The frost covered trees of Zao — An extraordinary sight that never fails to touch hearts
The formation of these juhyo requires a delicate balance of landscape, heavy snowfall and seasonal freezing winds, which transform the conifer forest into the image above. Hence, only in very few places in the Tohoku region can you come across this phenomenon, with the most outstanding view found in Zao. Since these naturally formed frost covered trees come in all shapes and sizes, they are also nicknamed “Snow Monsters”. The ice begins to form around end December and will continue to grow from January through to March, which are the best months for viewing. In order to enjoy this scenery from different angles and time of the day, we opted for the ropeway in the day and snow mobile at night.
Go on a magical tour of the Juhyo Illusion Corridor while riding on a snow mobile
During the 53 days that the snow monster season lasts, from December 23rd to March 4th you can ride the ropeway from Juhyo-Kogen Station up to Jizosancho Station to watch the illuminated snow monsters. You can also join the “Juhyo Illusion Corridor” tour that takes you on a ride on a snowmobile through a mystical atmosphere to see the snow monsters in a colorful illumination display from up close. Do not miss this tour if you visit Zao in winter (reservation compulsory). There is one spot along the way where you can get off the night cruiser to take pictures. Light and shadows created a mysterious yet romantic atmosphere. However, it was no easy feat to capture the trees’ mystery on camera, as using flash on a snowy day only resulted in images of snow droplets. At the end of the tour, we continued upwards on the ropeway to Zao Sancho Station and were treated to a mountain top light show. Although the temperature reached -9 °C, seeing up close the snow monsters lit up in red and green was definitely worthwhile.
Impressive views from above while riding along the ropeway
We decided to bypass the large skiing crowds by rising early and taking the ropeway up to Juhyo-kogen Station, located 1,331m above sea level. Upon entering the juhyo area, an endless sea of icy trees greeted us. We could still see morning dew glistening under the sunlight, a scene accessible only to those who take the early morning ropeway ride.
18 minutes later after two ropeway journeys, we arrived at Zao Sancho Station, located 1,661m above sea level on the mountaintop. The first thing we saw was a snowy expanse and the azure skies, a scene so beautiful that it was easy to forget the bitter cold. Departing from the station, we were headed for the statue of Jizo, rumored to be 2 meters in height. However, the view ahead yielded no Jizo statues or anything of the sort. Upon closer inspection, we realized that due to the heavy snowfall, all the Jizo statues were buried beneath the snow, and only the top halves were visible. Later, we mounted the observation deck for an amazing view of nearby mountains and juhyo forests. I too, jostled with the crowd for a front-row glimpse of the perfect shot – the descending ropeway with a backdrop of frost covered trees. This poetic image was imprinted in my mind and remains unforgettable to this day. If the chilly outdoors is too much for you, take this chance to grab a hot drink at the mountaintop restaurant, where you can still enjoy the majestic view in a relaxing manner.
Tips to prevent cold – Temperatures at the summit usually drop below -10 degrees, so it is important to be prepared for the harsh weather. Zao Ropeway provides waterproof rubber shoes that visitors can freely borrow as and when they need them!