Mt. Okotanpe Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)


Mt. Okotanpe (オコタンペ山 – 968m) is classed as a beginner’s mountain in the guidebook. This is probably a reasonable description if you are on snowshoes. If on skis, you’ll want to be confident of your steep uphill zigzagging and steep downhill tree-dodging skills, such that I’d class it more as an intermediate hill. We made it about half way up before calling it a day and heading back down. That said, even from half way up the route, there are great views over Lake Shikotsu and Chitose City. It is a fun, compact mountain with a clearly defined ridge to follow.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential Info

  • Route GPS log: Our route | Full route
  • Route timing: Around two to three hours from the Izaridake Forestry Road entrance to the summit, around 1.5 hours back down.
  • Total vertical gain: 448m
  • Topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Mt. Okotanpe is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1:25,000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
    • Eniwa-dake (恵庭岳) – map no. NK-54-14-12-3
  • Snow and route safety: From the guidebook – Keep clear of the large cornices on the eastern side of the ridge from 746m to around 880m. Best to keep within the trees on the westward side of the narrow ridge. Same goes for the cornices on the northern side of the summit ridge above 920m.
  • Other resources: See the write-up (in Japanese) from p. 202 of the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047). Also in the area, west of Mt. Okotanpe is Mt. Izaridake. This route uses the same forestry road for access.
  • Best time to visit: February till end of April (as per the Yuki-yama Guide).
  • Getting there and away
    • There are no public transport options to the start of the route. Jump the curb and park your car either on the sidewalk near the entrance of the forestry road (here), or if visiting later in the season, the forestry road may be clear enough to park on the side of that road.
  • Onsen neaby: Marukoma Onsen is highly recommended – it is on the shores of Lake Shikotsu here. Like most onsen at Lake Shikotsu, day visitors are not admitted after 3pm, so make sure you get down in time.
  • Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura pinpoint for Mt. Izaridake (in the immediate vicinity of Mt. Okotanpe)
  • Date visited: Feb 11th, 2017

Route Map with GPS Trace (Full Route GPX file)

Our route

Full route

Climb and Ski Report

From the Yuki-yama Guidebook:

“It’s not named on the map, but while its trig point name is Ootanbetsu (大丹別), people tend to call it Okotanpe-yama. Perhaps that’s because it is right next to Okotanpe Lake. From the summit, excellent views can be gained over Lake Shikotsu’s caldera rim, including peaks such as Mt. Eniwa-dake, Mt. Izari-dake and others. Highly recommended for climbers on snowshoes.” Yuki-yama Guide, 2015, p. 202

I was on the lookout for a relatively easy, straight forward hill near Sapporo, so that Haidee could get some more practice in the backcountry. So, seeing that the guidebook classed Mt. Okotanpe as ‘beginner’, we cheerily headed out towards Lake Shikotsu, looking forward to some easy skinning and nice views on this sub-1,000m mountain. We also figured that because it was supposed to be such a straight forward hill, we’d be up and down it in time for an onsen, and then meeting Haidee’s brother at the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival in the evening.

We did manage to get an onsen in and meet Josh at the ice festival, but the Okotanpe climb did not pan out quite like we had planned.

The first challenge was getting the car parked up on the sidewalk next to the forestry road entrance. We finally got our small 4WD rented Toyota Vitz up with the help of gravity (pointing downhill) and snow piled up against the curb.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

 We also successfully signed in at the start of the route, as all responsible mountain-goers should.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

The route up Mt. Okotanpe starts to the left about 50m past the gates to the forestry road, just after the sign-in box.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

This seems to be a very popular route, so you’ll likely be following snowshoe tracks for most of the way. The first 200m or so is fairly sedate, passing through a small area of well-spaced small trees.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Soon enough, the steep climb begins up to where the ridge flattens out at 746m. By steep, I mean at least 30 degrees in many places, requiring a lot of zigs and zags, and some very sharp kick-turns. As insult to injury, when we were there, new snow had not fallen for about a week, so the snow was slippery, with skins not holding traction very well.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Once above the 746m mark, there was evidence of substantial cornices, and when we were there, parts had moved, exposing the sasa bamboo grass under the snow. We kept to the westerly side of the ridge, among the trees.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

It was not much past this point that we decided to head back down. It had taken us much more time that anticipated to get to this point, and not going to an onsen was not really an option. We needed to get back down to the car ASAP so that we’d make it for the 3pm closing time of Marukoma Onsen.

Haidee’s comment on the way down summed up her experience on the steep, crowded-with-trees slope: “Look at me, I’m backcountry grooming,” she said as she side-slid down the slope. “I feel so bad for flattening out the upward track,” she grimaced. But there was nothing to be done for it. She did well to get down on her skis, and was much more at home on the lower slopes where the trees were more sparse and the gradient not as steep.

Mt. Okotanpe ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

I am by no means an expert skier, but I found the going easier, reveling in the tight quarters and steep terrain. The guidebook’s “beginner” rating may refer to if you’re on snowshoes. On skis, you’ll either want to be accustomed to skiing in heavily wooded slopes, or be keen to hone your skills on such a slope.

 The happy ending was that we did make it in time for the 3pm closing of Marukoma Onsen to day visitors. Marukoma Onsen is known for its outdoor pools where the water level of the pools changes according to the water level of Lake Shikotsu. It really is a special place.

Perhaps the highlight of the day, however, was the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. Each year the Shikotsu Village puts on the festival, akin to Sapporo’s snow festival. The difference is that the ice festival is a little more raw. A real labor of love for the villagers, who spend almost 4 months preparing the framing and spraying water on it to form some incredible ice formations.

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

Haidee’s brother was a little late in arriving, but we made the most of it. The best of the cafe’s we sampled while waiting was the canoe tour outfit Kanoa – they convert their canoe tour operation into a cafe in the winter, and do an amazing hot chocolate (location).

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

A perfect way to end a very nice Saturday outing!

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)
Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (Hokkaido, Japan)

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