Zao Onsen

Zao Onsen

Overall Rating

Zao Onsen

Zao Onsen3.5/515
Zao Onsen3.5 out of 5 based on 15 reviews
  • Recommend
    67%
  • Would Revisit
    60%
Powder Odyssey - chase the powder in Northern Honshu

Zao Onsen - Reviews

Zao Onsen - Reviews

My Zao experience

Leon
02/03/2020
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Intermediate
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Month Visited:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    2

My Zao experience

Leon
02/03/2020
It is an old town so not a party place, there is heaps of places to explore on the skies. Lots of lifts, caters well for beginners and intermediate skiing (the pros can go back country) and the locals are nice. Plus after after a great day of skiing sit in an onsen and chillax. We will be back with a big smile.

Zao

Adam Bergstraser
01/07/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    February

Zao

Adam Bergstraser
01/07/2019
Visit Za ok during early February and enjoy the snow Monster festival. The lifts are confusing but everything else is great.

Zao February 2019...meh

Ashton Dempsey
22/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Month Visited:
    February

Zao February 2019...meh

Ashton Dempsey
22/02/2019
Trip report for #Japow19.

It's fair to say we arrived with high expectations, but have been disappointed by the snow so far.

Our first few days were at Zao Onsen. The village dates back nearly 2000 years and, as with many old Japanese resort towns, it owes its history and life to the volcanic heated hot springs. Anyone who has ever been to Rotorua would recognise the smell immediately.

The village is ringed by a low range of mountains and the ski field spreads across the front of the range right into the heart of the town.

A complex and disjointed lift system takes you to almost where you thought you might like to be, mostly.

Unfortunately, the flat middle of the field needs to be traversed as you try and get across or up and down the field.

Generally, fall lines are hard to find here and the runs are inconsistent.

If the snow had been good, none of this would have been more than a minor inconvenience.

Unfortch, the snow and the riding was exactly like being at Ruapehu on a bad spring day.

Passing low cloud, ice patches, churned refreeze, all combined to make this a pretty average riding experience.

So, if you have VERY good snow and the patience to walk through or pole across the flat bits, and you want to check out a Japanese onsen resort village devoid (mostly) of gaijin, Zao Onsen could be worth a crack. But if the season is at all iffy, I'd look elsewhere.

Crazy lift system, lots of non skiers.

Scott Carmody
10/02/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Month Visited:
    January

Crazy lift system, lots of non skiers.

Scott Carmody
10/02/2019
Zao is off the normal beaten path for the travelling skier, and whilst a large ski field, there was not enough here for us to wish to return as skiers. This is an intermediates resort at best with groomed trail skiing predominantly the main activity. There are 2 or 3 black runs but really they are just maybe 32 or 33 degrees for about 100m linking more intermediate trails. These so called black runs have an easier alternative run down, so uncrowded with stragglers, but way too short to want to lap. Off piste is nice enough with well spaced trees and gullies of reasonable steepness, but nearly all end up at flats and so a lot of walk-outs if you don't have a guide, and guides are hard to find here. Within the resort, the lift set up is crazy, with apparently nine different owners of the 42 lifts here. The lift set up looks like they are designed to keep you in certain areas once you are there? Quite a bit of skating, poling or clipping out of boards to get to adjoining lifts to take you further across the resort. We have never seen so many boarders walking and carrying boards on piste across flats. Additionally at the very top (snow monster territory) you find groups of people walking around on the ski runs!!! AVOID the base Zao cable car at all costs. We made that mistake and took an 1.5 hours to get on the thing and then crushed in like sardines all the way up for 10 mins, Then another ropeway to the top with same thing but no horrific wait. Be warned, there are more tourists than skiers and boarders at this lift area and at the top runs going to see Juhyo. The actual town is a ghost town after the sun goes down (about 4pm). Streets are deserted and if you try restaurants after 7pm you may be disappointed as more often than not had already stopped taking orders. One big plus is the locals. Like almost everywhere in Japan, they are incredibly happy having foreigners come to Zao and are very proud of their village and Yamagata and are only too pleased to offer you any amount of their time and knowledge. It is only on these review sites is where I witness any antagonism by foreign guests to other foreigners and it is usually Australians bagging their fellow Australians for alleged bad behaviour or for so called over running resorts with their presence. After just clicking up 30 resorts visited in Japan over many years, we have not once witnessed any of this or had any Japanese complain at all about foreigners visiting, in fact it is very much the opposite. Glad we did come and see Zao, but because of the travel to get here and the lack of challenge on piste, just a few days would suffice.

Leeroy

Leon
28/01/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    51-70
  • Month Visited:
    March

Leeroy

Leon
28/01/2019
Amazing runs, great people and not over the top in pricing. The runs are sensational for all and excellent for beginners, There is no night life but we go to ski not get smashed and embarrass ourselves, ski, onsen and enjoy the moment. respect the people and they will return in kind

Don’t bother

Crystal
25/01/2019
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Intermediate
  • Rider Age
    18-35
  • Month Visited:
    January

Don’t bother

Crystal
25/01/2019
Runs are crowded, lifts are disjointed and confusing with lots of traversing between. Runs very green and require traversing. Rope way has at least 1 hr wait due to site seeing day trippers, this makes skiing the mountain almost impossible as it is divided and very difficult to make your way across. We had good snow fall during the stay however this effected visibility which was very poor mid mountain, powder wet and soon turned icy, runs icy. Much better conditions in Iwate. Don’t bother with Zao, plenty of other better resorts in japan.

A week in Zao Onsen

Tom S
04/04/2017
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    18-35
  • Month Visited:
    February

A week in Zao Onsen

Tom S
04/04/2017
We spent a week in Zao in early Feb and experienced all of the possible weather conditions! We had rain, heavy snow, heavy fog and of course beautiful bluebird. I've visited multiple resorts in Japan and Zao has one of the better traditional villages. It reminded me of Nozawa Onsen but without all the Australians. Food both on the mountain and in the town is of high quality and relatively inexpensive. However the town is a little spread out so having a village map or asking your accommodation where to go is important. Also the natural onsens are an obvious bonus! Most public onsens are very cheap (or free with a coupon from your accom) and there are some really nice private ones you can hire.
Pay attention to where you accommodation is located though, as some are a bit of a walk up hill to the gondolas.

Onto the skiing! I went to Zao with 3 first timers for skiing in Japan and they LOVED it. It is really a beginner/intermediate mountain, with a myriad of wide blue/green runs across the resort. There are only a handful of black/advanced runs though, so do not come to Zao if you crave steep or difficult runs. Zao doesn't seem to attract many powderhounds, so it's very easy to find un-tracked lines, mostly in the trees, after a big dump. However it is difficult to find a good fall line on a lot of these runs.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the lift layout of Zao is shocking. We had 1 snowboarder with us and they were constantly taking off their board and walking up stupidly designed flat spots in the middle of runs. Also the transition from the left hand side to the right hand side of the trail map is horrible. It's much easier to choose one side of the mountain and stick to it all day. (ps - skiers left hand side is the better one, quieter and steeper)
We had 6 days skiing and that was more than enough as we had explored the whole place by about the end of day 4 and then used the last two days to go back to our favourite spots. I won't be back in a hurry to visit as I feel we have skied it all, but the lovely village is a big draw card.

Winter vacation - Zao Onsen

J. Bureš (James)
02/04/2017
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Intermediate
  • Rider Age
    18-35
  • Month Visited:
    January

Winter vacation - Zao Onsen

J. Bureš (James)
02/04/2017
I have spent 6 beautiful nights at this destination during my winter vacation. It is good place for beginners and intermediate skiers. Opportunity for expert skiers is the skiing outside of marked trails (it is forbidden, but not very guarded).

I was suprised by the beautiful panoramas and the great local food. English speaking staff is the exception rather than the rule, so be ready to improvise. The weather is highly changeable, especially at the higher altitudes.

The powder is so addictive!

Zao = Wow

Freya
22/05/2016
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Intermediate
  • Rider Age
    36-50

Zao = Wow

Freya
22/05/2016
Loved the beauty and uncrowded slopes. The "ice monsters" at the top were remarkable. Easy to get to from Tokyo via Shinkansen to Yamagata and short bus ride. Very few English speakers. Occasional short walks between lifts but easy enough to get around. Scenery was a total knock-out and the beautiful fluffy snow made it a memorable visit.

Previously Under-Rated

POWDERHOUNDS.COM
12/05/2016
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    February
  • Admin Rating
    1

Previously Under-Rated

POWDERHOUNDS.COM
12/05/2016
The impressive snow monsters
Beautiful powder
Heading up to the onsen shrine to pray for more powder
The first time I visited Zao Onsen I was impressed with the onsen village, but not that taken with the snow, the advanced terrain and off-piste opportunities. On this visit, I saw Zao Onsen in a whole new light. Perhaps it was because the sun was out and I could actually see where I was skiing! Also with some visibility, I could see that Zao is scenically spectacular. Instead of looking eerie and spooky, the Zao snow monsters looked amazing. I’d previously snickered at the tourists going up to see the snow monsters but on this visit I could definitely see the attraction. The views of the mountains were also lovely.

The powder was also of amazing quality on this visit. It was lovely and dry, and with good visibility it was easy to explore the many off-piste stashes.

Zao Onsen has so many things going for it. It has retained its Japanese-ness and is yet to become over-run with westerners. The many onsens are also fabulous. It’s also somewhat unique for a Japanese ski resort that it’s a decent size (although not huge) so it can hold the attention of skiers and snowboarders for more than just a couple of days.

See more on the pros and cons on the Zao Onsen overview page.
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