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  • [Activity] Snowshoe Snow Trekking at Zao! Snow Monsters with a guide [2024][Ended]

[Activity] Snowshoe Snow Trekking at Zao! Snow Monsters with a guide [2024][Ended]

VISIT YAMAGATA Editorial Staff

VISIT YAMAGATA Editorial Staff

Hello! This is the VISIT YAMAGATA editorial department. We regularly publish summary articles about event information and sightseeing spots in each Yamagata area. We also introduce detailed information about Yamagata!


Along with skiing, the Snow Monsters are a synonym for Zao in winter.

These rime ice-covered trees formed through a rare natural phenomenon that can only be seen in a small part of the Ou mountains of the Tohoku region where they are known as Snow Monsters for their appearance.

At Zao Onsen Ski Resort, if you take the ropeway from the hot spring town to the Jizo Sancho station, you can easily see the Snow Monsters from the gondola windows or the observation deck at the summit. It is common for visitors to line at the boarding station to go see these beautiful but powerful Snow Monsters in winter.

This time I will introduce the  snowshoe snow trekking activity at Zao.

Taking the ropeway up and down only offers a bird’s-eye view of the Snow Monsters, but snow trekking in snowshoes accompanied by a mountain instructor allows skiers and other visitors to enter an area usually off-limit, and feel the winter nature, including the Snow Monsters, with their whole body.

Why don’t you go trekking this winter wearing snowshoes?

To start...

Zao Snow Monsters

The Zao mountain range’s peculiar weather conditions and vegetation create a unique natural work of art known as Snow Monsters.

It is a natural phenomenon in which subzero overcooled water and snowfall form layers of rime ice on the leaves and branches of Maries’ firs living near the mountain range.

The huge and fluffy snow monsters are like art from God and take the shape of charming creatures.



Detailed information

 Zao Juhyo Festival

Zao Juhyo Festival

Every year, Zao Onsen Ski Resort holds events such as Winter Fireworks, Torch Gliding, Large Display of Snow Vehicles and Snow Monster Illuminations which entertains visitors.

The natural charm of Zao in winter, as seen on the Snow Monsters, is the rime ice.

The overcooled fog droplets are sprayed on trees by the wind, then turn to rime ice like a white flower blooming on a tree, a natural beauty sight.

Two snowshoe activities

The Zao Onsen Ski Resort is visited by many skiers and snowboarders every year, but snowshoe activities are secretly popular because you can feel the art created by nature, the Snow Monsters and the rime ice close to you and deeply.

There are two types of snowshoe activities to be enjoyed at Zao Onsen Ski Resort:

(1) Walk freely without a guide doing Snowshoe Snow Hiking
 (2) Go with a mountain instructor for  Snowshoe Snow Trekking

This time I will introduce (2)​ ​Snowshoe Snow Trekking.

  (1) Snow Hiking (2) Snow Trekking
Accompanied by a mountain instructor No Required
Time required About 1~3 hours 5~7 hours
Availability Early January ~ early March
*Depending on snow conditions
Mid January ~ End March
*Depending on snow conditions
Ropeway to use Zao Chuo Ropeway
Zao Sky Cable
Zao Ropeway
Zao Chuo Ropeway
Zao Sky Cable
Features ・You can freely decide the course within the designated area
・As long as it is during the ropeway operation time, there is no duration restriction
You can enjoy casually
Relatively inexpensive
Available with no reservations
・ Go where you can usually not go without a mountain instructor (middle of Snow Monsters and rime iced areas)
・ Listen to commentary on flora, fauna, topography, and Snow Monsters from a mountain instructor
・ Snow trek safely with a mountain instructor even if the weather is bad
Reservations must be made at least 7 days in advance, more if a translator is also required (please make sure to inquire by email before booking)
Recommended for ・ People who want to walk casually and freely in the Chuo Kogen area in winter
・ People who do not ski or snowboard but want to enjoy the winter mountains
・People with limited time and budget
・ People who want to enjoy trekking in the snow in earnest
・ People who want to walk while enjoying the Snow Monsters and rime ice scenery
・ People who want to enter a zone that can not be entered by skiing or snowboarding
Operated by Zao Tourism Development Co., Ltd Omotenashi Yamagata Co., Ltd., etc.
  NOT AVAILABLE for 2024  

*The above table was created by VISIT YAMAGATA Editorial Department.

Detailed information

Detailed information

Detailed information

(1) Snowshoe Snow Hiking [NOT AVAILABLE FOR 2024]

[Activity] Snowshoe Snow Hiking at Zao! Explore the Chuo Kogen snowfields

Article about the 2023 season is below.

Three courses

There are three options for snowshoe snow trekking to enjoy each or both of the Snow Monsters and the rime ice area.

[Course A] Snow Monsters & Rime Ice Exploration Course

Synonymous with Zao in winter, the Snow Monsters and the delicate and beautiful rime ice cab be both enjoyed
After a walk through the Snow Monster area accompanied by an instructor, trek under the rime ice on the way to Mt. Torikabuto
※ Trek length: About 6km
※ Difficulty degree: Beginner ~

09:00 Meet at the Zao Ropeway Zao Sanroku Station
Meet your mountain instructor
Take the Sanroku Line and the Sancho Line to to Jizo Sanzan Station
10:00 Walk through the Snow Monster area
Stroll the Paradise Slope (break for lunch on the way)
13:00 Stroll around the summit of Mt. Torikabuto
Go back from the Torikabuto Station to the Onsen Station on the Chuo Ropeway
15:00 End of tour

[Course B] Snow Monsters Exploration Course

A course where you can trek in the Snow Monster area from Zao Jizoson at the top of the mountain to go down to the ropeway station
You can see the Snow Monsters up close and enjoy trekking while slowly descending the snowy mountains
※ Trek length: About 5km
※ Difficulty degree: Beginner ~

09:00 Meet at the Zao Ropeway Zao Sanroku Station
Meet your mountain instructor
Take the Sanroku Line and Sancho Line to the Jizo-Sanzan Station
Stroll through the Snow Monsters (break for lunch on the way)
Take the Zao Ropeway from the Juhyo Kogen Station to go back to the Zao Sanroku Station
14:00 End of tour

[Course C] Chuo Kogen Rime Ice Exploration Course

Stroll along the Chuo Kogen area from the Torikabuto Station of the Zao Chuo Ropeway and come down by Sky Cable
You can enjoy a different scenery from the exciting Snow Monsters as you stroll among the trees shining white with fine rime ice on every branch
※ Trek length: About 5km
※ Difficulty degree: Beginner ~

09:00 Meet at the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station
Meet your mountain instructor
Take the ropeway to the Torikabuto Station
Stroll through the rime ice area (break for lunch on the way)
Take the Sky Cable from the Chuo Kogen Station down to the Uwanodai Station
14:00 End of tour

Rime Ice Area [Course A] [Course B]

Air walk over the Snow Monsters and the rime ice area

The start of the trip for [Course A] and [Course B] is the Zao Sanroku Station of the Zao Ropeway.
Take the Sanroku Line to Juhyo Kogen Station, transfer to the Sancho Line, and take the ropeway to the Jizo Sanzan Station.

The gondola’s windows offer a spectacular and beautiful view.

Rime ice area snow trekking

After arriving at the Jizo Sancho Station and visiting the Zao Jizoson (described below), you will finally enter the Snow Monster area.

The Snow Monsters rise within reach, and you will be overwhelmed by their appearance as you make your way through the area.

If you put yourself in the spot you admired from the gondola or the observation deck, you will be even more moved and in awe of the great sight of nature.

The depth of the snow…

While trekking in the Snow Monster area, there are several times when you will be buried in the snow up to the waist.

According to the mountain instructor, the trekking area is covered with snow, but there are many parts that are hollow inside.

When you get out of the hole you got into to and look at it, you will see tree branches coming out and the tree that continues further down.

You will wonder about the the depth of the snow.

If you measure with a measuring rod is has a total depth of 3 meters…


I would have been completely buried over my head.
*The snow surface may collapse if you poke it with a pole or a thin stick so please do not do that.

At that time (mid-January), the snowfall was about 3 meters.
It is said that it will be more than 4 meters deep in February.

[Course B] continues further straight to the Juhyo Kogen Station, and from there, take the Zao Ropeway Sanroku Line down to return to the Zao Sanroku Station.

From the Snow Monsters area to the rime ice area [Course A]

We go past the Snow Monsters to enter the forest.

After lunch time in the forest (described below), we went to the Paradise Slope.
Your horizons will expand at once and you will feel open.

From here, you can see a lot of glasswork-like rime ice.

From here, pass under the rime ice forest and head to the Torikabuto Station.

Torikabuto observatory [Course A] [Course C]

Arrive at the Chuo Kogen area

Both [Course A] and [Course C] arrive at the Torikabuto Station!
* [Course A] takes you around the Torikabuto Station while enjoying the rime ice scenery.
*[Course C] starts from the Zao Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station in Zao’s hot spring town!
Meet your mountain instructor, then head to the Torikabuto Station by gondola

The scenery from the Torikabuto station is here.

The sharp peaks on the right are Mt. Ganto at the northern end of the Zao Mountain Range, with Miyagi Prefecture on the other side.

Observation deck at the summit of Mt. Torikabuto with a good view

When you arrive at the Torikabuto station, go to the Torikabuto  Observatory just next to it (1~2 minutes on foot) 

When you reach the top of the mountain and look back on the east side, there is a rime ice-covered forest over there.

By the way, the white building that looks small in the upper left is Jizo Sancho Station.
[Course A] takes you from there down to this point.

When you turn to the west, you have a beautiful view.
From here (the photo below), you can see the Zao Onsen town in front of the right hand side, and Kaminoyama on the left in the back.

If the weather is nice, you can see Mt. Adatara, the Azuma mountain range, the Iide mountain range, the Asahi mountain range, Mt. Gassan, Mt. Hayama and Mt. Chokai.

There is a rope to prevent falling from the observation deck, and the pole for rope has snow stuck on it in a mysterious way due to wind.

[Course A] ends here and returns from the Torikabuto Station to the Onsen Station of the Chuo Ropeway.

Rime Ice Area [Course C]

After enjoying the view at the summit of Mt. Torikabuto, you will finally enter the rime ice area.

On [Course C], you will enter in a forest of rime ice.

Being accompanied by an instructor is essential as you will follow a roadless path that no one has set foot on to enter a world of white silver.

In the back is the rime ice area (rabbit footprints in the foreground)

If you want to enjoy a delicate and fantastic scenery, we recommend [Course C].

Zao's Three Great Gods

Zao, which once attracted worshipers of mountain worship, still  enshrines the three gods of Zao Jizoson, Zao Daikokuten, and Zao Daigongen.

Snowshoe snow trekking also allows you to visit one of the three gods on each course.

Zao Jizoson (Disaster Prevention and Fulfillment of Various Wishes) [Course A] [Course B]

100m away from the Zao Ropeway Jizo Sancho Station is the Zao Jizoson.

Built in 1775, the Jizoson is a seated statue with a height of 2.34 meters, a shoulder width of 1.2 meters, a knee width of 1.8m, and a pedestal height of 0.34 meters.

It has been enshrined at an altitude of about 1,660 meters for more than 200 years and still watches over the safety of mountain climbers.

Zao Jizoson (Autumn)

Jizoson is also famous for the fact that it is almost buried under snow in winter.

Zao Jizoson (mid-January)

Zao Daikokuten (family safety and business prosperity) [Course A] [Course C]

Zao Daikokuten is enshrined at the summit of Mt. Torikabuto, right next to the Chuo Ropeway Torikabuto Station.

Daikokuten was built in 1980 in hopes of the safeguarding the tourists visiting Zao and boosting the prosperity of Zao Onsen’s businesses.
It is said that around the year 110, Kibino Takayu, who found the current Zao Onsen, is enshrined at the top of the mountain.

Zao Daikokuten (autumn)

Like Zao Jizoson, it is covered with snow in winter and now can finally be seen.

Zao Daikokuten (mid-January)

Zao Daigongen (God of Longevity and Water) [Course C]

Enshrined in front of the Zao Sky Cable Stations is the Zao Daigongen.

Built in 2002 as a place of worship for the Zao Daigongen currently enshrined at the entrance to Zao (Kamihozawa, Yamagata City), this Zao Daigongen is said to defeat any evil spirit and invite peace.

Lots of natural attractions [all courses]

Of course, the big highlights of this snow trek are the Snow Monsters and the rime ice, but these are not the only attractions.

If you look at your feet and around you, you may see the nature you live in, and you will be impressed.

Art woven by nature

Nature is not only beautiful, but also raging at time.
Of course, it is no exception in snowy mountains, and it frequently causes snowstorms and avalanches.

Likewise, nature can also create art that is so beautiful that we can’t imagine it.

These are due to wind patterns and can be seen on alpine ridges and snow surfaces in harsh environments.

It can be said that it is a work of art created by nature, the beauty of snow.

Animal Shadows

The mountains at Zao are home to a variety of wildlife, including antelope, a natural monument, and if you’re lucky, you might see some during the trek.

I would like to meet an animal during a snowshoe trek, but tracks you have a good chance of finding some.

Antelope tracks

Marten tracks

Rabbit tracks

When I think of wild animals walking right next to us, I feel like I’m one step closer to nature.

Returning to being a child playing in the snow

If the weather is nice and you have plenty of time, your instructor will teach you a variety of games.

Adults too will feel like they were a child again.

Essentials for snowshoe snow trekking

In addition, we will introduce the mountain instructor and equipment indispensable for this snowshoe snow trekking experience.

Mountain Instructor

An essential part of this tour is the presence of the mountain instructor.

In snowfields, you tend to not know your right from left and front from back.

In addition, Zao’s snow is light and easily carried by the winds, and whiteouts* often block the view.
*The phenomenon when the entire view becomes pure white due to a snowstorm, etc., and it becomes difficult to recognize the space in front of us from the ground below.

To avoid distress and respond to unforeseen circumstances, it is essential to accompanied by a mountain instructor with extensive mountaineering knowledge and experience when trekking in the Snow Monster and rime ice areas.
*This is not required for the Snow hike activity (Zao Tourism Development) near the slopes of the Chuo Kogen area.

Mr. Kasukawa, Zao Mountain Instructor

This snow trekking tour is done accompanied by a veteran Zao mountain instructor.

In addition to safety measures in the mountains, it is also attractive to be able to know the charm of Zao widely and deeply, which can not be understood simply by going through and seeing the flora and fauna of Zao and the highlights of the Snow Monsters and rime ice.


The snowshoes used for snow trekking are the traditional kanjiki snowshoes, the ring-shaped ones.
*The rental fee for snowshoes is included in the activity fee.

Tying the laces can be a little complicated for first-time people, so listen to the accompanying instructor when doing it.

Other equipment required to participate in the snowshoe trekking is as follows:

List of clothes and items to bring
Ski wear (or fleece jacket & mountain climbing rainwear)
Cold-proof gloves
Cold-proof shoes
Cold-proof and waterproof snow boots & mountain climbing spats
Ear-covering knit cap
Goggles or sunglasses
Trekking poles

(1) Clothing
Clothing for snow conditions is basically layered so that you can take off when it is hot and wear it when it is cold.
 Ski wear, snowboard wear, or rain jackets for climbing, etc., which are excellent in waterproofing and moisture permeability
[Middle Layer]
 Fleeces, thin down jackets, soft shells, etc., with excellent heat insulation and breathability
Base Layer
 Inner (underwear) with excellent heat insulation and quick drying, such as long sleeves on top and tights under

(2) Gloves
Waterproof skiing and snowboarding gloves.
If you are worried about your hands, it is also recommended to wear a warm inner.

(3) Shoes, leggings, socks
 Waterproof snow boots are recommended, but Zao snow often doesn’t contain a lot of moisture, so it’s almost fine with regular trekking shoes (it’s recommended to spray waterproof spray on them).

Snowboard boots are also available as a substitute, but because the ankles are fixed, long-walk snow trekking can damage your feet so they are not recommended.

In addition, during this long snow trekking, it is essential to keep your feet warm.
In order to prevent stuffy shoes and cold feet, it is recommended to have high cold resistance and quick drying.
If you are worried about your feet getting cold, you can rest assured that you should wear thin socks as an inner in thick winter mountain socks.

And the most important thing about footwear is that snow doesn’t get inside it.
That’s why trekking gaiters that prevent snow from entering your shoes are a must.

(4) Headgear and goggles
Headgear daily used is fine, but it’s important to have something that covers the ears.
The best thing to do is a knitted hat, but without it, don’t forget your earmuffs.

Sunglasses and goggles are good because the reflections of sunlight are dazzling in the snowfields on a clear day, and on a stormy day, it may be barely possible to open your eyes without them.

(5) Trekking poles
Poles are also essential for snow trekking up and down snowy mountains.
However, these are not poles for skiing that are used but the ones for snowy mountains.

The size of the basket on the hiking pole (left) and the ski pole (right) is different and larger on the former.

Left: Trekking pole / Right: Ski pole

If it is a well-maintained and well-stepped slope, there will not be much problem with ski poles, but when you step into a snowfield where people usually do not set foot, the ski poles with their small basket will sink into the snow for the most part.
*If you do not have trekking poles, you can get some at the rental shops.

Differences when sticking the poles in the snow’s surface (left: Trekking pole / right: Ski pole)

(6) Lunch and drinks
During this snow trekking, we will have lunch on the snow.
The recommended item is sandwiches.

Instructor’s lunch

On the other hand, we do not recommend rice-based items such as rice balls.
Snowshoe snow trekking is done over a long time in temperatures below freezing, so by the time you take out the rice balls from your backpack at lunchtime, the rice will be in tatters, making it very difficult to eat and not quite delicious.

If you are willing to bring hot water in a container with high heat insulation, you can heat up and eat cup ramen or instant rice.
*The use of firearms is strictly prohibited in the section of the snow trekking, along with the use of burners, etc.

Example of lunch: Porridge completed by pouring hot water and stirring (lower right) / miso soup (lower left) / confectionery bread (upper right) / banana (upper left), 

I think that 500 ml of drinks such as sports drinks and tea would be enough.
* If you are worried, please bring more than that

Once you’ve got all this, all that is left is to be in shape!

How about enjoying the beautiful nature for a limited time safely with your whole body?

Snowshoe Snow Trekking at Zao! Snow Monsters with a guide
[Ended for 2023-2024 winter season]

[Fees]​ ※The fees are the same for all three courses. All taxes are included, and the fees are in total.
If one person participates: 25,000 yen
For 2 participants: 29,000 yen
For 3 participants: 32,o00 yen
For 4 participants: 36,000 yen
For 5 participants: 42,500 yen

Round-trip ropeway ticket
Snowshoe rental
Mountain instructor fee
Insurance premiums
* All items not included like clothing and lunch, etc. must be prepared by the participants before the tour

January 20, to March 15, 2024
*Depending on snow conditions

[Age requirement]
18 years old and over

[Course A]
 ​ ​Snow Monsters & Rime Ice Course
​ ​Trekking distance: About 6 km Difficulty: Beginner ~
08:30 Meet at the Zao Ropeway Zao Sanroku Station
Meet with the mountain instructor
Take the Sanroku Line and the Sancho Line to the Jizo-Sancho Station
Trek through the Snow Monsters field
Stroll the Paradise slope (take lunch on the way)
Trek around the summit of Mt. Torikabuto
Go back from the Torikabuto Station to the Onsen Station by the Chuo Ropeway
14:30 End

[Course B] ​ ​Snow Monsters Exploration Course
Trekking distance: About 5 km Difficulty: Beginner ~

08:30 Meet at the Zao Ropeway Zao Sanroku Station
Meet with the mountain instructor
Take the Sanroku Line and the Sancho Line to the Jizo-Sancho Station
Trek through the Snow Monsters field (take lunch on the way)
Go back from the Juhyo Kogen Station to the Sanroku Station by the Zao Ropeway
14:30 End

[C Course] ​ ​Chuo Kogen Rime Ice Exploration Course
Trekking distance: About 5km Difficulty: Beginner ~
 08:30 Meet at the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station
Meet with the mountain instructor
Take the ropeway to the Chuo Kogen Station
Trek through the rime ice field (take lunch on the way)
Go back from the Chuo Kogen Station to the Uwanodai Station by the Sky Cable
13:30 End

None (day trip)

Please prepare your own lunch.

[Tour conductor]
None besides the mountain instructor

[Minimum number of participants]

1 person

[Travel Terms & Conditions]
Click here to read them. (Japanese only) (English version will be sent to you upon inquiry by email)

※ The schedule can be changed if required
※ Paid options including car service from Yamagata station can be added
Please contact us be email before making a reservation online if you are visiting Yamagata from overseas and/or do not speak Japanese
※ Tours with a translator are also available but please make sure to contact us beforehand
※ The tour staring time is flexible and can be change to 9:00 if you intend to come to Zao Onsen by bus on the day of the tour

 ☎︎ 023-631-9522

Planning and Implementation
Omotenashi Yamagata Co., Ltd.
Yamagata Governor’s Registered Travel Agency No. 2-295
2-4-3 Honcho, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture

Member of the National Association of Travel Agencies

Business days and hours: Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 17:15

Detailed information

Snowshoe snow trekking in Snow Monsters at Zao

Detailed information

[Reservations] Kumanodake & Okama Crater Lake in Winter! Snowshoe snow trekking with a mountain instructor

[Reservations] Kumanodake & Okama Crater Lake in Winter! Snowshoe snow trekking with a mountain instructor

Apply from mid-March to beginning of May
Please make sure to contact us beforehand if you are coming to Yamagata from overseas and/or if you do not speak Japanese.

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