Yamagata Zao Onsen is known for the juhyo or snow/ice monsters (powderhounds review). There’s a ropeway to the top for sightseers and skiers in addition to a hodge podge of lifts. Only a few places have the right conditions for formation (not the same conditions for good skiing). Visibility was not great, but we could at least see them.
Only one ropeway goes to the top from one of the two sides of the mountain. It’s a royal pain to transfer between the sides, especially from transitioning from the Uenodae side with the Zao Sky Cable to the side with the ropeway to the top. The trail map lists combinations of three or four lists to do the job. We heard nine different companies own the lifts and are paid by the number of times they’re used. As such, they have no incentive to fix the connectivity issues. Lift tickets here are on a RFID card what works well unlike Happo-one where you pretty much need to give the sensor a big hug to get your pass in the range to be read.
The best lift ticket deal we could find was this flyer on their website, which gives you 1000 yen off for a limited number of folks who show up early (7:30am until 8 or they run out. 30 per location) to collect coupons at the different locations. This deal of course has a number restrictions. They have a list of deals posted here. We used the first one on the right side (details on how you get the coupon in Japanese). Here’s an English town map. We went to the onsen station for the Zao Chuo Ropeway first didn’t see anything about the discount and the parking wasn’t free. Then, we headed toward one of the other discount locations, which Google translated to “second parking lot past Uenodai/Uwanodai.” Outside the Zao Gymnasium, we found free parking and an employee handing out the discount coupons that you take to the ticket office to buy your pass when the office opens later.
Rob and I had a really great time skiing here. I don’t think we ever waited for a lift. Our favorites were the 38 deg slope near omori and lift 22 and the forest of poachable trees under and around Kurohime #1(39). English trail map. Near the end of the day we took the Zao Chuo ropeway to the top and still found tons of fresh powder in the trees around lift 17, which we lapped until it closed. Then night skiing commenced and we still found powder under the lifts.
There are a couple public baths in the same style as Nozawa Onsen, but we shelled out for one with an open-air pool and parking (600 yen each tickets at the info desk on the floor above the onsen). It was located in the center plaza (same building as familymart) next to the Zao Chuo ropeway. You could easily sneak in. The ticket collection gate doesn’t actually work.