Zao Onsen Ski Resort Area
Zao Onsen is a historic hot spring town in Yamagata Prefecture, perhaps best-known for the connected ski resort of the same name and its famous ‘Snow Monsters’ of winter. Sitting 880 metres above sea level on the flanks of Mount Zao, an active volcano, the village is blessed with an abundant supply of natural thermal water. Public bathhouses are dotted throughout the village while many guesthouses have in-house baths for the exclusive use of guests.
When visiting Zao Onsen there’s no shortage of accommodation options including ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses), larger hotels and family-run lodges. There are several high-end options within walking distance of the ski resort, along with mid-range and budget options. Pricing varies accordingly and given that the village services the most popular ski resort in the region, prices are high through winter. This is especially so over the Christmas and New Year period and any weekend and public in winter, so don’t be guided solely by price and make sure to check the hotel features and reviews prior to booking as even mid-range and budget options might be charging a lot at that time of year.
As a traditional hot spring village, most accommodation will come with the option of including both dinner and breakfast, with most also serving traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) menus. Many if not most will also offer Japanese-style rooms only with shared bathing facilities. Enjoying a traditional guesthouse stay while in Japan is a real highlight but understandably won’t appeal to everyone so make sure to also check those details prior to booking and should you want Western-style amenities, look for a larger hotel rather than small guesthouse.