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Ice monsters - a winter feature in Tohoku

Ice monsters, formed when snow and ice strike aomoritodomatsu, an evergreen conifer native to Japan, can be seen only in some parts of Tohoku. The Miyagi Zao Sumikawa Snow Park, located in western Miyagi Prefecture, holds ice monster tours in snowcats from mid-December to early March to see this spectacular phenomenon up close. If you’re driving there, the park is two hours away by car from central, or take one of the buses that runs from Sendai station.

Snowcat used on ice monster tours

This tour runs caterpillar vehicles to a snowfield where you can view the ice monsters up close. The bigger vehicles carry 20-30 passengers, and the smaller ones seat eight. Sumikawa Snow Park has six snowcats dedicated to ice monster tours. The fares are normally 5,300 yen for adults and 4,400 yen for young children (under the age of 13). The fares cover a round-trip ride and the rental fee of a pair of arctic boots.
Why not enjoy the voyage in extra comfort by upgrading to one of the Gran Class vehicles? You’ll experience spacious individual seats that face forward instead of the inward-facing bench seats of the standard snowcats. What’s more, they’re well heated, making Gran Class the ideal choice in the bracing Tohoku winter. Fares are 7,800 yen for adults and 6,900 yen for children. Gran Class passengers gain exclusive access to a special lounge, receive free coffee, hand warmers and original goods, and can use blankets in the vehicle. The extra comfort and free goods are well worth paying just 2,000 yen more; and you can select your own seat when booking a tour in a Gran Class vehicle.
The tour starts at 1,100m above sea level, from where your snowcat climbs to the ice monster field at 1,600m. The ascent takes 40-50 minutes, and the two-hour tour includes plenty of time to enjoy the ice monsters. Along the way, your on-board guides will explain and entertain. Listen carefully to find out how the scenery and ice monsters are formed.
A snowcat heading to the ice monster field. The sight of a snowcat powering its way across the snow on a fine day is spectacular, set against the backdrop of the mountains of Fukushima and Pacific Ocean that can be seen far in the distance. Tours across the drifting snow are also available. During the tour you might also spot the footprints of wild animals living on Mt Katta. Can you tell the footprints of rabbits, squirrels, foxes and martens apart? You might even be lucky enough to see one scurrying across the snow.

Participants resting in the ice monster field

A 10- to 15-minute break is scheduled after arriving at the ice monster field. During the break, you can leave the vehicles and get closer to the ice monsters. The guides will lead you there, and are happy to take photos of you standing with the ice monsters.

Can we walk among the ice monsters?

The Miyagi Zao ice monster area is not restricted, allowing visitors to get closer to the ice monsters. However, it's prohibited to damage an ice monster by any means, such as hitting it or snapping off a piece. But it's OK to touch them gently. Please also remember that where there are no human footprints, there's a risk of falling into the loose, deep snow. If unsure, check with the guide how close you can go to the ice monsters.
It's windy and cold in the ice monster field, so it's recommended to prepare a warm outfit that covers your entire body. Wearing a knit cap, gloves, and a neck warmer is a good idea.
Sunglasses and goggles are also useful. The best time to see ice monsters is February, but it is possible to enjoy in December and January - their growth period - and also in March. The weather conditions continually change the shapes of ice monsters, making them worth seeing at any time - even a few times during the season.
●Access to Miyagi Zao Sumikawa Snow Park:
[By bus]
About 2 hours by Juhyo-go, a paid bus, from the east exit of Sendai station, Tohoku Shinkansen (reservation required).
[By car]
On the Tohoku Expressway: Take the Shiroishi Exit to Togatta Onsen and continue to the ski resort - about 45 minutes. Or take the Sugita Exit to Togatta Onsen and continue to the ski resort - about 40 minutes.
On the Yamagata Expressway: Take the Miyagi Kawasaki Exit to Togatta Onsen and continue to the ski resort - about 45 minutes.
photo & text : Megumi Ueda

Facility Information

Miyagi Zao Sumikawa Snow Park

Address
Kuraishi-dake Kokuyurin, Togatta Onsen, Zao-machi, Katta-gun, Miyagi 989-0916

Ice Monster Tour

Address
Kuraishi-dake Kokuyurin, Togatta Onsen, Zao-machi, Katta-gun, Miyagi 989-0916
URL
http://www.zao-sumikawa.jp/juhyo.html

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