Overnight backcountry ski trip to Ginreiso Hut (Mt. Harukayama, Hokkaido, Japan)

Given it’s close proximity to Sapporo City, I had expected Ginreiso Hut, at the foot of Mt. Haruka, to be bustling for our overnight trip on the 3rd of January. In the end, our group of four were the only ones to make the short 3 hour climb. We had the place to ourselves. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Rick Siddle.)

Mt. Haruka is a bit of a mainstay for backcountry skiers, especially for those keen for a quick and easy overnighter, in close proximity to Sapporo. The big attraction for me, at least, is the fantastic Ginreiso Hut. This mountain hut, with a permanent caretaker (the ever-so-helpful Mr. Hirata), is owned and operated by the Sapporo campus of Tokai University (call 011-571-5111 to book in advance and confirm whether or not the caretaker will be there; the hut is not available for use when Mr. Hirata is not there). Along with fellow skiers Dirk, Rick, and my partner Haidee we hired a car and headed out there for a first overnight backcountry ski trip for the year.

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Cars can be parked near the gate at one of the trailheads (location here). Keep in mind, however, that this is not an official carparking space; Mr. Hirata at the hut warned us that after heavy snowfall, it is not uncommon to find one’s car half-buried in snow, pushed up against the car by Otaru City snow-clearing crews. Make sure you’ve got a shovel handy.

We arrived at the trailhead at around 9:30am. There were no other cars parked at the gates, so it appeared that we were some of the first to head up for the day. Just as we were setting off, however, a group of five snowmobiles darted ahead of us, leaving us to breathe their fumes for a few minutes. This is one minor drawback of the route up to the Harukayama mountain hut. Snowmobiles also make use of the forestry road route most of the way up to the hut. While this makes for easier skinning and snowshoeing, it can mean for some icy hardpack in the lower reaches.

If you’re like me, however, and prefer getting away from civilization, at least in principle, the summer hiking trail route follows the forestry road just a few meters below the road. This is the route we chose for much of the way up. This route is ideal for skis, but with plenty of traversing, can be hard going on wider snowshoes.

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

We took a quick break at the final large clearing before hitting the main wide ridge to the hut, around two thirds of the way to the hut. By now a moderate snowfall had begun…

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Meaning that the final hour to the hut was in lower visibility conditions.

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Skinning up to Ginreiso Hut near Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

We arrived at the hut more or less on schedule at just before 1pm. It was great to have arrived, and we were all ready for lunch.

Ginreiso hut in winter near Skinning up Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mr. Hirata poked his head out of the door when we arrived, and ushered us in with his usual great fanfare of making sure we were aware of where everything goes. Boots were placed next to the massive wood-burner stove, boot liners and gloves were tossed up onto the wire rack strung above the stove, and money was exchanged for our night in the hut (800yen per person). Mr. Hirata’s close attention to guest’s movements when they arrive, and when they are cooking, and when they are setting up the bunk rooms, can feel a little overbearing at times, but the man had a heart of gold, and he’s just trying to help and keep things running smoothly.

After a leisurely lunch, we headed out again in better weather to the peak of Mt. Haruka. This is a short 30 minute hike from the hut, and allows for mostly untracked skiing back down to the hut. We only did a couple of runs before retiring to the hut for dinner, chats, and bed.

Dinner preparation inside Ginreiso Hut on Skinning up Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Interior of Ginreiso Hut on Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

The next morning we woke to mostly blue skies. Perfect weather for hiking up to the top of Mt. Haruka again for a few ski runs before having lunch at the hut and skiing back down to the trailhead.

Skinning up Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Skinning up Mt. Haruka (Hokkaido, Japan)

Location of Ginreiso Hut (43°06’49.2″N 141°06’38.4″E on Google Maps)

Route GPS file

A recent GPS route map that follows approximately the route we followed can be found on Yamareco below, and the GPX file can be downloaded from here: http://www.14degrees.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/track-788711.gpx (this GPS track was made by someone else, so I cannot guarantee its accuracy)

Access by public transport

  • By train and taxi: Arguably the most straight forward option is to get a local train to JR Zenibako Station (on the same JR line as Sapporo Station), and catch a taxi from there. It’s only about 2.8km from the station to the trailhead (route map here), so the taxi is cheap. It will be downhill on the return trip, so can be easily walked on the way down.
  • By train and bus: Catch a train to JR Zenibako train station, and catch the Zenibako/Katsuraoka-sen (銭函・桂岡線) bus from the JR Zenibako train station bus stop heading towards the Zenibako Jo-sui-jo bus stop (銭函浄水場). From the Zenibako Josui-jo bus stop it is a 1.3km walk to the trailhead. The timetable for this bus can be seen here: Timetable info. Return bus timetable here.

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2 thoughts on “Overnight backcountry ski trip to Ginreiso Hut (Mt. Harukayama, Hokkaido, Japan)

  • Ian Meggitt

    So good! Thanks for taking the time to produce such awesome information! We’re changing our trip up to do this if we can book. Thanks!

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Did you end up going to the Ginreiso Hut? Not sure if there’d be decent snow up there at this time of year (early May).