Hokkaido (Japan) Back Country Skiing: Mt. Shakotan Day Trip


With a gradual approach and nothing technical, Mt. Shakotan (積丹岳, 1,255m) is a beginner back-country skier’s dream. And being the highest spot on the sprawling Shakotan Peninsula, the views are some of the best in western Hokkaido. Perfect for a very late spring season trip to the mountains, only a few hours by car from Sapporo.

Route GPS File

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential details


16.1km
Distance


6 hours
Time


1,060m
Ascent


1,255m
Highest point


7/10
Difficulty?


Mar-May
Best Season?

Need-to-Know Details

  • Location: This route starts is about 80km northwest of Sapporo City, past Otaru City, on the Shakotan Peninsula.
  • General notes: Most often, Mt. Shakotan is skied in spring when the rough weather of the Shaoktan Peninsula’s deep winter has died down – you can happily ski this mountain well into May.
  • Route markers: There are no route markers.
  • Route timing: About 40 minutes from trailhead to hut, then 3 hours from hut to summit. Bank on just over an hour for the descent.
  • Transport
    • By public transport: You’ll want to catch the Number 21 bus from Yoichi JR Station, bound for Cape Kamuisaki, and get off at the bus stop called tozan-guchi (登山口) which is stop number 52 (counting from Otaru Station). Bus stop location is around 43.308076, 140.553185, and will likely take around an hour from Yoichi Station. Check at tourist info at Sapporo Station before you head off for season timetable information.
    • By car: There is a small area to park cars just before the forestry road starts here. Later in the season, it is sometimes possible to drive almost all the way to Shakotan Hut, but don’t bank on it. Respect roped-off roads.
  • Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out these two maps – Map 1 and Map 2(or adjust to your liking here – the Shakotan Hut is in the cross-hairs – see printing instructions here), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo maps (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station or online in Japanese).
  • Snow and route safety: When I mentioned to Mr. Hirata, the hutkeeper of Ginreiso Hut, that I was planning on going to Mt. Shakotan, he said I would die. I’d been there before, and didn’t die, but I can see where he is coming from – Mt. Shakotan is often buffeted by howling winds direct from the Japan Sea, so you’ll need to choose your weather window wisely. The Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) suggests leaving this area alone in mid-winter, and waiting till mid-March for more stable weather.
  • Police notification: Fill your police notification out online using Compass – instructions here
  • Weather forecast: Windy.com pinpoint weather for Mt. Shakotan here
  • Other resources
    • See the write-up (in Japanese) from p. 242 of the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047).
    • Also see an overnight version of this trip, staying at the Shakotan Hut (here).
  • Onsen neaby: Shakotan Onsen (location), 10km further around the cape, has been highly recommended to be by a number of people. I’ve only ever been to Furubira Onsen (location), which is nice and on the way back to Sapporo, but the ocean-view outdoor bath is only open from the end of April.
  • Other attractions: The historic Nikka Whiskey Yoichi Distillery (location) is on the way back to Sapporo (near the Yoichi JR Train Station), and they offer free tastings. Very much worth a visit!
  • Date visited: April 29th, 2015

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

Trip Report

Late April meant that we were able to drive perhaps a third of the way up the forestry road before having to park the car and start walking.

Mt. Shakotan approach (Hokkaido, Japan)

In summer it is possible to drive the road all the way to the hut where there is a large parking space. Earlier in winter climbers have to park at the very bottom of the forestry road. Two of us in the party today had skins, but opted to hike all the way to the hut rather than skin up; the snow lower down was rotten covered with forest litter.

We were away by 9:45am, after leaving central Sapporo at around 7:30am.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

It only took us around 30 minutes to cover the ground to the hut. By 10:20 we were at the hut and peeling off layers in the heat.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

The very well kept hut at Mt. Shakotan would be an excellent place to stay a night. I’ve not stayed there myself (EDIT: I’ve now stayed there – it is great), but the place is free to use. There is a kerosene heater and some simple futons for bedding, and will sleep up to 20 people.

We stopped to use the toilet, and then carried on, those with skins set out on skis, and us two on foot carried on in our boots. We were carrying snowshoes but the snow was packed enough not to need them.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

The route starts out through fairly sparse woods before exiting out into more open snow fields.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

Including a 20 minute stop for lunch, it took us around 3 hours to get from the hut to the summit. It was blowing a gale at the top, but the sun was warm enough that in the lee of the wind it was very pleasant.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

The thrill of the downhill only really lasts for 10 minutes or less on Mt. Shakotan. From the summit at 1,255m to around the 800m mark is nicely steep enough to get a few nice turns in, but from there it is a shallow gradient most of the way to the hut and further on down the forestry road.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

The almost imperceptible downhill gradient begins…but why did it feel so steep going up?!

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

We were down the mountain and at the car at around 2pm, just in time for an icecream at the local icecream store just down the road from the gravel road turnoff, in the direction of Sapporo. Ah the joys of spring skiing.

We had the requisite onsen at Furubira Onsen and were back in Sapporo just before 7pm for a ramen and beer. Our pick of ramen restaurant was Rick’s suggestion, and it was a winner. Yoshiyama Ramen –  a new franchise in this location, it seems, since Google street view still shows an older building.

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Shakotan spring back country skiing (Hokkaido, Japan)

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