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

Aiko Honma

Aiko Honma

I work mainly as a writer & freelance announcer in Yamagata Prefecture. I will discover and introduce information that can be recommended only because I live in the area, and spots that even locals will want to visit! Using my qualifications as a wine expert, I will also tell you about Yamagata's wineries and stories of my latest hobby, mountain climbing (trekking)♪

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The first thing that comes to mind when you think of “winter sports” and “Zao in winter” is probably skiing and snowboarding.
The exhilaration and speed of skiing and snowboarding in the snowy mountains is irresistible.

Such skiing and snowboarding are definitely recommended for enjoying Yamagata and Zao in winter, but I would like to introduce snowshoe hikes that I would like to introduce this time.

Hiking in the mountains ​ ​in snowshoes  will look different from spring, summer and autumn, and are perfect for those who want to take a leisurely stroll through the mountains in winter.

Even at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort, which is Yamagata Prefecture’s best ski resort, I learned that it was possible to enjoy the famous snow monsters with snowshoes at my own pace, so this time I went with a girl friend to try that. 

This is my report on the situation.

 

To start...

Snowshoes

Snowshoes  are made for walking on snow.
It is a traditional footwear in Japan’s snowy regions, but there are snowshoes similar to that in the West too.

When walking deep in the snow, ordinary shoes and boots concentrate their weight on a small area of the sole so the feet are completely buried in the snow, hindering movement.

With snowshoes, the weight is dispersed using the larger surface of the snowshoes, distributing the weight so as not to sink into the snow.

Snowshoes used to be made of wood and rope, but now there are many variants made of plastic and aluminum.

One of the attractions of the activity is that it is not possible to enjoy this while skiing or snowboarding, and it is a real pleasure because it goes slowly.

A snowshoes program at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort

The snowshoes hike program that can be enjoyed at Zao Onsen Ski Resort is roughly
(1) Free plan for a Snow Hike on your own without a guide
 (2) Full-fledged trip with a mountain instructor Snow Trekking

  (1) Snowshoe hiking (2) Snowshoe trekking 
Accompanied by a mountain instructor No Required
Time required About 1~3 hours 5~7 hours
Availability January 12 ~ March 7, 2021
*Depending on snow conditions
January 20 ~ March 31, 2021
*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
・ Enter an area not accessible without a mountain instructor (middle of Snow Monsters field, soft rime area, etc.)
・ Listen to commentary on flora, fauna, topography, and ice from a mountain instructor
・ With a mountain instructor you can rest assured that you will not get lost even if the weather is bad
Reservations must be made at least 3 days in advance
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.
Reservations Click here 共通ボタン2

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

This time, what we have enjoyed was the (1) Snow Hike which anyone can enjoy casually.

I always go to Zao for skiing, but this time it was my first time to go hike with snowshoes, and it seemed to me that you can discover new charms of Zao.

Let’s get on with the report!

Detailed information

② Snowshoe Trekking Experience

② Snowshoe Trekking Experience

[Activity] Yamagata(s Zao | Snowshoe Trekking with a mountain instructor to go see the Snow Monsters

Clothing and items to bring

I went in mid-January.
The average temperature in Zao at this time of year is -10°C to -3°C.

Proper equipment is important if you go hiking with snowshoes in sub-zero temperatures.

[Required]
Ski wear
* Can also be substituted for mountain climbing rainwear worn over fleece
(However, it is recommended to prepare cold-resistant clothes separately because it will be cold during the break.)
Cold-resistant waterproof shoes
Cold-resistant gloves
Goggles or sunglasses
Knit cap hiding the ears
Drink
* Snowshoes and poles are included in the fees

[Useful items]
Leggings for mountain climbing
*To prevent snow from entering your shoes
Lunch and snacks
Backpack
Neck warmer

Application & courses

Application

Our starting point this time is the Zao Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station.

Detailed information

Zao Chuo Ropeway

Zao Chuo Ropeway

023-694-9168023-694-9168

Tell the staff at the counter if you have made a reservation. You will receive a lecture from the staff at the back office, such as how to wear the snowshoes, a course explanation, and cautions.

Fees and details

[Activity fee]
3,000 yen (tax included)

[Included in the fee]
Ticket
*Zao Chuo Ropeway and Zao Sky Cable 1 facility round trip, or each’s one-way ticket can be used
Snowshoe rental fee
Pole rental fee

[Reception hours]
9:00~14:00

How to wear snowshoes

Easy-to-wear rental snowshoes
Just tie the shoelaces and pass the belts through in turn.

In order to check the condition of the snowshoes, it is recommended to try wearing both at the reception

Recommended Courses

This is a guide map of the course that we have guided you to.
There seem to be two recommended courses: a leisurely course (about 2 hours) and a enjoyable course (about 3 hours).

It may be a good thing to make your own course with reference to this course.
*There is an additional charge when using the lift on the way

By the way, there are the following four ways to go up to the Chuo Kogen area and back to the hot spring town. 

(1) [Round Trip] Zao Chuo Ropeway (Onsen Station ⇄ Torikabuto Station)
(2) [Round trip] Zao Sky Cable (Uwa-no-Dai Station ⇄ Chuo Kogen Station)
(3) [Outbound] Zao Chuo Ropeway (Onsen Station→ Torikabuto Station)
[Return trip] Zao Sky Cable (Chuo Kogen Station → Uwa-no-Dai Station)
(4) [Outbound] Zao Sky Cable (Uwa-no-Dai Station → Chuo Kogen Station)
[Return trip] Zao Ropeway (Torikabuto Station → Onsen Station)

* Snowshoes can be rented at the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station or at the Zao Sky Cable Station.

Today’s course

This time, the route that we decided to walk is as follows:

[Zao Chuo Ropeway Torikabuto Station] → [Snow Monsters Area] → [Dokko-numa pond] → [Zao Sky Cable Chuo Kogen Station] → [Uwa-no-Dai Station] → [Walk in Zao Onsen Town] → [Zao Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station]

If you don’t have lunch or a long break along the way, it’s a route you can go around in about 2 hours.

No climbs, all downhill.
It is our original safe and secure plan as we do not usually exercise much (laughs)
If you are not confident in your physical strength, please refer to it.

Hike in the snow in the Chuo Kogen area

Take the Zao Chuo Ropeway to the Zao Chuo Kogen area

This is the ropeway.
From here, head to Torikabuto Station.

Besides us, there were skiers and snowboarders and tourists enjoying the scenery on the ropeway, but we were the only ones with snowshoes.

As the gondola climbs, the buildings become smaller and smaller.
This alone is enough of an event.

On the way, we crossed path with the gondola going down

The yellow ropeway accents the scenery like ink painting and is beautiful.

Torikabuto Station ~ Torikabuto Observatory

7 minutes and 30 seconds after departing from the Onsen Station, you will arrive at the Torikabuto Station.

The temperature on this day was -5°C.
At first thing, it seemed to be cold, but there was almost no wind so it was a temperature that was not a problem for the hike in the snow.

This is a guide map of restaurants around the Torikabuto Station area.

There are various restaurants near the slopes.

And here is the first view after leaving the Torikabuto station.

I want to start walking! so I start preparing.
This time, I will wear the snowshoes on my own.

After wearing the snowshoes, we first went to the observation deck above the Torikabuto Station for practice.

No one seems to have climbed the observation deck, so I walked on the untouched new snow.
You will arrive at the observatory in about 2 minutes.

There is nothing to block it, so the wind is strong.
But it’s a good view.
It makes you feel the openness!

Feels like being a child again.

By the way, when you have finished enjoying the scenery from the Torikabuto Observatory, it is time to snow hike.

These information boards stand everywhere on the slopes, so you’ll be heading to your destination with the name of the slopes as a landmark.

[Caution]
・ When hiking with snowshoes, walk as much as possible on the edges of the slopes and be careful not to hit skiers or snowboarders.
・ When taking a break, please use a place that skiers and snowboarders do not pass, and places that are easy to spot for skiers and snowboarders.

Please watch this video of actual walking on the side of the slope.

Hike while surrounded by trees.
When walking on new snow like this, your feet will sink a little.
But with snowshoes they don’t sink deep.

When you get used to walking, enter the small forest on the side of the slopes and slide down in the tracks of the skiers and ♪
I’m a child again!

From here, you will go quickly through the trees.
It now feels like a hike in snowshoes.

If you look around, you will see such a scenery.
The trunk of the tree is covered with snow sprayed by the strong winds.
I feel the power of nature close to me.

After that, I walked on the crispy fresh snow and saw the slopes.
It was a small forest, but I feel like I had a big adventure.

Outdoor lunch at the Dokko-numa pond

When in the Chuo Kogen area, the Dokko-numa pond is not to be missed.
Look at the Dokko-numa pond, do not be afraid of the new snow and move forward!

1 hour after getting off the ropeway.
Just at lunchtime, I arrived at Dokko-numa pond.

On this day, the surface of the pond was almost all snowy and pure white, so only a part could be seen.
* Please do not enter the pond as it is dangerous

Well, today’s snowshoe hike lunch will be taken near the Dokko-numa pond.
I spread out the picnic sheet for winter to enjoy the outdoor feeling, and sat down.

Today’s menu is cup noodles!
After a walk in the cold, the noodles warmed my body.

And I also brought donuts and coffee for dessert.

Extraordinary lunchtime surrounded by snow.
Of course, girl’s talks are fun, but the space surrounded by snow has a very strange tranquility, and you can refresh yourself if you listen carefully.

Detailed information

Dokko-numa pond

Dokko-numa pond

By the way, this is Forest inn SANGORO where you can stay and eat.
It is a nice mountain hut style lodge near the Dokko-numa pond.

You can hear the sound of Jazz from outside, and it is a very fashionable spot.
This time, we brought our own lunch, but it is also recommended to have lunch at Forest inn SANGORO.

Detailed information

Forest inn SANGORO

Forest inn SANGORO

023-694-9330023-694-9330

We spent a leisurely time looking at the snowy Dokko-numa pond
I d like to go back.

On the way back, head to the Zao Sky Cable’s Chuo Kogen Station, a little over five minutes away from Dokko-numa pond.

Visit Zao’s Dai Gongen-do hall

The Zao Dai Gongen-do hall is built in front of Zao Sky Cable Chuo Kogen Station.

♪ Zao’s Gongen – on the nights of Obon – is in a festive mood to the sounds of Hanagasa dancing 

It is Gongen which appears in the lyrics of the folk song “Hanagasa Ondo” in Yamagata.

Go to the hot spring town with the Zao Sky Cable gondola lift

After visiting Zao’s Dai Gongen, return to the hot spring town by Zao Sky Cable.
You can also return the snowshoes at the Chuo Kogen Station, so let’s return them there before leaving.

Zao Sky Cable’s gondolas are four-seaters and shaped like those of a Ferris wheel.
It makes you feel like being in an amusement park and it’s fun♪

The lift runs until about 16:00, so if you leave at 14:00 after the end of the snow hike reception hours, time may be tight.
Therefore, we recommend that you start in the morning if you want to experience it.

Stroll around Zao Onsen Town

We parked our car in the parking lot of the Zao Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station, so after arriving at the Uwa-no-Dai Station by the Sky Cable, we had to return to the car on foot.

The Zao Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station is about 1 kilometer from the Zao Sky Cable Station, a 20-minute walk on the snowy road.

Sukawa Onsen Shrine and Yakushi Shrine

First of all, we went to the Yakushi Shrine located beneath the Sukawa Onsen Shrine.

The approach to the Sukawa Onsen Shrine was snowy so I gave up this time.
If the road is clear, please visit the Sukawa Onsen Shrine which has protected Zao Onsen since ancient time.


Sukawa Onsen Shrine (summer)

Day trip onsen facilities and public baths

After going down the 228 stone steps leading from the Sukawa Onsen Shrine to the hot spring town, you will reach the Kamiyu Public Bath on Takayu Street.

Cold body bathing in hot water… I am all smiles.
We recklessly went down the stone steps, but in winter it is very slippery, so we recommend a detour.

And if you go further, a public bath will appear.

There is a footbath and a hand bath next to the building of the Shimoyu public bath.
Even those who have not come prepared to take a full bath can easily feel the warmth of Zao Onsen.
* Metal on rings and such will be discolored, so please take them off before you put your hands in.

Zao Onsen has five day-trip bathing facilities and three public baths including the Kamiyu and Shimoyu introduced this time.

After a hike in the snow, why don’t you warm up while healing your fatigue in one of Zao’s hot spring bath facilities?

Detailed information

Zao Onsen Day-trip bathing facilities | All 8 facilities introduced at once!

Zao Onsen Day-trip bathing facilities | All 8 facilities introduced at once!

Shinzaemon-no-Yu / Center Plaza Yu – Yu / Genshichi Open-air Hot Spring / Kawara-ya / Large open-air bath / Public Baths (Kamiyu, Shimoyu, Kawahara-yu)

Restaurants and souvenir shops

Zao Onsen also has restaurants and souvenir shops.
This time I couldn’t go because it was outside business hours, but I wanted to go to Chuka Soba Okumura.

It is a ramen shop that is reputed to be delicious.


Chuka Soba (600 yen)

Spicy Miso Ramen (800 yen)

On the way back to the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station, while walking leisurely, there were many things that attracted discoveries and interests because we were in no rush.

Zao’s hot spring town is full of attractions, so please take a walk along various roads and find hidden spots!

Summary

Route and time schedule (approximate) of this tour

The time schedule for this route is as follows.
Duration: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes (including lunch time)

10:20 Application and explanations
10:45 Leaving from the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station
10:55 Arriving at the Chuo Ropeway Torikabuto Station
11:00 Torikabuto Observatory
11:15 Walking around the Chuo Kogen area
12:00 Lunch (Dokko-numa pond)
12:45 Pray at the Zao Dai Gongen statue
12:50 Leaving from the Sky Cable Chuo Kogen Station
13:00 Arriving at the Sky Cable Uwa-no-Dai Station
※ If returning to the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station on foot
(About 20 minutes on the winter road if you do not stop anywhere from the Sky Cable Uwa-no-Dai Station to the Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station)
13:00 Departure from the Sky Cable Uwa-no-Dai Station
Visit to Vinegar River Onsen Shrine and Yakushi Shrine
Take a break in the footbath
Hot spring town walk
Day-trip hot spring bathing, etc.
13:30 〜
15:00
Chuo Ropeway Onsen Station

Please make your own course and enjoy it freely.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the blue sky this time, but this is the view from the slopes when I came to ski on a different day.

If you are lucky, you can enjoy hiking with snowshoes in a pure white snowfield under the blue sky like this.

Skiing and snowboarding are nice too, but with snowshoes you can enjoy Zao’s snowfields at a slow pace.

Fun just in this season.
Please try it too.

Click here to make a reservation

Detailed information

Snowshoe Hike at Zao in Winter! Let's adventure through the Zao Chuo Kogen snowfields at your own pace [reservation here]

Snowshoe Hike at Zao in Winter! Let's adventure through the Zao Chuo Kogen snowfields at your own pace [reservation here]

This is the plan that I introduced here ♪

Detailed information

Discover Zao with a Mountain Instructor! Snowshoe trekking to enjoy the Snow Monsters and rime ice [Reservations here]

Discover Zao with a Mountain Instructor! Snowshoe trekking to enjoy the Snow Monsters and rime ice [Reservations here]

If you want to enjoy trekking in the snow more seriously, this is recommended ★

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