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


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.

Route GPS File

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Photo by Rick Siddle

Essential details


4km
Distance


4.5 hours
Time


400m
Ascent


1,500m
Highest point


6.5/10
Difficulty?


Dec-Apr
Best Season?

Need-to-Know Details

  • Location: The access point to this Mt. Furano route is about 40 minutes by car east of Furano City center, heading towards Tokachi Onsen in central Hokkaido.
  • General notes: This is a popular route on this side of the Tokachi Range for a couple of reasons. One is its accessibility and close vicinity to Tokachi Onsen hotsprings and the popular Fukiage Onsen hot springs area. Another reason for its popularity is the ability to enjoy really good quality powder snow in most conditions; the lush conifer forests below the treeline help protect the slopes from the high winds common in the area.
  • Route markers: There are no route markers.
  • Transport
    • By public transport: From JR Kami-Furano Train Station, there is a bus, run by the Kami-Furano Town Bus company, that runs to the Hakuginso Lodge at Fukiage Onsen. You’ll want to catch the tokachidake-onsen-yuki (十勝岳温泉行き) bus from the train station and get off at the Okinakouen (翁公園前) bus stop (formerly the Baden-kamifurano (バーデン上富良野) bus stop). As of February 2019, there were three buses per day there (08:52, 12;49, 16:31) and three returning (9:54, 13:44, 17:33). The fare is around 500yen one way, and it takes around 30 minutes.
    • By car: There is a parking area enough for about 10 cars across the road from the trailhead here, just at the turnoff to Fukiage Onsen.
  • Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (the 1,500m point on the Giant Ridge is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
  • Snow and route safety: The main risk noted in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047), is the avalanche risk in the valley directly north (to the skier’s right) of the Giant Ridge. Other route guides I’ve seen, such as in the Yama-suki 100zan (ISBN: 978-4635470063), mention that valley as a good option for the downhill, but only in very stable snow conditions.
  • Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkurapinpoint for Mt. Furano-dake.
  • Other resources
    • A write-up (in Japanese) in the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) from page 376‐379.
    • Another write-up in Japanese in the Yama-suki 100zan (ISBN: 978-4635470063) from p. 35.
  • Onsen neaby: The Ryounkaku inn at the end of the road at Tokachi Onsen has one of the best views from their open-air hot springs that I’ve ever seen. If you’d rather go full dirtbag, then head along the road towards the Hakuginso Lodge and try out the mixed-gender open-air wild hot springs, Fukiage Onsen, here. The ultra-affordable Hakuginso Lodge (details here, location here) also has a really nice, large outdoor onsen area, with mixed bathing (swimsuits required for the mixed bathing area).
  • Date visited for this report: 17th February, 2018

See my Hokkaido Ski Touring Resources page for more trips and tips
Please read my disclaimer, if you haven’t already

Trip Report

Mt. Furano is famous for its alpine flowers, and is well-known for its norther-ridge winter climbing route up to Hoko Rock. Despite this, few climbers head for the peak in winter. It is adored by backcountry-lovers for its deep powder snow on the Giant Ridge, with its giant conifers protecting the slopes from the winter winds. Adding to that is the frigid cold air from the Furano Basin, which translates into unparalleled snow quality. The upper reaches of Mt. Furano get into the realm of ice axes and crampons, so here we showcase a route up to around 1,500m (Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide, p. 376).

With a day-job, there isn’t much leeway for picking the days for ski touring trips based on the weather, so we had our fingers crossed for some good weather on the weekend we’d chosen to head from Sapporo to Hakuginso Lodge in the Tokachi Ranges (lodge details here). On day one we’d try out the Giant Ridge route up Mt. Furano.

With us for this trip were some new friends all the way from Scotland. Alan and Emma had emailed me asking about some of the huts around Sapporo, and I offered that they come with us on our trip to Hakuginso Lodge. They’d got some great powder skiing earlier in the week in Hakuba, so would the promise of even better snow in Hokkaido live up to expectations?

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Based purely on the weather forecast, the weekend was not looking particularly promising. Saturday – the day we’d planned to head up Mt. Furano – was forecast for strong winds around midday. We decided to push on with the plan anyway, however, since the guidebook promised some respite from the wind once among the large conifer trees on the slopes. We would climb up as far as safely possible, and if nothing else get a bit of exercise after the long 3 hour drive from Sapporo.

In all, we had 9 in our group: three snowboarders (two on snowshoes) and six skiers. We all converged on the trailhead at around 10:30am, and the weather forecast was playing our to the letter. Very strong winds blew snow into every nook and cranny.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Spirits were high, however. We just needed to get into the shelter of the trees, and everything would (hopefully) be OK.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

There appears to be a couple of locations to drop down off the road to the riverbed at the trailhead. We ended up scrambling down the steeper access point right at the t-intersection. The other option is to walk a little bit downhill and drop down at a more civilized angle to the riverbed, although that would likely require two stream crossings, rather than just the one.

All in all, it is quite the inglorious start to the route, particularly when the wind is as strong as it was for us.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Once we were all safely across the precarious narrow bridge across the Nukkakushi-Furano River, we quickly headed into the shelter of the forest. And indeed it was much more sheltered – a calm oasis in the storm.

From here we started up the eastern side of the Beberui Creek gully, crossing at around 1,100m onto the Giant Ridge.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Along the way, we met two groups of skiers, returning the way they had come. They had not gotten very far up the ridge before turning back due to high winds and heavy snow that was not great for skiing.

I was in two minds about continuing up, not only because of the bleak outlook further up the ridge, but also because the two snowboarders in our party who were on snowshoes were struggling in a couple of places with bottomless snow even on the relatively hard-packed skin track.

We decided to push on, however, and see what things were like further up nearer the treeline. We’d turn back if it wasn’t looking too promising.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

To our delight, however, the weather only got better as time went by. At times we had views across the Furano Plains through gaps in the trees. Amazing how better weather can lift the spirits.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

The weather was indecisive though, so as another snowy squall rolled in, we decided to call it a day, just at the treeline at around 1,400m. The snow on the Giant Ridge was quite wind affected also, so that added to our satisfaction that we’d fought the good fight for today.

We all set about getting ready for the downhill.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Unfortunately for us, the snow was less than inspiring on the way down. While I had heard reports of the lightest, most glorious powder just one day previously, the wind had clearly transformed that into a slightly more compacted, heavy version. We consoled ourselves with the fact that given the roaring wind at the trailhead, we were just lucky enough to have made it this high up on the ridge in the first place.

And really, there isn’t a day in the snow in Hokkaido that hasn’t made me grin from ear to ear.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Photo by Rick Siddle

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Photo by Rick Siddle

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Photo by Rick Siddle

The way down for this route is essentially back the way you came. From the point that the route crosses the Beberui Creek, we just hurtled along the skin track back to the Nukkakushi-Furano River bed. From there it was a short book-pack back up to the t-junction and the cars.

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

We were booked in to the Hakuginso Lodge that night (details here), and I am glad we booked ahead. The entire lodge was full that night, bustling with keen backcountry explorers.

Most larger groups (more than ten or fifteen) are put in one of the large tatami rooms, and this is convenient because this allows for both sleeping and cooking. The well-appointed kitchen downstairs is great, but the dining area isn’t really suited to large groups. Our group was nine people, and the staff were concerned that we’d struggle to fit everyone in at the tables in the kitchen.

To alleviate the space pressure, they very kindly allowed us to use a small staff room, adding an extra low table for us to use. The room is used primarily for the overnight staff at the lodge for meals and sleeping. “So long as you’re out by 8pm, you’re welcome to use this room,” the staff member said, apologizing profusely for how cramped and pokey the room was.

Our dinner that night was a shared Japanese hotpot nabe, so the arrangement was perfect. Despite the exploding popularity of the lodge over the last few years, the staff are still down to earth and helpful.

After dinner, some of us walked 10 minutes down the road to the wild Fukiage Onsen hotspring (see the bottom of this post and near the bottom of this post for photos). It was close to a perfect temperature, with a ceiling of clear starry skies.

The final shout-out goes to Alan and Emma from Scotland for bringing some delicious Scapa scotch whiskey. A great accent to the night!

Mt. Furano backcountry ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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