The Nagano Snow Monkeys

Hot-Tubbin' Nagano Style

(photo: Art Wolfe)
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Just outside Nagano is the misnamed Hell Valley, a system of outdoor volcanic water pools built in 1966 to keep the Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) from using people's backyard hot tubs. Some 200 monkeys from three "troops" share the pools.

Willing to trade privacy for a hot bath, the monkeys ignore a constant stream of people through the fenceless Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Hell Valley Wild Monkey Park where they know they have the run of the place. Not so wild anymore, the snow monkeys accept regular feedings from park rangers, pose for photographers, hang from trees, play, fight, and raise families in between hot soaks.

(photo: Art Wolfe)
The descent of Olympic chaos on Nagano can mean nothing good for the tranquil life of the snow monkeys. We hope the crowds will tread softly on their habitat, but we kind of doubt it. As The Mountain Zone braves and contributes to the onslaught of Olympic coverage, we'll keep an eye on the Nagano snow monkeys and the rest of the scene on and off the slopes.