Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring Routes


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.

Featured Routes

Okuteine Hut, Hokkaido, Japan

Okuteine Hut Overnighter

Home of the ‘Yutopia Piste’, just behind the hut. A paltry 80yen per night to stay in the hut.

Mt. Yoichi Ski Tour Route, Hokkaido, Japan

Mt. Yoichi (Akai-kawa Route)

A classic route from the outskirts of Kiroro Ski Resort.

Harukayama Hut, Hokkaido, Japan

Mt. Haruka Overnighter

The classic overnighter ski-tour, less than 1 hour from central Sapporo. Staying at the cosy Ginreiso mountain hut.

Sandan-yama Ski Touring, Hokkaido, Japan

Tokachi's Sandan-yama

Wild onsen, big hills, and Japan’s sacred ‘powder mecca’.

General Information

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.

Most of 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.

  • Digital Topographical Maps – There are a few smartphone apps for displaying official Japanese topographical maps. Take a look at my blog post about the different options here. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) also allows their maps to be printed out for free – instructions for doing that are here.
  • 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 – Most of 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). All routes in this guidebook were produced by members of one of Hokkaido’s oldest mountaineering email mailing lists (The Hokkaido Mountain Mailing List).
  • Leon Roode’s HIOC page: Leon Roode was a mountain guide in Hokkaido for 16 years, and is arguably still one of the most experienced non-Japanese people about the Hokkaido mountains. Before moving back to New Zealand, he wrote some backcountry trip reports on the Hokkaido International Outdoor Club (now defunct) blog here.
  • Yamareco.com – the definitive online community for the Japanese outdoors – Link here.
  • Hokkaido Hiking Logs: Check out Hokkaido Hiker for some winter and skiing-themed posts.
  • Strava: Strava is used prolifically for backcountry ski routes. Here is a search with ‘Hokkaido’ as the location: Click here. (HT: Essjaywhy).

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. See the ‘Disclaimer’ tab for more information.

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).

A list of back-country huts in Hokkaido that I’ve skied to in the winter. There are many, many more out there (Hokkaido University has many: their list).

Okuteine Hut | 奥手稲山の家

Ginreiso Hut | 銀嶺荘

Bankei-sanso Hut (Bankei Hut) | 万計山荘

Shokanso Hut | 暑寒荘

Mr. Piyashiri Summit Hut| ピヤシリ山頂緊急避難小屋

Shakotan Hut| 積丹岳休憩所

Mt. Mokoto Ginreiso Hut | 藻琴山銀嶺荘

Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut | 十勝岳避難小屋

Hakuginso Lodge | 白銀荘

Some people have the audacity to call Hakuginso a mountain hut. It is actually a fully serviced, car-accessible, heavenly lodge with hotsprings, kitchen, and well-ventilated drying room in the basement. But I’ll add it here for posterity, since it is the best mountain lodge in existence in Hokkaido.

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).

Prices

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.

Stores

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).
  • 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).

Secondhand Gear

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. By ‘limits’ here, I do not just mean skiing steep lines in potentially dangerous terrain. By ‘limits’ I also mean limits in your navigation skills, your survival skills, your preparation skills, and your language/communication skills. If in doubt, enlist the services of 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 topographical 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 🙂

Some Hokkaido mountain context

I am originally from New Zealand. So when I first came to Hokkaido, I looked with contempt upon the low-altitude mellow Hokkaido terrain – in New Zealand and other places in the world, things only get really serious in winter when you’re well above around 1,300m. For those accustomed to continental conditions, you’ll likely not bat an eyelid at anything under 3,000m in altitude.

I am still relatively new to Hokkaido, but the reality is much different here. A mix of Siberian winds and moist Japan-sea air can make for extremely challenging and dangerous conditions, even down low at much less than 1,000m. A broken ski binding or a twisted knee 10km from the nearest road in 1m of bottomless powder, even at 600m in altitude, is all it would take for things to get very serious very fast. If you can’t visualize why this would be a bad thing without the skills to potentially spend a night outside, please consider hiring an experienced guide.

Route markers are the exception, not the rule in Hokkaido. For the vast majority of any winter route in Hokkaido, it is best to assume you’ll be navigating without the aid of route markers. Furthermore, count yourself very fortunate if you find some skin tracks to follow. Tracks generally stay broken for approximately one day before being buried under deep layers of that powder snow we crave on the downhills here. If it is snowing while you’re skinning, expect the tracks behind you to be gone within an hour or less. You need to assume you’ll be breaking trail 100% of the time, in deep, deep snow. Always assume a route will take you longer than planned, and always be prepared for an emergency overnight in the snow.

Here are some videos from some local Hokkaido film makers to whet the appetite.

Glue by Sokubee

Rebun Island ski touring by Sokubee

Route Map Explorer

Detailed Route Reports

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7 thoughts on “Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring Routes

  • Paul James

    Hey, thanks for all the info – my Mrs and I are heading out next winter from the UK. We’ll be there in the last week of Feb and first week of March. Is it best to hire a car? Where would you recommend to stay. Air b&b was our first plan with as many nights in huts as possible.
    Again, thanks for all the generous info, much appreciated.
    Jamesy

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hi Paul, thanks for the message. Renting a car is definitely the preferred option. Check out Niko-Niko Rentals at Chitose Airport (https://www.niconicorentacar.jp/office/location_new-chitose.php). You may find they are quite a lot cheaper than other big-name rental places. I use them all the time – not the English-speaking service at the airport, but a franchise near my place in Sapporo City which requires you to be able to speak Japanese.

  • Istvan Lőrincz

    Wow, Japan-Switzerland trough central Asia…
    Great respect!!!

    I am wondering to begin ski running in Moeneruma park ( 6 and 10 km courses), but I have a great dilemma:
    I can’t find equipment ( boots/shoes for ski)for my size in Japan….
    Only on-line ( very limited) and with an unrealistic high price:-(

    If having wisdom on this, I would appreciate the info.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Istvan, welcome to the big-footed dilemma in Hokkaido. I guess you’ve tried the Shukaguso store near Hokkaido University? I’m not sure where else to get cross-country ski gear, as I haven’t done much cross-country skiing.

  • Rob Thomson Post author

    Some recent questions I received via email:

    Q: I was reading your tours and it could be a great idea to mix a multi-day tour sleeping in a hut with day tours. As you mention many tours, could you recommend us some of them? Do you think in february is it possible to sleep in the huts?
    A: February is a great time for staying in huts. If you’re looking for a true backcountry hut, the Shokanbetsu Hut is a pretty sweet place in February (see write-up here: http://www.14degrees.org/shokanso-hut-mt-shokanbetsu-ski-touring-hokkaido-japan/) – this will give you access to some pretty awesome terrain options for a couple of days. I would also rate that hut as the best I’ve been to if using it to base yourself for a couple of days. Although, the weather in February along that Japan Sea coast can be pretty wild. Also worth considering is Hakuginso Lodge in the Tokachi Ranges in central Hokkaido. Hakuginso Lodge is not a backcountry hut, but is very affordable, and the range of options right on its doorstep are infinite: http://www.14degrees.org/hokkaido-ski-touring-mt-sandan-yama-and-maetokachi-dake-tokachi-region/

    Q: We would like to visit different spots. Do you recommend us to stay in a fixed place for the week in Hokkaido and drive every day or it is better to sleep in different places? Which city is a good base for the week?
    A: I would say it would be better to be open to move around a bit. If you were to base yourself in a couple of different places, Niseko and Furano would be my choices.

    Q: Normally we don´t do it, but we didn´t find any info and we were thinking in hiring a guide for a few days. Can you recommend us someone?
    A: I’m not super familiar with guides in Hokkaido, but Hokkaido Powder Guides seem to have some good knowledge: http://www.hokkaidopowderguides.com/customtrip.html

  • Jacob Goslawski

    Nice!! Just the kind of resource I was hoping to find out here!! My Mrs and I just rented a car today in Sapporo and are heading up to Furano. Very keen to check out at least one of the huts you have mentioned next week when we come back down this way. Thank You!