Eastern Hokkaido

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. 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)

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)