Hokkaido Back Country Skiing: Mt. Yoichi (Akai-kawa Route)


Mt. Yoichi (余市岳, 1,488m) is the highest peak within the Sapporo City limits. Despite this, it is extremely accessible – it overlooks Kiroro Ski Resort, so take the ski lift to the resorts upper reaches, and you’re more or less there. But to truly experience Mt. Yoichi’s enchanting snowy wilderness, the only way to go is on foot (or ski) all the way from the resort buildings. The 6-hour return journey is long and steep in parts, but the rewards a more than worth it.

Route GPS File

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Essential details


13.5km
Distance


6 hours
Time


950m
Ascent


1,488m
Highest point


7.5/10
Difficulty


Dec-May
Best Season?

Need-to-Know Details

  • Location: This Mt. Yoichi ski touring route starts from the Kiroro Ski area lower lifts (location), about 70km northwest of Sapporo City.
  • General notes: You need to submit a backcountry plan in order to access to the backcountry via the Kiroro Resort. For this route, you’ll be skirting around the southwest boundary of the ski resort to start, so you’ll leave the resort via the bottom gate (indicated on this map).
  • Route markers: There are no route markers for this route.
  • Transport
    • Public transport: Buses from Otaru Station to Kiroro Ski Resort (a 50 minute train ride from Sapporo Station) leave a few times a day; check with tourist info before you leave to get correct seasonal timetable information.
    • By car: Plenty of parking at the Kiroro Ski Resort.
  • Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out this map (or adjust to your liking with the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan online tool here – Mt. Yoichi is in the cross-hairs, instructions), 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 upper ridge approaching Mt. Yoichi is broad, exposed, and well in the alpline. Give this route a miss in low visibility conditions.
    • Police notification: Fill your backcoutry plans police notification out online using Compass – instructions here
  • Weather forecast (Google Translated): Windy.com pinpoint weather forecast for Mt. Yoichi.
  • Other resources
    • See the write-up (in Japanese) for the upper portion of the route, accessed via the top lifts, in the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) from page 122-125.
  • Onsen neaby: The beauty of back country skiing in Japan is the abundance of onsen (hot springs) available on the drive home; perfect to sooth tired muscles from a full day. On this particular day of skiing, we didn’t have much time after getting down off the mountain, and we wanted to check out the Otaru Beer hall, so we didn’t end up going to an onsen. I’ve heard great things about Asarikawa Onsen though, so if you’re traveling by car, it would be worth dropping in on the way back to Sapporo.
  • Date visited for this report: 4th April, 2015

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

Trip Report

With NicoNico Rental cars, I’ve found that most franchises don’t open until 8am. This means that realistically with a 12-hour rental, we’re not onto the mountain until around 10am, depending on how far we have to travel. Today was no exception; the drive from central Sapporo to Kiroro Ski Resort takes between an hour and an hour and a half. Also, being a weekend, the resort was already very busy by the time we got there; we had to park in a lower parking lot and take the free shuttle bus up to the main building.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

But there’s something secretly satisfying about shunning the lines at the lifts, walking past the throngs of people milling about the lower slopes, and heaving on a heavy backpack with skis and survival gear. Perhaps it is a feeling of freedom. Mixed, I must say, with a hint of ‘holier than thou’. I’m taking the hard route, people!

That feeling usually lasts only a few minutes until the reality of trudging along a deserted snowy road kicks in, the sun gleaming down, trying its best to sweat us off the mountain.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Still, it is nice to be away from the madding crowds. And taking this Akai-kawa route around the south-western perimeter of the ski slopes is perfect for that. I spent a great deal of the first hour or so of climbing wondering where on earth the downhillers were…this would be a perfect spot to get away from it all.

Soon enough we made it to the start of the Mt. Yotei track proper; just above the bottom station of one of the smaller chairlifts. It was here that the real fun – and spectacularly enchanting scenery – began.

The previous couple of days had seen some very high winds and late season wet snow up on Mt. Yoichi. This had coated the bare tree branches with a thick snowy ice. In the heat of the day the ice was melting fast, but we managed to overtake the melt and found us entering a mysterious world of white forest.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The way was steep in parts. Steep enough to make zig-zagging up the wide ridge/face the more energy efficient option. Curiously, there was a very thin, hard crusty layer of ice over a softer snow; ice dislodged from trees and from snowshoes above would come clattering down the fragile-layered slope.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Once on the main ridge connecting Mt. Asari and Mt. Yoichi, we were well above the melting zone. What had been a thin, fragile crusty layer of ice was now a solid, gale-blown mess of mini-sastrugi. We were never in want of crampons, but had the ice been smoother, we would have struggled with only the soft aluminium protrusions on our snowshoes to grip the icy layer.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The final ascent up to the mini-plateau like peak of Mt. Yoichi was over sooner than I had expected it. We were greeted with more micro-sastrugi, evidence of the preceding days’ storm. The view from the top was expansive; towards Niseko in the south-west, and the sea to the north. If the air had been less hazy, we would have been able to see further.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Last week’s trip up Mt. Fuppushi was my first ski trip for the season. That made today my second ski trip for the season. My brain and legs were starting to get into chorus with each other on the way down from Mt. Yoichi, but not quite in coordination enough to have the camera out for the ski down.

Dirk, on the other hand, a German wrought from iron direct from the European Alps, was in his element. He hardly hesitated to take the first positive-looking line down the way we had climbed up. I threw caution to the wind and jumped in after him, great chunks of flaky ice chattering down the steep gradient as I braked heavily down the slope. It was pure terror mixed with an inescapable joy of ‘knocking the bastard off” (in the words of Sir Edmund Hillary) and now having the downhill ski slope entirely to ourselves.

Skiing Mt. Yoichi near Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The lower reaches were pleasantly wooded with plenty of room between trees to cut a comfortable line between them. Classic Hokkaido back country skiing.

Mt. Yoichi descent (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Yoichi spat us out onto the Kiroro ski area, and we nonchalantly glided up to one of the ski lifts, hoping we’d be able to catch a ride up, in order to avoid a 15 minute climb; doing so would allow us to ski along the groomers back down to the resort buildings. The lift security was having nothing of it, however, and after ascertaining that we were out for a free ride, he sent us on our way.

At the resort buildings we boarded the 4pm shuttle bus down to the car park, packed up, and headed straight to central Otaru, to the Otaru Beer Hall. Being the designated driver of the two of us, I had a few of Otaru Beer’s take on zero alcohol beer. After a long, sometimes very hot, day on the mountain, the sweet, fizzy, and wet substance was a perfect antidote to a parched body, and the perfect end to an awesome day.


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3 thoughts on “Hokkaido Back Country Skiing: Mt. Yoichi (Akai-kawa Route)

  • Sean Gilbert

    I am in Niseko now I am interested finding a guide to climb Mount Yotei and ski down. Does this Wednesday look like a possible day to make the climb and ski. I have climbing experience and a advanced skier. Please replay ASAP so if I can find a guide reserved if the conditions look good for this Wednesday March 21.

    Thanks Sean Gilbert
    I don’t have a Japanese sim card in my iPhone so please email with your contact info.