How to grow a Japanese snow monster

Everyone who spends any time on the interwebz has seen the Snow Monsters of Zao—evergreen trees that become so enrobed in snow and ice that they stop looking like trees and start looking like something that goes bump in the night.

The ads for the ski resort usually look like this:

Thank you Good Luck Travel for going there on a sunnier day then I did

But on the sparkling blue sky days in the travel pictures, the snow monsters are actually shrinking, not growing. They only grow on days like yesterday, when cold air from Siberia descends on the slopes of Mt. Zao, surrounding the evergreens in freezing fog (it was a chilly -13°C at the top of the ropeway) and wicked winds (that pushed the temp down to about -24°C), to sculpt the frost-covered boughs into fantastical forms.

So strap on your muffler and gloves, and come with me up the mountain to watch the monsters grow!

Trees covered in frost at Mt. Zao in Japan
As the ropeway sails us over the forest, we can see the delicate foundations that become the heavy cloaks the trees wear on top
Trees covered in frost at Mt. Zao in Japan
The only trees that are insane enough to grow at the top are evergreens (like the dark ones on the left), but the freezy frost is an equal opportunity tree decorator, and anything it touches is outlined in white on the way up.
Trees covered in frost at Mt. Zao in Japan
Up close, you can see that this freezing frost is very different from a dump of snow. It doesn’t sit on top of the branches—instead, every needle and twig looks like it was dipped in white. These trees are near the bottom of the mountain, where the weather isn’t severe enough for long enough to turn them into snow monsters
Snow monster trees in the making at Mt. Zao in Japan
But by mid-mountain, the boughs are beginning to get heavy. They still just look like Xmas trees where the guy running the flocking machine took a few too many vapes
Snow monster trees in the making at Mt. Zao in Japan
As we climb higher though, they become more like something out of Dr. Seuss
Snow monster trees in the making at Mt. Zao in Japan
And as we near the top, it doesn’t take too much imagination to feel that the frozen zombie hordes are coming for you
Thick freezing fog at Mt. Zao in Japan
Then we enter the freezing fog, and…
Snow monster trees at Mt. Zao in Japan
By the time we get to the top of the ropeway, they’ve turned into THIS

Travel note: If you’re dying to visit the snow monsters and take some pix of your own, dress for Antarctica: no exposed skin. After five minutes outside, the exposed ends of my fingers in the gloves I use when I have to operate a camera had gone so dead, it was like stabbing the shutter button with a wooden chopstick. Feeling didn’t start to return until I was nearly down the mountain, and when it did, it hurt like hell. You can seriously get hospital-level frostbite in the kind of conditions you might find at the top of this mountain, so be careful.

Gondola covered with ice at Mt. Zao

Additional pro tip: credit cards are good for scraping the ice off the inside of the gondola window, so you can take better pictures. There’s nothing you can do about the drops frozen to the outside of the glass—gotta try and shoot around them

If you could use a little more amusement & amazement in your life…

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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Published by Jonelle Patrick

Writes all the Japan things.

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