Zao Onsen is a well known hot spring and ski resort in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. It is one of only a few places in Japan where juhyo or "ice trees" can be seen. Also known as "snow monsters", the trees take on curious shapes due to the heavy snowfall and freezing winds.
The snow monsters form around the peak of the Zao Ski Resort and are usually most spectacular around mid February. Access to the monsters is provided by a ropeway and a gondola for both skiers and non-skiers. In the evenings, the monsters around the summit are lit up to be enjoyed outside or from a warm seat in the cafe. Night skiing, however, is offered only in the lower elevations of the resort.
Zao's ski resort is one of Japan's oldest and offers over thirty lifts, gondolas and ropeways and a variety of different courses suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities, especially beginners and intermediates. The longest course starts in the territory of the snow monsters at the summit of the mountain and is about ten kilometers long. The ski season usually starts in early December and ends around early May, depending on snow conditions.
Snow Monster Illumination
The illumination usually takes place daily during the New Year holidays and from late January through February, as well as on Fridays and weekends in January; however, in 2021 it will be held only on Fridays and weekends through February 28, 2021.