It snowed heavily all night. The last beer and sake were tossed back around 10 p.m. and everyone called it an “early one” in anticipation of fresh lines in the morning.
Up before dawn, you down a bowl of miso and a couple of onigiri (rice balls) and throw on your snow gear. The pristine blue sky is smiling down from atop the mountain as you strap into your bindings. The view is like something from another world. Standing out from the snow, covering the entire snowy plain, are an army of juhyo (snow monsters) welcoming you into their enchanted forest.
Taking the plunge, you launch forward and without hesitation begin to lose yourself in this white wonderland. You reach the bottom, smiling ear to ear dusted in powder. At the end of the day, a warm meal and hot onsen awaits at the lodge.
Sound like heaven? Welcome to Zao Onsen, Yamagata and the friendly, family-run Lodge Scole.
For more than 35 years Lodge Scole has been warming up frozen skiers after a big day on the slopes, just a short walk away. Mao Ojima, ex-ski racer and vibrant daughter of the lodge’s owners, says her father had wanted to build a lodge on her grandfather’s property.
Mao’s mother and father scouted other lodges in Austria for inspiration, the lodge was built in classic European style and has been welcoming guests ever since.
The lodge has reasonably priced, comfy accommodations, great homemade food, a Japanese cypress chip Jacuzzi and a big fireplace where you can soak those sore muscles after a day with the snow monsters.
The lodge is dog friendly for well-trained canines, “We have owned a dog since I was kid and my parents love animals,” exclaims Mao. Sometimes they even allow small animals such as rabbits.
The nearby skiing is top quality, with Zao Onsen Ski Resort extending over 15 slopes and 12 courses, giving snow lovers of all types and levels an open playing field. “You can ski from one side of the mountain on a 10K downhill course, with an altitude of 800 meters,” boasts Mao. If skiing is not your thing, enjoy the local onsen, browse the various omiyage shops or visit the slopes at night to view the illuminated juhyo dancing in the moonlight.
Address: 746 Zao Onsen, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture
Tel: (0236) 94-9320
For rates and specials visit the Places to Stay section of OJ Online (www.outdoorjapan.com).