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


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.

Route GPS File

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential details


6.6km
Distance


1.5 hours
Time


165m
Ascent


1,780m
Highest point


2.5/10
Difficulty


Dec-May
Best Season

Need-to-Know Details

  • General notes: This route is a very leisurely wander around the fumarole areas near the top of the Asahidake Ropeway. If the weather is good, consider boot-packing up to the top of Mt. Asahi as well, although this will add a solid 5 hours to the trip time. It is also a very hard-packed, icy route, so consider carrying crampons and hiring a guide. Overall, avalanche and exposure risk can increase exponentially in this area if the weather turns. Do not take this ‘easy’ route lightly – people have and do regularly die here.
  • Route markers: There are no route markers. People can happily get completely and hopelessly lost even a few hundred meters from the ropeway top station if the weather turns, so only venture out in good visibility conditions.
  • Transport: The Asahidake Ropeway is accessible by public bus. Four buses per day leave Asahikawa JR Station bound for the ropeway (http://www.asahikawa-denkikidou.jp/kyouei/66%20time(2016.10.1).pdf).
  • Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (the stone hut is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
    • Asahidake (旭岳) – map no. NK-54-7-3-3
    • NOTE: There is also an excellent hiking map published recently in English (a rarity!) covering the entire Asahi-dake area (ISBN: 4906740278). Order from Amazon.co.jp (link) or from the Japanese publishers (here). It is also available in Europe from GeckoMaps (here).
  • Snow and route safety: When the weather is nice, or even only slightly nice, it can be very easy to be complacent on this route. This is probably because of the sheer accessibility of the area via the ropeway. You’ll likely see tourists in sneakers and jeans bracing against the cold for a quick selfie near the ropeway station. The reality is that the top of the ropeway is at 1,600m, which is well within serious mountaineering territory. In winter, with windchill, it can easily get down to below -20degC. Even with no snow forecast, high winds will cause whiteout conditions very quickly. Make conservative decisions in the high mountains of Hokkaido. If you’re lucky enough to get lost and then rescued (and not die), personnel and rescue costs are steep, and will be charged directly to you; think in the tens of thousands of dollars if it takes more than a few hours to find you.
  • Weather forecast: Snow-Forecast.com weather forecast for Asahidake Ropeway
  • Onsen neaby: The bottom of the ropeway is in Asahidake Onsen village. Yukoman Onsen (location) was nice (800yen per person).
  • Date visited: 31st December, 2017

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

Trip Report

We were on a week-long holiday on the eastern side of Hokkaido, and naturally had to drive all the way back to Sapporo, so why not go via Asahidake Onsen? The days before Mt. Asahi included an overnight hut trip ski tour on Mt. Mokoto near Lake Kussharo. We had amazing weather on the second day there (trip report and route guide here), so we were hoping for more of the same on Hokkaido’s rather unpredictable highest mountain.

We stayed in Asahidake Onsen village (resort?) at the Shirakabaso Youth Hostel (the cheapest but slightly overpriced accommodation in town), and woke to clear skies. A quick look at Mt. Asahi from the youth hostel viewing platform, however, suggested that conditions at the top of the Asahidake Ropeway were not going to be great. It looked to be blowing a gale.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

We decided to head up the ropeway anyway, if it was running; it closes if the wind is too strong. It was only a 10 minute walk from the hostel to the ropeway, so we skinned most of the way up the side of the road. We were taken aback at how much snow there was in comparison to on the other side of the ranges out further east.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

At the top of the ropeway, it was quite clear that it was not going to be a leisurely meander. It was a near-whiteout with scathingly cold and strong wind. We made it about a quarter of the way towards the stone hut with about 100m visibility, before turning back when this dropped to about 20m.

We were booked in for another night in Asahidake Onsen, so we returned down the ski slopes to the village, hoping for better weather the next day.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

The next day broke to near-perfect conditions. We wasted no time getting going and were on the first gondola up the mountain.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

When you can stop, hold your breath, and hear nothing but loud silence, you know you’ve hit the weather jackpot. Other climbers with more time on their hands were marching up the southern ridge of Mt. Asahi, heading for the summit. We left this for another time, and concentrated on the much more leisurely circuit around some of the steam vents in the ‘Hell valley’.

I was infinitely jealous of whoever had spent the night out in a tent near the stone emergency hut. It would have been a blustery start to the night, but I can imagine the morning calm would have been worth it.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

The stone hut (asahidake ishimuro) is well-and-truly an emergency hut, with no non-emergency overnight stays allowed. Even if you wanted to stay overnight in winter, it would be nearly breaking and entering, as the second-story window is well iced shut. A screw-driver on a multi-tool would probably shimmy it open, but not without damaging the wooden framing.

We carried on up the valley to a truly majestic landscape.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

After pottering around at the upper-most fumaroles, we made our way back down to where the summer walking trail does a loop back to the ropeway station. Heading back down the valley gave us a great view of the sea of clouds further down the Asahikawa plains, and on to the Yubari mountain range in the far distance.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Once we were back at the ropeway top station, we joined the throngs of new arrivals for a fast blast down the unique groomed slopes of the Asahidake Ropeway ski area. This ski area is unique in that 1) the scenery is amazing (great massive pines covered in marshmallow snow) and 2) it is not really much of a ski area – the groomers are only just wide enough for some short turns and are more like access-road shortcuts down the mountain. An absolute blast!

All in all a great first-visit to the beautiful but cantankerous Mt. Asahi, Hokkaido’s highest.

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Asahi fumerole ski tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

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