it may appear at face value, it is an aberration that has come about because of its geography. During the season an easterly wind blows over the sea of Japan, picking up a large quantity of moisture as it makes its way toward Japan and once it makes landfall it sheds most of the moisture pick up over the journey.  This is the science behind snowfall for all ski resorts in Japan, but in Zao’s case, it also produces rainfall that freezes on the trees. A good way of explaining it is to compare to a person, consider tree as the skeleton, the ice as the muscle and the snow as the skin. These three layers form in incredible ways and creates the famed monsters!

Snow monsters aside, Zao onsen receives slightly more snow (12m) than the national average (11m) in Japan.  This snow is quintessential powder snow, light, fluffy and perfect for shredding even when its shin deep! The weather can be intermittent in Zao Onsen and when it receives a bad storm, it tends to be really bad. Make sure to keep an eye on the forecast for that day!






The Onsen

Zao is considered one of the finest onsen destinations in all of Japan. You can really tell that you are in an Onsen town as you are walking around, the pungent smell of sulfur is seemingly ingrained in every crevice of the Zao Onsen.  After a long day on the slopes, retreat to one of Zao’s beautiful onsen, a traditional Japanese bath designed to relax your muscles and make you feel rejuvenated for your next day of activities. The onsen Water is high in sulfur and rare minerals that aid in the healing of various ailments, notably skin afflictions, and promotes circulation.



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Inclusions
FlightsLessonsLift PassInsuranceStopoverGear HireTransfersRail Pass



Hotel
Onsen hot-springFamily

HOTEL LUCENT TAKAMIYA

7 nights from $1,365* per person

Includes daily breakfast + 6 day lift pass

A well located property in the heart of Zao Onsen

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Hotel
Onsen hot-springFamily

HOTEL RURIKURA RESORT

7 nights from $1,487* per person

Includes daily breakfast + 6 day lift pass

Located right on the foot of Yokokura ski slope this hotel is easily ski in/out accessible. 

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RYOKAN

MIYAMASO TAKAMIYA

7 nights from $2,097* per person

Includes daily breakfast + 6 day lift pass

A beautiful Japanese style accommodation offering Japanese hospitality

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