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.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route starts at the upper end of Jozankei village in the western reaches of Sapporo City, on the road towards Jozan Lake.
- General notes: This is one of those compact-topography narrow-valley-approach routes quite typical of the Jozankei area and hills west of Sapporo City. This allows for A) a very sheltered route to the hut, and B) some great varied terrain higher up beyond the hut. Be prepared for a very short section of boot-packing (or a scramble on skis) just behind the hut at the head of the gully. Beyond that it is gloriously open.
- Route markers: The route to the hut follows the summer trail, which is marked sporadically with tape tied to trees. From the hut, the winter route diverges and is not marked.
- Route timing: About 2 hours from carpark to hut, another hour to hour and a half from hut to summit. From summit back to the carpark is about 1 hour.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out these two maps – Map 1 and Map 2 (or adjust to your liking here – the Hiyamizu Hut is in the cross-hairs – see printing instructions here), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo maps (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station or online in Japanese).
- Snow and route safety: The main risks noted in the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) are avalanche risk on the western slopes behind the hut and route-finding difficulties in low visibility on the open plateau leading to the summit.
- Police notification: Fill your police notification out online using Compass – instructions here
- Weather forecast: Windy.com pinpoint weather for Mt. Sapporo here.
- Other resources
- See the write-up (in Japanese) in the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) on pp. 150-153.
- Onsen neaby: The gorgeous Hoheikyo Onsen (location) is worth a visit if you’ve never been before (1,000yen per person), just down the road from the trailhead.
- Date visited: 17th and 18th March, 2018
Mt. Sapporo Hiyamizu Hut (冷水小屋) Essential Information
- Location of Mt. Sapporo Hiyamizu Hut: At around 850m, part way up the Mt. Sapporo summer trail (here).
- Details: Hiyamizu Hut is a two story, 81.89㎡ hut that sleeps 30 people. It was originally built in 1933, but burned to the ground in 1950. A replacement hut, which stands today, was built in 1952 (details in Japanese here). The hut is owned and managed by Hokkai Gakuen University (TEL: 011-841-1161), and is available for use from the 1st of Jan till 31st of October on the first and third weekends of the month. More specifically, the hut is managed by the Hokkai Gakuen University mountaineering club.
- Booking: The hut is only available for use on the 1st and 3rd weekends of the month. The hut is locked outside of these times. Booking is required. Call Hokkai Gakuen University on 011-841-1161.
- Fee: 350yen for overnight stays.
- Heating: Wood stove, managed by the rostered hutkeeper. It is possible to do some basic cooking on the stove-top.
- Water: There is a piped water source outside from a nearby stream. Water can be consumed without treatment.
- Kitchen/cooking: A small kitchen area with bench. Pots, pans, cutlery, bowls, plates etc. are provided. The kitchen sink drain freezes in winter, so any waste water should be thrown outside.
- Bedding: There is some limited (and unwashed) bedding (sleeping bags and blankets) available on a first-in first-served basis. Best to bring your own. Open-plan sleeping quarters (tatami mats) are on the second story.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter.
- Toilets: There is one clean, simple long-drop toilet.
- Hutkeeper: A member from the Hokkai Gakuen University mountaineering club is rostered as hutkeeper on each of the weekends the hut is available for use.
- Special Mt. Sapporo Hiyamizu Hut usage notes: Like most huts in Hokkaido, Hiyamizu Hut is maintained 100% through passionate, volunteer time and effort. Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it.
“Mt. Sapporo is a laid-back, fine-looking mountain that dominates the deeper reaches of the Jozankei hills. Since the old days it is well-liked as a ski touring destination, and is known for its large trees caked in ice along its ridgeline. Part way up the mountain is the Hiyamizu Hut – an oasis-like destination in the deep winter months. Staying at the hut is the purpose for many who visit Mt. Sapporo. This ski touring route follows the summer trail mostly, so to the hut there’s no worry of getting lost. The upper reaches of the route beyond the hut, however, bring with it risk of avalanche and getting disoriented, so care must be taken” (Translated from the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047), p. 150).
I’d heard a number of less-than-glowing reports from the winter route up Mt. Sapporo, tucked into the hills in the upper Jozankei area of Sapporo City. They mostly focused on the narrow, gully-floor approach to the hut, and then the steep and tight scramble up to the wider head of the valley directly behind the hut.
What I hadn’t heard so much about, however, was the multitude of ski-slope options, on multiple aspects and differing steepness just a stone’s throw from the hut. “I’ve been skiing around the Niseko area and in central Hokkaido for the last two months,” said Chris and Ed, a couple of new friends who joined us for this trip to the hut. “But this is some of the most fun steeps we’ve skied in Hokkaido!”
Overall, despite the less-than-perfect snow conditions we had for this weekend’s visit to the Mt. Sapporo Hiyamizu Hut, I can see this area quickly becoming a favorite for backcountry skin touring close to Sapporo. If only the hut was open to use by the public more frequently than just every other weekend…
I’d not stayed at Hiyamizu Hut before, and it was high on my list of places to visit in the winter. Rick and Hiro, friends from Sapporo were keen to join, and then I got a message from Chris (from Sweden), saying that him and his friends Ed (UK), Isabella (Sweden), and Eric (Sweden) had spent most of the season in Niseko and were hoping to visit Okuteine Hut in the weekend (as per my route guide). He was asking for some more deatils about the hut, but I mentioned that I’d be going to Mt. Sapporo. So they all decided to join, and we had a merry group of 7.
We started off at 9am from the trailhead (location), hoping to make the most of a forecast weather window that would hopefully give us some good visibility at the summit of Mt. Sapporo (Mt. Sapporo weather here). The route follows the Hiyamizu-sawa River (冷水沢川) through some scraggly forest at the beginning, quickly becoming more and more picturesque.
Chris and Ed had not originally planned to do any overnighters while in Japan on their skiing holiday, so had picked up some cheap and large foam flooring tiles to act as sleeping pads. The would later tell me that they were “not ideal”.
The route crosses the stream multiple times on the way to the hut. In most places a decently wide snow-bridge can be found later in the season. Earlier in the season might require some more searching.
The route diverges from the stream now and then, but always returns, all the way up to the hut.
The hut is nestled at the base of a sharp ridge separating two small streams, one of which supplies the hut with water. The variety of terrain and forest on the way up to the hut makes the time pass quickly.
I had told the university that we’d be arriving at the hut at no later than 3pm. So the rostered hutkeeper was not there when we arrived at around 11:00am. We quickly cached our un-needed food and overnight equipment, and carried on up towards Mt. Sapporo.
It was here that I was able to experience the gully of doom that everyone I’d talked to about Mt. Sapporo in winter had told me about. “I was slipping all over the place on my skis,” a colleague at work had told me. “I ended up just boot-packing up it.”
It wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been made out to be, however. It was a fun challenge to get up without removing the skis, but would have been just as fast to remove them and walk up. It was only a 100m section, after all. In earlier-season baseless soft snow, however, I can see how it would be much more of an effort.
Once up and out of the gully, the head of the valley opens up to a very wide bowl. The winter route climbs to the climber’s right to the broad ridge that heads to the summit.
I can see why the Japanese ski touring guidebook for Hokkaido (ISBN: 978-4894538047) mentions this area as a place to be very cautious in low visibility. It is wide open and climbs ever so slightly beyond the treeline.
It was blowing a strong, cold wind at the summit, so we spent only enough time there to take a few photos and transition to downhill mode. Our group consisted of three skiers, a telemarker, and three splitboarders.
The downhill was surprisingly good for this late in the season. We’d had a lot of rain in the preceding week, and were pleasantly surprised with a nice 15 to 20 cm layer of fluffy fresh snow. We traversed quite considerably high along the western slopes of the valley to get to the hut, which meant we dropped straight down to the hut when it was below us. Traversing so high, however, meant that we had to cross a couple of large gullies, which would not have been very safe in more unstable conditions. It did, however, rewards us with a steep run directly down to the hut.
Back at the hut, a few of us took the opportunity to get some more skiing in directly west of the hut. Chris and Ed lapped the slopes at least three times – making the most of their last days skiing in Hokkaido.
Back at the hut we got into a progressive dinner. On the menu for the night was yaki-niku, or grilled meat and veges. Generally, yaki-niku consists of thinly sliced cuts of meat, cooked quickly on a hotplate or grill. Hiro, however, had other plans. He brought 1.2kg of prime, wild Hokkaido venison a hunter-friend of his had shot. He quickly seared it in the frypan on the wood-burner stovetop and then cut it up in to large cubes.
The hutkeeper for the night was Mr. Okutani. He was a Hokusei Gakuen University Wandervogel Club member over 20 years ago when he was a student at the university. He now works in Kita-Hiroshima south of Sapporo City, and is rostered on as a hutkeeper twice a year.
He lamented that there were not enough people in the club or enough club alumni to have the hut open to the public every weekend. As it is at the moment, the hut is open every other weekend.
Mr. Okutani had brought with him his primary-school aged son. “This is my third or fourth time at this hut,” his son beamed as he was doing some homework, wrapped up in a sleeping bag on a mat on the floor in front of the fire. “It is my first time in winter though!” They had walked up to the hut on snowshoes, and planned to ski back down to the trailhead the next day.
We all slept well that night – the hut was kept at a very nice temperature of about 13 degrees by Mr. Okutani. Even Chris in his make-shift overnight sleeping gear seemed to have slept OK.
Our group was the only one staying that night.
After breakfast we went to check out some more of the slopes around the hut. We first tried the south-facing slope directly east of the hut. The snow was wind-affected and crusty, so we didn’t bother doing a second lap. In better snow conditions it would have been glorious.
Next we decided to return to the upper slopes beyond the gully of doom. We’d had the best snow there yesterday, and the slopes were a little less steep.
This turned out to be the better choice – fun skiing to cap off a very nice two days.
The ski back down to the trailhead was along the river and through relatively tight trees, but the soft snow condition made the going easy. Rick recalled the last time he’d skied the return, and said it had been quite icy and hard going. Like many of the Hokkaido hut approaches (see more huts here), the access trails in winter can be variable.