Hokkaido Ski Touring

For searching and filtering routes, as well as general Hokkaido backcountry ski touring information, head on over to the Hokkaido Backcountry Ski Touring Resources page below.


TRIP REPORT With some settled weather forecast for this Sunday, Haidee and I made a dash for Mt. Shakotan (積丹岳, 1,255m). We were only two weeks into a busy start to the academic year, but we needed some time out to get some exercise and refresh the mind. Mt. Shakotan had been hit with 100km/h winds the day before, so the lower areas were strewn with twigs and branches, but beyond the treeline we got some good views and skiing.

Mt. Shakotan Spring Ski Touring 2018 (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Ichankoppe (イチャンコッペ山, 828m), with its north-to-south ridge-line approach, has some of the best and most sustained views of Lake Shikotsu and surrounds of any hill on the lake's volcanic caldera rim. Ichankoppe means "salmon spawning ground river" in Ainu, and Mt. Ichankoppe takes its name from the Ichankoppe River nearby. In clear, still weather, the long ridge can be an incredible place for an overnight camp, with glorious views across the lake. It's hard to believe it's only 30km from Sapporo City.

Mt. Ichankoppe spring ski touring and camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge (然別峡), nestled into the southeastern foothills of the Daisetsu National Park in central Hokkaido, is home to a number of natural, wild hot spring onsen. In winter, the only way to get to them is on skis or snowshoes. The furthest (and most impressive) hot spring from the trailhead is Chinika-no-yu (チニカの湯). Even still, it is only 30 minutes along a snow-bound forestry road. Good camping options abound in the area, so this makes for a unique overnight Hokkaido ski touring experience.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Hot Springs Ski Camping (central Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Nishibetsu (西別岳, 741m) is a diminutive hill famous for its alpine vegetation despite its low altitude. Not much further north is the caldera rim of Lake Mashu (摩周湖), so Mt. Nishibetsu can be a good transit point for adventures further afield. In this route guide I introduce the hopelessly beautiful Nishibetsu Hut (西別小屋, 335m), only accessible in winter on skis or snowshoes via a 5km forestry road. This free hut, unlocked and open for use, is the perfect base to explore the area's winter offerings.

Mt. Nishibetsu and Nishibetsu Hut ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Musa (武佐岳, 1,005m) is a volcanic mountain standing as advance guard to the more famous far-east mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan. As such, the summit provides panoramic views across the plains and close-by Pacific Coast to the east, and peaks such as Mt. Shari (斜里岳, 1,547m) and Mt. Rausu (羅臼岳, 1,660m) to the northeast. En-route is the extremely rustic, half-derelict Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut. Dense low-lying trees prohibit skiing directly from the summit, but there are some skiing options from the ridge further down.

Mt. Musa and Sokuseiso Hut ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Sapporo (札幌岳, 1,293m) is a popular peak in the Jozankei area, not least of all for its name - the same as the city in which it stands. Half way up the route to the peak is the Hokkai Gakuen University managed Hiyamizu Hut (冷水小屋, 845m), available for overnight stays on the first and third weekends of the month. From the hut, there are a multitude of great slopes to choose from for magnificent skiing. Steep, mellow, and everything in between. Mt. Sapporo's summit offers expansive views over Sapporo City and surrounds. Enjoy as a day-trip or very comfortable overnighter.

Mt. Sapporo and Hiyamizu Hut ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Sahoro (佐幌岳, 1,060m) is a prominent peak just north of the Karikachi Pass (狩勝峠, 644m) in central Hokkaido. Generally, the winter approach follows the summer trail along the ridge from the Karikachi Pass to the peak. Near the peak is the bunker-like Sahoro-sanso Hut (佐幌山荘). This will set you up for an early-morning run down the Sahoro Ski Area before climbing back up and back the way you came (or hitching a ride back) to the Karikachi Pass. Sahoro Resort is also home to one of the best brown-bear parks in Hokkaido.

Mt. Sahoro and Sahoro-Sanso Hut ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Three winter seasons ago in December 2015, I attended the Whiteroom Tours Avalanche Awareness two-day course in Niseko (report here). Last week I jumped in for the four-day Avalanche NZ accredited Backcountry Avalanche Avoidance Course. This four-day course focuses on forecasting and route planning based on the four factors in avalanche assessment: snowpack, terrain, weather, and people. The lead Whiteroom Tours and NZMSC’s National Avalanche Forecaster Ronan Maguire again brought the course to life with his experience, knowledge, and passion for the winter hills.

Review of Whiteroom Tours Backcountry Avalanche Avoidance 4-day course (Hokkaido, ...

Mt. Muine (無意根山, 1,464m) is a prominent, band-like mountain within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. It is a popular destination for Sapporo-dwelling backcountry skiers, and can be approached from two different directions. The more popular direction is via the Senjaku Plateau (route guide here). The route below, however, goes via the Hokkaido University Ski Club's Muine Hut (無意根山尻小屋, 1,020m), one of the historic huts built in the hills of Sapporo in the 1930's. It is a long, flat approach, but the hut allows access to some great skiing from Mt. Muine's ridge.

Mt. Muine and Muine Hut ski touring (Sapporo City, Japan)

At last, there is a free, smartphone-friendly online service in Japan for easily sharing and submitting detailed backcountry plans via the web. MT-Compass is a free, Japan nation-wide service (https://www.mt-compass.com/) that allows backcountry travelers to submit their backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and hiking plans directly to regional police databases via the web. The English version of the MT-Compass site (https://www.mt-compass.com/) is a bit clunky, but using my instructions below, you'll get the gist of it quickly.

Notifying Police of Backcountry and Hiking Plans in Japan on ...

In 1928, Prince Chichibu (son of Japan Emperor Taisho) skied the hallowed slopes of Utopia Piste (ユートピアゲレンデ) in the hills just west of Sapporo City. Two yeas later the Okuteine Yama-no-Ie Hut (奥手稲山の家) was built at the foot of that ski run, and still stands today. We visited the hut on an overnight ski trip to the Utopia Piste via the Okuteine River (奥手稲山の沢川) route - the most direct route to the hut - for some untracked skiing. Along for the trip was Jasper, a keen mix-breed Hokkaido-dog.

Okuteine Hut and Utopia Piste ski tour (Okuteine Valley Route, ...

With an easy hack on your smartphone, it is possible to display official Japanese topographical maps in English, sort of - AlpineQuest GPS Hiking will allow you to overlay the Japanese topo map with English Google Maps. Below, I outline the features of three apps to display Japanese topographical maps: Geographica (free on Android and iPhone), AplineQuest GPS Hiking (US$7.99 on Android), and Locus Map (free on Android). If you are serious about knowing your surroundings while backcountry skiing in Hokkaido, then you’ll want to have access to the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) topographical maps on the fly.

Android and iPhone Apps for displaying Japan Topographical Maps in ...

Mt. Maetokachi (前十勝岳, 1,790m) can be approached from a few different angles. The classic, easily navigable route heads up the Kabawara Ridge (route guide here), but that can sometimes be buffeted by high winds (as on this trip). If the weather is otherwise clear with good visibility, then it might be worth hopping from one sheltered rocky outcrop to another, and taking some time out of the wind at the very basic Tokachi Emergency Shelter Hut. From the shelter it is possible to access a nice downhill run in a bowl that runs all the way from the very active Taisho Crater (大正火口) fumeroles back to the hut.

Mt. Maetokachi Taisho Crater ski touring route and Tokachi-dake Hut ...

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.

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

The area north of Mt. Shokanbetsu's peak (署寒別岳, 1,491m), nestled deep in the Rumoi/Mashike Ranges on the Japan Sea coast in Hokkaido, offers a veritable feast of ski tour routes (the classic approach is here). In this route guide, I outline a short route up Mt. Shokanbetsu's Western Ridge (西尾根, nishi-one), just a short skin from the Shokanso Hut. This ridge offers easy access to good, sheltered steep skiing on well-spaced tree-runs. The valley floors on both sides consist of deep gullies though, so take extra care to test the stability of the slopes before you drop in.

Shokanso Hut’s Western Ridge Backcountry Ski Tour Route (Hokkaido, Japan)

Bankei-sanso Hut (万計山荘, 917m) is a beautiful two-story mountain hut, built on the edge of a gorgeous mountain tarn in the hills about 20km south southwest from central Sapporo. Management of the hut was transferred to the volunteer Bankei-sanso Friendship Society (万計山荘友の会) in May 1995. One of the bigger jobs that needs to be done each year is the back-breaking task of removing, by hand, the 5 tons or so of snow that accumulates on the roof of the hut, half way through winter. This was my first time taking part, and I would discover a community of people passionate about the outdoors, sharing knowledge, and protecting this valuable resource.

Bankei-sanso Hut Annual Volunteer Snow-Clearing (Mt. Soranuma, Hokkaido, Japan)

The Nopporo Forest Park (野幌森林公園) is a sprawling 20-square kilometer forest park on the eastern fringes of Sapporo City. It is well known as a birdwatcher's paradise, and in winter, a pair of snowshoes will allow visitors to wander as they please through un-tracked areas. Haidee recently got a new Hokkaido birdwatching information book that shows the general areas that owls are known to be seen, so we headed out with a birdwatching-master friend to take a look.

Nopporo Forest Park Snowshoe Birdwatching (Ebetsu City, Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Goyro-yama (御料山 - 596m) is the unassuming little peak above the now derelict (as of 2008) Kami-Sunagawa-dake International Ski Area (上砂川岳国際スキー場). The views are modest, stretching across to the Iwamizawa Plains and Mt. Pinneshiri to the east, and Mt. Bibai to the south. The main attraction is a gorgeous, short hike along the ridge from the top of the ski field to the summit. The upper slopes of the old ski pistes are also fantastic for untracked downhill skiing - if you can get there early in the morning before everyone else. The Panke Onsen hotsprings - one minute walk from the trailhead - are the cherry on the top of a nice day out.

Ski Touring Mt. Goryo and the derelict Kami-Sunagawa-dake Ski Field ...

Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake (小喜茂別岳 - 970m) is the little-sibling of the higher Mt. Kimobetsu-dake (喜茂別岳 - 1,177m) further to the north (Mt. Kimobetsu-dake route guide here). Access to Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake is just as easy though, and its mellow slopes are great for those just getting their feet wet in backcountry skiing. Expect a beginner to intermediate slope at the upper end of the route that is perfect for lapping a couple of times before heading down.

Mt. Kokimobetsu-dake Ski Touring (Nakayama Pass, Hokkaido, Japan)

The route up Mt. Onuma (大沼山 - 1,111m) near the Toyoha Mine in Jozankei (southwestern Sapporo City) may become your next favorite Hokkaido backcountry ski touring route. It is close to Sapporo City. The climb up is short; only about 2 hours or so. The terrain is suitably varied. On a clear day it boasts some magnificent views. But the real cherry on the cake is its downhill slopes. The upper, mostly tree-free slope is worthy of a few exhilarating laps, while the second half of the route back down to the carpark is a glorious dodge-em ride through nicely spaced woods.

Mt. Onuma Backcountry Ski Touring (Jozankei, Hokkaido, Japan)

I've been up to the Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) on Mt. Haruka (春香山 - 910m) a number of times now in most seasons. It is one of only three huts in Hokkaido to boast a year-round hut-keeper (Mt. Tarumae Hut and Mt. Muroran's Shiratori Hut being the others). In winter it is a gorgeous, cosy oasis at the foot of Mt. Haruka's upper eastern face, giving prime ski access to easy lapping of tree- and open-runs. While the hut is owned by Tokai University and officially designated as a staff and student retreat facility, the general public are welcome to stay with prior booking when the hutkeeper is present.

Mt. Haruka Ginreiso Hut Overnight Ski Tour (Otaru City, Hokkaido, ...

Mt. Asahi (旭岳 - 2,291m), Hokkaido's highest mountain, is an active volcano. In winter when the weather isn't blowing a gale, it is possible to wander relatively freely around the fumaroles, at around 1,700m. The route outlined here starts at the top of the Asahidake Ropeway, but if you'd rather skin up, just follow the Asahidake downhill ski course B, marked on the descent of the route on this page - it will take about 1.5 hours or so. Don't take the mountain lightly, as the weather can change very quickly. If you're lucky, however, the grand old Mt. Asahi can turn on some incredible weather.

Mt. Asahidake Volcanic Steam-vent Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

As the highest peak on the Lake Kussharo caldera, Mt. Mokoto (藻琴山, 1000m) gives expansive views on a good day across the vast lake in eastern Hokkaido. A new hut was built on its northern ridge in 2013, so makes for a relatively easy (if not too short) overnight trip. Google searches for information about the route return a higher than usual number of ‘first time backcountry skiing’ reports; navigation is easy and slopes are beginner-friendly. In good weather, this should be a great way for novices to experience some of the Hokkaido winter great outdoors.

Mt. Mokoto Overnight Ski Tour (Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan)