Here in Hokkaido, ski touring routes are right on our doorsteps. Even from central Sapporo City, super fun ski touring routes exist less than an hour away by public transport. Some even have mountain huts only accessible by ski. So after I moved to Hokkaido in 2011, I slowly started exploring. This page is an ever-evolving result.
Okuteine Hut Overnighter
Home of the ‘Yutopia Piste’, just behind the hut. A paltry 80yen per night to stay in the hut.
Mt. Haruka Overnighter
The classic overnighter ski-tour, less than 1 hour from central Sapporo. Staying at the cosy Ginreiso mountain hut.
Beyond the copious of knowledge contained in English-speaking, professional Hokkaido backcountry guides’ heads, there exists very little information in English about backcountry ski touring in Hokkaido.
EDIT (Aug 2016): Thanks to Essjaywhy from the forums at ski.com.au (this post), I was put onto the fact that Strava has a mass of routes if you do a search with your activity as ‘backcountry skiing’. Here is a search with ‘Hokkaido’ as the location: Click here.
All the resources I have used to date for planning my trips are in Japanese. Here are a few places to start if you’d like to have a browse.
- Online Topographical Maps – The Geospacial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) maintains a phenomenal, completely free, online topo map browsing service: http://maps.gsi.go.jp. Maps can be printed out in awesome detail.
- Paper Topographical Maps – GSI also produces paper maps. I buy all mine from Kinokuniya Bookstore on the west side of Sapporo Station. Location on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/nj1G3hrD2Pr. They generally cost around 350yen each. GIS paper maps can also be ordered online using this amazing tool: http://maps.jmc.or.jp/#t=map_aerialphotograph_map_map25k&ll=43.094358,142.111145&z=7&mt=gsimaps. Check the route pages below for specific map reference numbers.
- Hokkaido Backcountry Skiing Guidebook – All the of the routes on this page can be found in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Gaido (ISBN: 978-4894538047), a backcountry skiing guidebook (in Japanese) published by Hokkaido Newspaper (Hokkaido Shimbun).
- Yamareco.com – the definitive online community for the Japanese outdoors – Link here.
NOTE: This resource is a work in progress. The routes here are simply those that I have completed here over the past few years. They are not necessarily the best routes in Hokkaido (actually, they probably are not). They are simply the result of picking an area that piqued my interest (or the interest of a friend), doing some planning, and going for it.
Snow safety: Where known avalanche risk locations are noted in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide, I try to note these in the route information.
If in doubt, talk to a professional Hokkaido-based backcountry guide (Google search).
If you are looking for local prices on rentals and gear purchases, check out the following stores in Sapporo (these are simply the stores I frequent on a regular basis here – this is not an endorsement in any way).
Because prices for outdoor gear in general are fairly country-specific, here are some rough reference prices for ski gear that I would consider to be ‘cheap’ at stores in Sapporo:
- Skis: Around 35,000yen (e.g., for a pair of last- or last-last-season K2 Waybacks) would be a pretty good find.
- Boots: Sometimes you might find a decent lightweight pair of touring boots (e.g., last season Dynafit Neo U) for around 45,000yen.
- Bindings: Bindings generally don’t get discounted. Expect around 35,000yen for a pair of Dynafit Speed Turns, 65,000yen for last-season G3 Ions. 40,000yen for a pair of frame touring bindings.
- Beacons: Beacons are generally quite expensive compared to overseas. E.g., a BCA Tracker 2 beacon will set you back around 45,000yen.
Note: Even if a store has an online shop, it is not always up to date.
- Paddle Club – Massive selection and a great place to pick up last season skis for eyewatering-ly cheap.
- BCMap at Ishii Sports – Massive selection of back-country skis and accessories (store link).
- Location: Near Soen Station on the JR line. Google Maps location.
- Shugakuso Outdoor Store – A good selection of ski gear, but their real strength is in their huge range of outdoor gear.
- Gear rental: Beacons (5,000yen for a week), ski touring skis (skis, tech bindings, skins for 2,000yen a day), etc. Gear rental link (Japanese): http://www.shugakuso.com/%E3%83%AC%E3%83%B3%E3%82%BF%E3%83%AB/. Their rental skis are essentially demo setups, so they have a very limited supply.
- Two locations: One near Hokkaido University (central Sapporo – location) and slightly larger one further out in Shiroishi (location).
The only place in Sapporo that I’ve found that has any selection of backcountry touring specific skis is the Second Street Outdoor store in Makomanai (location). It is a bit of a pain for access, but can have some OK deals. Generally speaking, however, there doesn’t seem to be a very big market for secondhand gear here, so prices are not markedly cheaper than last-season new stock.
For my own gear, I have bought it all via Yahoo Auctions. Last year I picked up a full touring setup (2009 Atomic Sugar Daddy skis, Dynafit Vertical FT bindings, Black Diamond skins, and Scarpa Maestrale boots) for 60,000yen. In the ski category (while choosing to search titles and descriptions), try the following searches:
Just a quick note for snowboarders: Quite a few of these routes have fairly long forestry-road approaches, which may make things a little frustrating on a snowboard on the way down. They’re long enough and flat enough that they’d most likely require putting the snowshoes back on (or splitting the board).
To make things easier, I’ve included a ‘Snowboard Friendly’ filter on the route reports below. The logic behind marking a route snowboard friendly is that according to my (hazy) memory, the route was more or less decently steep all the way from the top back to the car/trailhead.
Do note, however, that while I’ve longboarded half way around the world, I’ve never snowboarded in my life. So don’t hate me if I’ve marked a route as ‘Snowboard Friendly’ and you find out halfway into a 3-hour walk downhill that actually, you’d rather strangle me and see this entire page burn in the hot fires of hell (see disclaimer on the next tab).
While I try, I can not guarantee the correctness of the information on this website. I am not responsible for any injuries you may incur by attempting any of the routes I post on this page or elsewhere on the site. Use common sense – stay within your abilities, and if you want to go beyond your limits, only do so under the supervision of an expert. If in doubt, talk to a professional Hokkaido-based backcountry guiding outfit (a Google search would be a good place to start).
Just to labor the point: Use the information on this page at your own risk.
- Do not rely solely on this page for route planning. At the very least be familiar with and carry a paper map and compass.
- The GPS route files on this page may contain errors, may be incomplete, and may enter into dangerous terrain.
- A Hokkaido-based backcountry avalanche awareness or general skills course is recommended. It will be cheaper than a full-blown guided trip, and you’ll learn some Hokkaido-specific mountain knowledge in the process. I did my avalanche awareness training with Whiteroom Tours (review here).
Most importantly, keep safe and have fun 🙂