With an easy hack on your smartphone, it is possible to display official Japanese topographical maps in English, sort of - AlpineQuest GPS Hiking will allow you to overlay the Japanese topo map with English Google Maps. Below, I outline the features of three apps to display Japanese topographical maps: Geographica (free on Android and iPhone), AplineQuest GPS Hiking (US$7.99 on Android), and Locus Map (free on Android). If you are serious about knowing your surroundings while backcountry skiing in Hokkaido, then you’ll want to have access to the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) topographical maps on the fly.

Android and iPhone Apps for displaying Japan Topographical Maps in ...

Mt. Maetokachi (前十勝岳, 1,790m) can be approached from a few different angles. The classic, easily navigable route heads up the Kabawara Ridge (route guide here), but that can sometimes be buffeted by high winds (as on this trip). If the weather is otherwise clear with good visibility, then it might be worth hopping from one sheltered rocky outcrop to another, and taking some time out of the wind at the very basic Tokachi Emergency Shelter Hut. From the shelter it is possible to access a nice downhill run in a bowl that runs all the way from the very active Taisho Crater (大正火口) fumeroles back to the hut.

Mt. Maetokachi Taisho Crater ski touring route and Tokachi-dake Hut ...

Mt. Furano (富良野岳 - 1,912m) is a formidable mountain, whose peak is only accessible in winter by mountaineers with extensive experience. The lower reaches on its northwest aspect, however, offer some great accessible skiing up to around the 1,500m mark. In particular, the broad northwest ridge - the "Giant Ridge" - offers access to some relatively safe ridge-line skiing. In this route guide, I outline a 4.5 hour return trip up to the 1,500m point and back on the Giant Ridge.

Backcountry skiing Mt. Furano’s Giant Ridge (Hokkaido, Japan)

The area north of Mt. Shokanbetsu's peak (署寒別岳, 1,491m), nestled deep in the Rumoi/Mashike Ranges on the Japan Sea coast in Hokkaido, offers a veritable feast of ski tour routes (the classic approach is here). In this route guide, I outline a short route up Mt. Shokanbetsu's Western Ridge (西尾根, nishi-one), just a short skin from the Shokanso Hut. This ridge offers easy access to good, sheltered steep skiing on well-spaced tree-runs. The valley floors on both sides consist of deep gullies though, so take extra care to test the stability of the slopes before you drop in.

Shokanso Hut’s Western Ridge Backcountry Ski Tour Route (Hokkaido, Japan)

Bankei-sanso Hut (万計山荘, 917m) is a beautiful two-story mountain hut, built on the edge of a gorgeous mountain tarn in the hills about 20km south southwest from central Sapporo. Management of the hut was transferred to the volunteer Bankei-sanso Friendship Society (万計山荘友の会) in May 1995. One of the bigger jobs that needs to be done each year is the back-breaking task of removing, by hand, the 5 tons or so of snow that accumulates on the roof of the hut, half way through winter. This was my first time taking part, and I would discover a community of people passionate about the outdoors, sharing knowledge, and protecting this valuable resource.

Bankei-sanso Hut Annual Volunteer Snow-Clearing (Mt. Soranuma, Hokkaido, Japan)

The Nopporo Forest Park (野幌森林公園) is a sprawling 20-square kilometer forest park on the eastern fringes of Sapporo City. It is well known as a birdwatcher's paradise, and in winter, a pair of snowshoes will allow visitors to wander as they please through un-tracked areas. Haidee recently got a new Hokkaido birdwatching information book that shows the general areas that owls are known to be seen, so we headed out with a birdwatching-master friend to take a look.

Nopporo Forest Park Snowshoe Birdwatching (Ebetsu City, Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Goyro-yama (御料山 - 596m) is the unassuming little peak above the now derelict (as of 2008) Kami-Sunagawa-dake International Ski Area (上砂川岳国際スキー場). The views are modest, stretching across to the Iwamizawa Plains and Mt. Pinneshiri to the east, and Mt. Bibai to the south. The main attraction is a gorgeous, short hike along the ridge from the top of the ski field to the summit. The upper slopes of the old ski pistes are also fantastic for untracked downhill skiing - if you can get there early in the morning before everyone else. The Panke Onsen hotsprings - one minute walk from the trailhead - are the cherry on the top of a nice day out.

Ski Touring Mt. Goryo and the derelict Kami-Sunagawa-dake Ski Field ...

Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake (小喜茂別岳 - 970m) is the little-sibling of the higher Mt. Kimobetsu-dake (喜茂別岳 - 1,177m) further to the north (Mt. Kimobetsu-dake route guide here). Access to Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake is just as easy though, and its mellow slopes are great for those just getting their feet wet in backcountry skiing. Expect a beginner to intermediate slope at the upper end of the route that is perfect for lapping a couple of times before heading down.

Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake Ski Touring (Nakayama Pass, Hokkaido, Japan)

The route up Mt. Onuma (大沼山 - 1,111m) near the Toyoha Mine in Jozankei (southwestern Sapporo City) may become your next favorite Hokkaido backcountry ski touring route. It is close to Sapporo City. The climb up is short; only about 2 hours or so. The terrain is suitably varied. On a clear day it boasts some magnificent views. But the real cherry on the cake is its downhill slopes. The upper, mostly tree-free slope is worthy of a few exhilarating laps, while the second half of the route back down to the carpark is a glorious dodge-em ride through nicely spaced woods.

Mt. Onuma Backcountry Ski Touring (Jozankei, Hokkaido, Japan)

I've been up to the Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) on Mt. Haruka (春香山 - 910m) a number of times now in most seasons. It is one of only three huts in Hokkaido to boast a year-round hut-keeper (Mt. Tarumae Hut and Mt. Muroran's Shiratori Hut being the others). In winter it is a gorgeous, cosy oasis at the foot of Mt. Haruka's upper eastern face, giving prime ski access to easy lapping of tree- and open-runs. While the hut is owned by Tokai University and officially designated as a staff and student retreat facility, the general public are welcome to stay with prior booking when the hutkeeper is present.

Mt. Haruka Ginreiso Hut Overnight Ski Tour (Otaru City, Hokkaido, ...

Mt. Asahi (旭岳 - 2,291m), Hokkaido's highest mountain, is an active volcano. In winter when the weather isn't blowing a gale, it is possible to wander relatively freely around the fumaroles, at around 1,700m. The route outlined here starts at the top of the Asahidake Ropeway, but if you'd rather skin up, just follow the Asahidake downhill ski course B, marked on the descent of the route on this page - it will take about 1.5 hours or so. Don't take the mountain lightly, as the weather can change very quickly. If you're lucky, however, the grand old Mt. Asahi can turn on some incredible weather.

Mt. Asahidake Volcanic Steam-vent Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

As the highest peak on the Lake Kussharo caldera, Mt. Mokoto (藻琴山, 1000m) gives expansive views on a good day across the vast lake in eastern Hokkaido. A new hut was built on its northern ridge in 2013, so makes for a relatively easy (if not too short) overnight trip. Google searches for information about the route return a higher than usual number of ‘first time backcountry skiing’ reports; navigation is easy and slopes are beginner-friendly. In good weather, this should be a great way for novices to experience some of the Hokkaido winter great outdoors.

Mt. Mokoto Overnight Ski Tour (Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan)

In late-April and early-May, thousands upon thousands of migratory geese make a stop-off at Miyajima Pond, just 50km northeast of Sapporo City. This happens to be around the time of the Golden-Week public holidays in Japan. This makes for a perfect excuse for an uber-extended weekend cycle tour of up […]

ROUTE GUIDE: Four-day Goose-watching Cycle Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)