Sunday, December 13, 2015

February/March 2015 Snow Trips: Zao Onsen in Yamagata and Numajiri in Fukushima!

Hello everyone!

Sometimes when I have some free time I feel like writing on my blog, but I'm not always sure what to write about. I have a lot of things I want to share about Japan and my life here, but I'm not always sure that other people are interested in them, and sometimes, although they're things I'm interested in, I'm not sure what points to write about. Today was one of those days. So, instead of giving up on writing anything, I decided to take a look through my photos and see if there was a trip I could write about. I quickly came across photos from two trips I took at the beginning of this year, in February and early March, to two different mountains for skiing and snowboarding. I had a really great time going to these places, so I definitely want to share about them!

Before coming to Japan, I had very little experience of snow, let alone skiing and snowboarding. Although skiing and snowboarding is kind of popular in New Zealand, it's also a bit expensive. I knew nothing about either of them, but when the chance to try it came up, I really started looking forward to it!

A view down the mountain from the gondola.
The first trip I went on was to Zao Onsen in Yamagata in February. Me and some other Tochigi JETs did a road trip up there, which was really fun! Zao Onsen is pretty famous and popular, and with good reason! There are loads of different courses, so it was fine for a beginner like me. We went to a rental shop right near the entrance to one of the fields and the people there were really lovely about helping us out. We got all our supplies and hit the slopes! I spent some time at the bottom trying to learn to ski first. Luckily my friends were really helpful, and good teachers. Eventually I went up on the chairlift (trying to contain my immense fear of heights the whole time, heeeeyyyy) and spent forever trying to get back down. I had a lot of fun, but skiing was pretty hard for me, hahaha. I think I did about two or three runs. The weather was really good that day so it wasn't even very cold, and I had a great day! That night I joined a dinner party with a bunch of JETs from all different prefectures, which was also nice.

The next day, we decided to check out the famous Zao Onsen "ice monsters".  These are evergreen trees covered with thick layers of snow and ice. There are hundreds of them to be seen at the top of the mountain, which makes for a truly impressive sight. You take a gondola up to the top of the mountain to see them - but be aware the line for the gondola can be very long! Stock up on a hot drink or two before you line up. Once you get to the top of the mountain, you can walk around as you please to explore the ice monsters. If you're kind of crazy like us, you can even climb even further up the mountain for some breathtaking views.

This guy even had a face kindly made by someone!

I am terrible at posing for these kind of photos, I don't know why I keep trying.

It's a little hard to see, but we were 1735 metres high at the top!

I look extremely confused here, but I'm just squinting from the light, hahaha!
Well, after a couple of days exploring Zao Onsen and trying my hand (legs?) at skiing, it was time to road trip it back to Tochigi. I had such a nice time up there, and I hope to go back next year!

Numajiri wins out on the adorable yuru-chara front.
Two weeks later, I went on another snow trip. This time, I headed with a few JET friends and other Tochigi ALTs to Numajiri in Fukushima. Numajiri is the oldest operating ski field in Japan, and this year was its 100-year anniversary! This time, I decided to try snowboarding. Like last time, I spent an hour or more at the bottom of the mountain practicing on a gentle slope with some help from friends. At first, I thought snowboarding might be impossible for me - I tried just standing on a skateboard once, and I fell off in seconds, so I thought it might be similar. But I quickly found I liked snowboarding a lot more than skiing. Skis were such a hassle to get around with! Snowboarding seemed much more convenient. I didn't get especially good at it, I had some spectacular wipe outs, for sure (and don't even talk to me about trying to get off the chairlift...let's just say I ended up crawling) - but I still feel like I made more progress snowboarding than skiing. Plus, Numajiri has a curry shop halfway through one of the courses. So you snowboard a while, eat a curry, snowboard some more. Whoever thought of that is a genius. Actually that curry shop has probably been there since 1915 too. People back then knew what was important.

Yeeesssss meeting the mascots.

We stayed in this lovely house! The snow was piled up so high all around!
Anyway, those were my adventures in winter sports! I was really glad I got to try both skiing and snowboarding, and now that winter has started here in Japan again, I'm really hoping to hit the slopes again soon and try and improve my snowboarding. I'll be sure to post about it again if I do!

- Annabelle


  1. Hey Annabelle,

    Those are some really awesome pictures! I've been to Zao in the summer but never in the winter. Looks great.

    I also had no experience of winter sports when I came to Japan. I've tried snowboarding over the past few years but I've really gotten much better. I'm thinking about trying skiing when I get the chance. Are you going to stick with snowboarding?

  2. Been living in Japan for almost 3 years now and I've never tried skiing or snowboarding here! I find it very challenging to plan a skiing trip here in Japan, so I might as well just try to avail a skiing tour with an agency. Thank you very much for sharing your experience about Zao Onsen! It's sooo beautiful there. I will look into this place and plan a trip soon. PS. Glad to see another blogger based here in Japan. Hope to meet you sometime!


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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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