Good things come to those who walk

There’s something amazing about being in the mountains with just your crew, moving under your own power, and riding where you want.

Hokkaido’s backcountry riding is unbelievable. The snow is epic and the terrain is rad. Sure, Hokkaido has a reputation for being mellow and that’s fair for most of the resorts, but there’s skiing in the backcountry as good as you’ll find anywhere on the planet in the deep, generally stable pow that Hokkaido is famous for.

A few things to note about our information on backcountry riding:

  1. This information is intended for you to use to figure out where you should stay and how your should arrange your trip to Hokkaido. Use it to compare the backcountry options near Furano and Niseko (or wherever else you’re thinking of going). Don’t use it to plan your backcountry travel - the information isn’t suitable for that purpose and you’ll need to consult proper maps, locals, guides, and all the other usual stuff.

  2. Use this information at your own risk. Make sure you have the necessary skills, fitness and experience before you travel into the backcountry. These places are dangerous. They’ve been the site of multiple fatalities over the years and plenty of serious accidents. If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire a guide or ski somewhere else.

  3. This is just a general guide about what kinds of backcountry options are available. It’s not supposed to be complete and exhaustive, and we aren’t pretending to be experts in every area and every line in Hokkaido. We’re trying to help you plan your trip so that you don’t end up looking for secluded backcountry lines at Hirafu or deciding you’re desperate to ski at Kurodake after booking all your accommodation at Tomamu..

  4. The locals have explicitly asked us not to publish information about a bunch of areas we guide. We’re very fortunate to be a part of a small but committed community of local freeriders in the area and eternally grateful for their generosity. Our friends love their mountains and it’s important that the interests of local users are considered and respected. That means some of this information will be more vague and general than you might like. We realise that’s frustrating, but it’s part of being a respectful guest in Japan.

The Tokachidake Area

This is one of the best known touring areas in Central Hokkaido, but the terminology of the area is a bit confusing.

Tokachidake is a mountain in the Daisetsuzan national park, east of Furano. When most foreigners talk about skiing at Tokachidake, they’re actually talking about skiing in the general area of that mountain. Generally, (white) people use the term to describe anything accessed by a road that goes up to a group of onsens in the hills. That includes:

  • Furanodake (Mt Furano, not to be confused with Furano ski area which is in a different mountain range),

  • Sandayama,

  • Sanpoyama,

  • Tokachidake itself, and

  • some other small bits and pieces.

There’s a lot to like about skiing here.

  1. The road (route 291) climbs to about 1200m, Hokkaido’s highest driveable point in winter. It’s a very easy place to get into the alpine in good weather.

  2. There are also good options for touring below the tree line, in particular on Furanodake.

  3. It gets a lot of snow, and it will often get snow when Furano ski area is clear.

  4. There’s a bunch of mellow terrain.

  5. There’s also some steep stuff including some good open faces in the alpine and some big chutes. There are real glory lines here if you can get the weather and conditions right.

  6. There are great places to stay - onsens with amazing food right up in the hills. You can step out the front door, put your skis on, and get into it.

So what’s the bad news?

  1. If the weather is bad, the options for good tree skiing are a bit limited. There’s relatively sheltered skiing on Furanodake and off Sanpoyama, but it really narrows down the available terrain. Don’t go into the alpine in bad weather. It won’t be some secret fun day that everyone else misses out on. It will suck and it will be very difficult to manage your exposure to avalanche danger.

  2. It’s busy. This is a standard spot for all the guiding companies in Furano. It’s also popular with independent backcountry groups. On a typical day it can be hard to find a parking spot (although a bit better - they expanded the car park for last winter) and there will be other groups moving around all over the place. Lot of skiers are coming here for the first time with limited visibility and no beta. People will drop in above you, traverse below you, ski down the skin tracks and buff them to a dull shine. It’s a bit of a gong show.

  3. It’s exposed to the northwesterly wind. Guess what! The prevailing wind is northwesterly. The skiing here starts at about 1000m and goes up, so it’s not a good place to be if it’s windy. The alpine will be miserable and you can get quite a lot of windslab formation lower down. Unfortunately the area is towards the southern end of the Daisetsuzans so it gets hit pretty hard in a southerly as well. I’ve probably seen more unstable snow here than anywhere else, so I tend to be pretty conservative about skiing here in the wrong conditions.

  4. Although the area you can access from the road is extensive, a lot of it is very flat (i.e. too flat to ski) or has very short runs. Much of the alpine terrain is almost always windscoured and icy. There is a bunch of good skiing up there, but it’s not as expansive as it first looks.

In summary, this area is great in good weather, especially if you want to get into the alpine. It has good snow and good terrain, but it’s getting pretty busy.

Tokachidake is accessible from:

  • Tokachidake. You can stay up there. It’s great.

  • Furano. It’s about a 40 minute drive.

  • Asahikawa is about an hour away.

  • Tomamu is a little far - you’re looking at roughly 2 hours each way

There’s a little bit of public transport, but you’ll probably want a car (or a very expensive cab ride) to get up, down and around the area.

What do we offer at Tokachidake?

We guide at Tokachidake. We used to guide here a lot, but now we tend to head to other areas where the skiing is as good (or better) and the are no crowds. That said, there is a bunch of good terrain here and if conditions are good we’ll come and make the most of it.

We come here on:

  • Day trips from Asahikawa, Furano or similar.

  • Multi day trips, either coming up from a nearby town for a day, or staying overnight in one of the onsens (an amazing experience, especially if we can line it up with good weather).

The Yubari Mountains

From Furano ski area the Yubari mountain range stretches to the south, the peaks standing taller and sharper until you reach Ashibetsudake - in every way the biggest mountain in the group. This region is usually approached from the east, and the mountains create the same kind of rainshadow effect that gives Furano ski area its thinner snowpack, drier snow and sunnier weather.

We’ll be honest - we haven’t skied that much of the terrain in these mountains. For a few reasons: The approaches are pretty long, the lines tend to be steep, and the more variable weather makes for a less stable snowpack. What we have skied in here suggests that there are some amazing lines for those willing to hike in and out, and if you get your timing right here you could ride some sensational stuff.

There’s good news:

  1. It’s steep! There are some serious lines in these hills. Ashibetsudake itself is loaded with steep couloirs, and there are a bunch of good faces and lines tucked away in the lower hills.

  2. It’s the diametric opposite of busy.

  3. There are some areas that are reasonably sheltered from a northwesterly.

But there’s quite a bit of bad news:

  1. The approaches are pretty long. You’re looking at an hour or two of easy skinning before you can get to any of the main skiing areas. Some places you can ski out of, others you’ll have to skin along the flats back to your car.

  2. Conditions are tricky. The whole area gets less snow than elsewhere in Hokkaido, which means more sun, more cold clear nights, and a thinner snowpack. It’s a recipe for faceting and unstable snow. Combine that with the steep terrain and you’ve got a much higher avalanche hazard than you typically see in Hokkaido.

  3. Also, that lack of snow means that even if the snowpack is safe, the skiing might not be that good. It’s unlikely to be as deep as elsewhere and more likely to be sun or wind affected. Expect ridgelines to be scoured and high areas to require crampons and ice axes.

  4. There are some heinous drainages. If you think you’re going to waltz up Ashibetsudake, drop some steep line and then cruise down the river to your car you’re in for a nasty surprise. The creeks here are open all winter. Most drainages are steep sided, convoluted terrain traps with huge overhead hazard. You need to be absolutely certain that you can get out of anything you drop into. Prior inspection of your exits is a must.

  5. The steep terrain and overhead hazards mean you need pretty good weather. This isn’t a good place to be if you can’t tell what’s loading or how conditions are changing around you.

This area offers a lot to strong groups when conditions are right. The rest of the time it’s best avoided.

The Yubari mountains are accessible from:

  • Furano. They’re close. Maybe 15-20 minutes depending on where you’re going.

  • Tomamu is a bit over an hour away.

  • Asahikawa is about 90 minutes away.

  • The Tokachidake onsens are roughly an hour away.

You’ll need a car or a cab to get to these hills.

What do we offer in the Yubari mountains?

We guide in this area. The terrain we guide here is pretty limited at the moment but we’ll continue chipping away at new areas over the next few seasons. We only take strong groups, and we’ll only go if conditions are suitable. This area is pretty cool, but it’s not worth getting too hung up over - there’s plenty of great riding to the north where conditions are more reliable and the approaches are less of a hassle.

We come here on:

  • Day trips from Asahikawa, Furano, Tomamu or similar.

  • Multi day trips, coming from a nearby town for a day.

Around Asahidake

Pretty much all of the riding at Asahidake is unpatrolled and thus in the backcountry. But here we’re talking about the stuff that isn’t accessed from the lift. That includes skiing on the nearby peaks of the Daisetsuzans and some other stuff below or around the ski area.

The northern part of the Kamui Mintara range (the main range of the Daisetsuzan National Park, of which Asahidake is a part) is made up of volcanic cones that come out of a plateau. The skiing up there involves flat approaches across the plateau and then climbing and skiing on the peaks. The plateau itself is just above the tree line, so the whole area is alpine. Skiing up there requires good weather. It’s super exposed to the wind (and often scoured) and navigating on the white, flat, featureless plateau in poor visibility would be miserable.

The peaks are at their best in spring or in good weather if you want to climb things and look at great views. They usually get too much wind to have great powder skiing, but if you got the right day skiing pow off the peaks would be outrageous.

People do a bit of touring on the edge of the plateau on either side of the ski area. I find it hard to get excited about this stuff. It’s mellow, the runs are very short, There’s lots of flat spots. It’s OK, but you’ll probably have a much better time somewhere else.

Below the ski area there’s quite a bit of terrain. Finding parking is tricky, but there’s the potential for some really great skiing that’s quite sheltered when conditions are bad up high. We’ve skied a range of terrain in here: Short, fun but relatively mellow laps that are great for introductory touring days; steep tree runs; and even some quite burly lines that we’ve looked over the top of and then scurried away from.

It’s got good points:

  1. Climbing peaks (including Asahidake) on a clear day is rad. You can climb and ride an active volcano with fumaroles. The views are awesome. It’s a good time.

  2. The terrain down low is really good and well sheltered. This is a good place to rescue a day that might otherwise get shut down by bad weather.

  3. There are lots of onsens nearby

So what’s the bad news?

  1. The alpine areas are generally pretty wind affected and need good weather. You generally climb these peaks for the experience, rather than the awesome snow.

  2. The terrain on the edge of the plateau on either side of the ski area isn’t very inspiring.

  3. Access to the terrain lower down is limited by parking.

  4. There’s not a huge area of backcountry riding.

The lift accessed skiing at Asahidake is pretty good (see our resort write up), especially when the snow is deep (it often is). There’s some reasonable backcountry in the wider area, especially if the weather is good enough to get up high, but it’s not really a destination area for backcountry skiing. I wouldn’t book a week at Asahidake if I was planning a Hokkaido backcountry trip. To me, it makes more sense to stay somewhere like Asahikawa and then day trip up to Asahidake if it’s good.

Asahidake is accessible from:

  • Asahidake. There are some great onsens at the base of the lift.

  • Asahikawa is about an hour away.

  • Furano is about 90 minutes away.

  • Tokachidake is also about 90 minutes away.

  • Tomamu is a bit far for a day trip - over 2:30 each way.

There’s a bus to Asahidake from Asahikawa. It runs a few times a day and would work if you were staying overnight but for a day trip it would chew up a lot of time. If you’re planning to ski in the backcountry you’ll need a car to get to any of the stuff below the lift.

What do we offer at Asahidake?

We guide at the ski area and in the backcountry nearby.

We come here on:

  • Day trips from Asahidake, Asahikawa, Furano or similar.

  • Multi day trips, either coming up from a nearby town for a day, or staying overnight in one of the onsens (an amazing experience, especially if we can line it up with good weather).