Yamagata Prefecture, located in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan, is home to an estimated 252,000 people. And a few snow monsters, too.
Each year, the ski resort of Zao Onsen transforms into a winter wonderland. The resort, which sits 800 meters above sea level, gets absolutely buried in white, fluffy, ski-ready snow all winter long. And, with that powder dump, the massive fir trees lining the trails transform into the snow- and ice-covered mythical-looking creatures.
According to CNN, the snowy monsters, known as juhyo, are the result of the region’s harsh weather system.
Winter storms frequently pass through the Zao Mountain Range, with freezing cold fronts originating from Siberia. Which only adds to the mystery and allure of the monsters.
And really, each one of these winter weather monsters can be whatever you want them to be, because it’s up to your own imagination to create their fantastical frozen stories.
"If you haven't seen them before they can look pretty impressive and rather dramatic," Lyndell Keating, co-director of Powderhounds.com, an online powder guide for skiers, told CNN. "What sets Zao apart from other areas is that there are so many snow monsters in peak season, that non-skiers can readily view them, that they host evening illuminated sessions, and that there is a piste run through the middle of them."
Though it helps to be a skier or snowboarder, you don’t need to be a mountain bunny to see the monsters for yourself. To access the spectacular sight, which is best experienced sometime between January and March, guests can board two connected cable cars, according to CNN, with the first one starting at the base of the main Zao Ski Resort. At the top, visitors can either ski down or head out to an observation deck to see the monsters. At night, Japan Guide reported, the monsters are lit up and can be viewed from the summit cafe. Night skiing is also available at lower elevations.
Of course, you could always choose to step off the observation deck, day or night, and walk among them. If you dare.