Step off the Japan Rail train, walk 10 minutes, and start skinning. Arguably, that is one of the greatest attractions of Mt. Shioya-maruyama (塩谷丸山, 629m). The train station in question is Shioya JR Station, and it is only a one-hour train trip from Sapporo Station. From the top of Mt. Shioya-maruyama you’ll have 360 degree views across the Ishikari Bay, Otaru City, and the Shakotan Peninsula. Despite its diminutive stature, Mt. Shioya-maruyama has some great (albeit short) mellow skiing, and is well suited to beginners wanting to gain experience.
Route GPS File
- Transport: This route is very accessible by public transport. Take the Airport Rapid Express from Sapporo Station to Otaru Station (43 mins). From Otaru Station, change to the local train bound for Yoichi (余市). Shioya Station (塩谷駅) is the first stop after Otaru (10 mins). It is a 1km walk from the station to the end of the snow-clearing (around here).
- Car parking: If arriving by car, the most official carpark is the Shioya Station carpark, just across the road from the station. There may also be clear areas further up the road towards the trailhead, but please don’t park anywhere in the way of locals’ access and snow-clearing areas.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Mt. Shioya-maruyama 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).
- Otaruseibu (小樽西部) – map no. NK-54-20-1-2
- Snow and route safety
- The main risk noted in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide is that from 450m in altitude, the route is relatively featureless – if visibility is low, it would be best to turn back at this point.
- Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura pinpoint for Mt. Shioya-Maruyama
- Other resources
- See the write-up (in Japanese) in the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) from page 86-89.
- Difficulty note: The appeal of this hill for people just starting out in the winter backcounty is its relative low altitude and length of time on the mountain. Note that the lower half of the route is in quite dense woods. This will likely be a challenge for even intermediate skiers, but distances are short; consider it training for other low-lying destinations in Hokkaido.
- Onsen neaby: Asari Onsen area is the best bet, if heading back to Sapporo by car. Hana-no-Yu has a large eatery on the second floor, so would be good if you want to pair an onsen with some cheap and cheerful onsen food. Hotel Musashitei is open relatively late in the day for day visitors, and Classe Hotel up the road a bit also has a nice onsen.
- Date visited: 9th December, 2017
Despite being a low-altitude mountain, from its summit, Mt. Shioya-maruyama boasts 360 degree views to Shakotan, Mashike, Yubari, and the Niseko range. In summer, it is busy with hikers. Recently, it has become known as a place where powder snow can be enjoyed after only a short climb. This has attracted not only climbers but also telemark skiiers and snowboarders. (Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook, p. 86).
Mt. Shioya-maruyama would have likely missed my radar as a place to ski, had it not been early December, and I was chomping at the bit to get out for a ski tour. The guidebook suggested that Mt. Shioya-maruyama was suitable for ski touring from late December, but this year (2017), we’d already had a fair amount of early season snow. So I figured we’d have a good chance to break in our legs for the season on this relatively easy hill.
So Haidee, Rick and I (and Tom, who met us on the hill), drove out to Shioya Station for a Saturday outing. We parked at the Shioya Station carpark, and walked 10 minutes (about 1km) to the trailhead (here).
From the trailhead, the winter route up the mountain (which is different from the summer trail) follows an old forestry road for 500m or so before turning right onto an even older forestry road. This y-intersection is often marked with pink tape. From here the route weaves its way through relatively thick woods, dodging windfall and vines. Because we did this route in early December, there was still a lot of sasa bamboo sticking up out of the snow. Old fallen tree-trunks were also only just buried enough not to get snagged on them. Later in the season with more of a base, it would be much easier to navigate without needing to concentrate on getting tripped up by the undergrowth.
Once at the terminus of the main gully heading south, there is a small steep climb from around 250m to a small plateau at 300m. Once on the plateau, it is a further 50m or so before the steepest climb of the route, up to about 400m in altitude. This second steep climb will test your kick-turn skills.
Luckily for us, there was another party about 30 minutes ahead of us, so they had done the hard work of breaking trail. Once out of the woods at around 400m, the terrain opens up with beautiful stands of well-spaced trees, and when the weather is clear, there are great views across the Ishikari Bay.
The very top of Mt. Shioya-Maruyama is in fact a bit of a rocky outcrop. The only practical way up to the summit in winter is to wrap around about 20m to the western side of the rocks, and skin up a narrow passage between two of those outcrops. Once on the top, you’ll have a clear view 360 degrees. Unfortunately for us, the glorious clear weather we’d had all the way up closed in just as we hit the summit. The light snow was just as the weather forecast had told us, so we hurriedly transitioned, keen to get off the summit in case the weather packed in completely.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, no sooner had we dropped off the summit than the weather cleared again. We were happy to meet up with Tom, however, who had hurried to the trailhead behind us after a malfunctioning alarm clock gave him a later start from Sapporo.
Had we been a little more motivated, we would have donned our skins again for another couple of laps of the upper section of Mt. Shioya-Maruyama. We opted instead to continue back down, rather apprehensive about the messy tangle of undergrowth further down. Despite our concerns, it ended up being a technical but not impossible task weaving through the trees. Certainly later in the season it would be a more straight forward run down. Once on the forestry road, it was just a matter of locking into the skin track and whizzing back to the trailhead for the walk back to the cars.
We finished the day off with a very late (3pm) lunch at one of Rick’s highest-rated ramen joints in Sapporo, Yoshiyama Shoten (吉山商店), on the main road on the way into Teine Ward (here). Their goma-miso (sesame miso) ramen is highly recommended!