Stories, pictures and video from the mountains of Hokkaido

Backcountry

Hiking and Skiing Yotei

April 27th 2015. Mt Yotei (1,898m)

I’ve hiked to the summit of Mt Yotei three times over the past few years, but never during the ski season. With the opportunity of hiking and skiing it rapidly melting away for this season, I wasn’t going to miss out on a clear weather day and a day off work. Original Hokkaido Cartel member Peter Im was also keen for the hike so we arranged to meet at the Hirafu trailhead at 5:30, soon after sunrise.

Sunrise from close to the trailhead.

Surprisingly, given how warm April had been, we were able to get our skis on and skin straight from the carpark which made the initial stage of the climb a lot easier. The lower slopes were very slushy, even early in the day, and covered with a lot of tree branches and the odd patch of sasa.

Getting up on to the lower slopes. Niseko in the background.

Once we were onto the main face, it was just a long slog to the top. We were able to skin to about halfway before the snow got too firm and we strapped our skis to our packs and decided bootpack. The wind was howling, so we took a 30 minute pause waiting for it to die down a little before continuing to the crater rimĀ on foot.

Slowly making progress on foot

After a very long grind up the upper slopes, we reached the crater rim and were treated to great views over the Niseko range and beyond to the sea of Japan, just about visible in the haze. A celebratory kampai was in order!

Peter with Annupuri behind

A mini kampai at the top, overlooking the crater

Peter was tired after the climb, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to ski into the crater. Getting my skis on again, I skinned around the rim to drop one of the steeper lines on the opposite side. It was a short steep line, but a lot of fun. Totally worth the extra effort and the hike out.

Skinning around the crater rim

Short clip skiing into the crater. Thanks Peter for the video!

After climbing back out to where Peter was waiting (patiently!) for me, I had a moment to get my breath back and then we set off on the long ski down the main face. This was the longest unbroken ski run I’ve done in many a year, and a real thigh burner. The snow definitely wasn’t Hokkaido powder, but really nice spring corn and one of the funnest lines of the year. After a long climb up, the decent was over so quickly, but totally, totally worth the effort.

Peter

Definitely enjoying myself

A looong line down

After reaching the bottom and a quick pole through the trees, we were back at the cars sweating, sunburnt, but stoked! Ski gear was stripped off and I changed into shorts and flip flops for the drive home on the hottest day of the year. (29 degrees C recorded in Sapporo!)

A long day, 3am start from home with a 2.5 hour drive either way, but such a good day skiing. Probably the last of the season, number 104.

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Pre-Season Hiking

With the season just around the corner, the snow is starting to fall and accumulate on most of the taller mountains around Hokkaido. The past couple of weekends we’ve been hiking in the hills, getting some good training for our legs and enjoying great views of snowy peaks and autumn colours.

October 19th. Mt Teine (1,023m)

Last weekend we hiked Mt Teine. Instead of going up the frontside where the ski area is, we took the hiking trail around the back of the mountain. The trail follows a beautiful valley past a load of waterfalls and then takes a steep course through a boulder field between the cliffs on the backside of Teine. From the summit we had the classic Teine view of the city and Sea of Japan. Further to the north, we could see the snow capped Daisetsuzan range in the distance.

View over the outskirts of Sapporo to the snowcapped Daisetsuzan range

Close up of Asahidake, Hokkaido’s tallest mountain

To the south we saw the peak of Mt Yotei rising above the hills around Jozankei. I took a very similar photo to this back in April when we had a spring day skiing at Teine. There was a fair bit more snow on the hills then!

Ezo Fuji with a light dusting of snow

We climbed one of the large aerials at the summit, which gave us an awesome birds eye view of the ski area and down into the bowls which we’ll be shredding in a couple of months time.

Birds eye view of the old ropeway station and the Teine ski area

October 25th. Sandanyama (1,748m)

Daisetsuzan in the early morning

This weekend we were up in Asahikawa and I went for an early mission down to Tokachidake with original Team Daiso member, Ross Nixon. We only had a few hours, so decided to hike Sandanyama, one of the smaller peaks in the range.

Sandanyama summit under grey skies with Ross Nixon.

Although the hike was short, the surrounding terrain is spectacular. From the top of Sandanyama, Tokachidake and Furanodake towered above us. We had overcast skies and flat light on the way up, but soon after reaching the top, we had a break in the clouds and were treated to views of real alpine gnarly mountains in every direction. A plan has already been hatched to get back here in the early spring for some touring.

Tokachidake 2,077m

Amazing views of the surrounding peaks when the clouds broke

Not long to wait now before the season gets going. We’re expecting snow down to lower levels this week. Last year our first turns were November 13th, lets hope for similar this season……


Hiking for the final turns of the season

Muine-yama. May 2014

View of Yotei-san from Muine

Although all the ski hills in Hokkaido have now been closed for a good few weeks, there’s still snow on the higher mountains. In some places more than enough snow for skiing. From my balcony on a clear day, I get a view of Muine-yama which is the far side of Sapporo and about 1,460m tall. The snow always sticks around on Muine well into the spring, so with a sunny weekend in the forecast, we decided to head out to Jozankei and hike with skis and snowboards for our final turns of the season.

The view of Muine-yama from my balcony

Leaving home with the sunrise at about 4am got us to the trailhead by 6 ish and gave us plenty of time to get up to the snowline and hopefully to the summit. We were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t long before we reached the snow and I could get my skis on. Skinning is a far more efficient means of uphill travel than hiking with skis strapped to a pack.

Skis on and a quick and easy skin to the top

Dan and Mike making slightly slower progress but enjoying the views

We made quick progress up the ridgeline to the summit, enjoying the incredible views in every direction. Once we got to the top it was a quick Snickers before skis and boards were on for a few very pleasant runs on perfect spring corn snow.

Happy days

Mike heading down from the summit

Perfect spring corn

The large snowfield we had to play on

A little further down the snow was a bit more sun and wind affected, but we found a few great windlips and rollers that we shaped into a bit of lip for our last jump session of the year.

Mike going for spins

Staying cautious with safety grabs

After getting down below the snowline it was a bit of a hack through the bushes and bamboo to make our way back to the car, but totally worth it. A great bonus day of skiing and a nice way to end another amazing Hokkaido winter.

A view back towards our old friend Teine