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.