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. Yes, you usually get better snow. And you pretty much always get first tracks. And you can pick the ideal terrain to suit your group. But it’s more than just trading quantity for quality. There’s also something special about experiencing the mountains on their own terms, away from the sanitised, pre-packaged resort experience.

Hokkaido's best riding is in the backcountry. With deep snow, epic terrain, and whole mountains to yourself, it's one of the best backcountry skiing and snowboarding destinations on the planet. Forget what you’ve read about great snow and average terrain. It’s only mellow if you don’t know where to go.

We’ve tried to set out the basic information for a few backcountry areas so you can plan your trip. Before you scroll down to the descriptions for each area, have a look at the caveats below. This isn’t intended to be a guidebook, it’s just to help you plan the broad logistics of your trip:

  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 trying to ski shoulder-deep pow every day in Eastern Hokkaido.

  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 deliberately be a bit vague and general. We realise that’s not ideal for planning a trip, but it’s part of being a respectful guest in Japan.

Overview

There’s a lot of backcountry skiing and snowboarding to do in Hokkaido. We won’t pretend to be experts in it all. Here’s what we know about a few main locations. We specialise in guiding:

Other major areas include:

We’ve left plenty of areas off so you can do some exploring of your own, and some of the areas we know next to nothing about so we’ve either called up some friends for info or given whatever limited information we have. As we do more exploring we’ll update here, and potentially put some trip updates on the blog. The map should give you an idea of roughly what’s close to where.

 
 

North of Asahikawa

So, you know how we said we’d been asked not to publish some of the areas we guide? Well this section is going to be vague. We guide here. A lot.

Imagine a band running east-west across Hokkaido between with Asahikawa on its southern edge and Nayoro in the north. This section covers (in very limited detail) ALL of the skiing in that band. As an indication, we ski around half our days each winter in this area, with another big chunk in the Sounkyo backcountry which is to the east of Asahikawa. There’s a range of trail-heads and zones which each have different terrain, get different weather and snow, and come into condition at different times.

This variety is the real strength of the area. There’s skiing at a wide range of elevation bands - from very low (starting at 150m ASL) to alpine (tree line is roughly 1400m in this area). If it’s windy, there are good places to hide down low. If it’s calm, there are mountains to climb and big lines to ride. The whole area gets ridiculous snow. There are places that actually get too much snow and it almost ruins the skiing.

There’s terrain for everyone. There’s mellow stuff (hence the problem with too much snow), steep stuff, fun stuff, tight trees, open faces, chutes, pillows. It’s a big area. This region and the Sounkyo Backcountry to the south-east consistently produce some of the best ski days we’ve ever had. Consistently ridiculous snow with a huge range of awesome terrain and plenty of options to make the most of difficult weather.

One of the main constraints is parking. Some of the approaches are really short (ski-to-the-car-on-your-last-lap short), in other places an hour or so of skinning in will be well worth your while. There’s so much good terrain within easy reach that we’ve only just started exploring some of the more serious approaches, but the potential there looks huge. If anyone wants to buy us a snowmobile we’re very interested!

The good points:

  1. Rad skiing. There’s terrain for everyone.

  2. Great snow. It’s pretty likely you can find pow here when there’s none anywhere else.

  3. Huge range of aspects and elevations. You can have a great day in almost any weather conditions.

  4. No crowds.

The bad news:

  1. We can’t tell you about it in detail.

  2. Every time we go out on a clear day we see more lines. There’s just not enough time to ski them all.

  3. Expect to be on your own. If something goes wrong you’ll be alone and cellphone reception is poor. There’s no reliable information about conditions, avalanche hazard, or weather. You need to be completely independent.

Just to expand on the whole “Be safe” theme. This area is classic Hokkaido backcountry. You can be a mile from the road and it will feel like you’re on another planet. A heli-rescue will be a nightmare. If someone gets hurt you’re going to be sled-hauling them out. We’ve seen debris fans over a kilometre long and roads marked on the maps that have been washed away.

Please don’t be complacent about safety out here. Have the right skills, hire a guide, or go somewhere else.

This region is accessible from:

  • Asahikawa - all the main areas are within 90 minutes drive

  • Sounkyo is well placed for the centre of this region, but it’s a bit far away from the stuff near the west coast.

You’ll need a car. There’s no public transport and no cabs.

What do we offer in this region?

This is our backyard. We’re in the area for work or pleasure most days of the season. If you want to ride this stuff, we’re your people.

We come here on:

  • Day trips from Asahidake, Sounkyo or similar.

  • Multi day trips.

Sounkyo Backcountry

The Sounkyo Gorge is due east of Asahikawa. Pressed between the Kitataisetsu mountains to the north and the north-eastern side of the Kamui Mintara range to the south, it’s a deep rocky gorge with a small onsen resort town at the bottom. In summer and fall it’s busy with tourists enjoying waterfalls, wildflowers, fall colours, abundant wildlife, and amazing volcanic landscapes. In winter it has busloads of tourists looking at an ice festival and soaking in hotsprings.

A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking there’s no skiing here. The gorge walls are steep enough that you can only see the peaks above and behind the cliffs from a handful of spots along the road. It’s only when you catch the ropeway that goes from town up to the top of the gorge, halfway up Kurodake (Black Mountain), that you get a sense of what’s around.

There are serious mountains up here. Both ranges to the north and south of the gorge have incredible riding. Alpine faces, trees, chutes. Good times. It’s fairly committing, with plenty of steep terrain, some horrible gulleys, and an unhealthy serving of cliffs in some very surprising places. But if you know your way around there’s awesome skiing and boarding in these hills. I consistently have my best days of the season (and/or life) here. But I’ve also had some of the worst days of my life here. It’s not a good place to make mistakes.

Access is a challenge. The key obstacle is getting out of the gorge. The best way is to use the ropeway, but it shuts for most of January (see the Kurodake write up for more on this). There are a few places you can skin up or sneak through on foot but the potential for unhappy grovelling is high. There are some areas in the region with more accessible touring as well, but the skiing there isn’t quite as rad. Once you get above the gorge you can go on your skiing/boarding adventure, but remember that you have to get back down again. That’s also not straightforward. There’s some really good lines through the gorge, but there are also huge cliffs, small cliffs, and chutes that fill with water ice. It’s not an exaggeration to say that going the wrong way here could kill you. A lot of groups just catch the ropeway back down.

The hike from the top of the ropeway to the peak of Kurodake and the ski back down is one of the classic backcountry trips in Hokkaido and it’s quite popular, especially with locals. It’s an accessible, relatively safe trip (bearing in mind that the whole face is a slide path) that should be on your tick list if you’re coming to the region.

The good news is:

  1. There’s awesome terrain. Steep open faces, chutes, tight trees. Big alpine faces. Outrageous skiing and boarding.

  2. It’s generally pretty quiet. The peak itself can be busy, but there’s lots of other places to go if you know your way around.

  3. The area gets good snow. It snows a lot (a 4m base and 15m total snowfall is pretty standard here but no one really bothers to count). It’s also high with lots of good north facing terrain, so conditions hold up well during sunny spells in early spring.

  4. There are relatively safe and straightforward options for touring and riding near the ropeway.

  5. There are opportunities for a real adventure both near Kurodake and further afield.

But you really need to think about the bad news:

  1. The most accessible area is the backcountry around Kurodake, using the ropeway to get some quick vert. The ropeway is shut for most of January (dates vary from year to year, we try to post them on our blog when they’re announced).

  2. Access to the other areas (not near Kurodake) or if the ropeway isn’t running is tricky and/or long.

  3. It’s dangerous. Pretty much everything is avalanche terrain and there are heaps of other hazards (cliffs, water ice, steam vents, impassable drainages, waterfalls). It’s a crazy volcanic landscape with unexpected hazards in strange places. If you’re going to explore here take ice gear and a rope. Seriously. I’ve used that stuff and been grateful for it.

  4. All of the skiing in the area is pretty high, so you need good weather. There are some more sheltered areas but they also get less snow.

  5. All of the skiing in the area is pretty hard. Well, all except for the (extremely lame but very scenic) ski area. It’s a good place for advanced and expert skiers and boarders.

  6. The closure over January makes it hard to track what’s happening in the snowpack.

This is one of those places where you should really hire a guide. I realise that sounds like a sales pitch, but if you’re thinking of anything more than skiing the peak this just isn’t a good place to just turn up and figure it out. Yep - I’ve done that, but I’ve done it slowly and incrementally over years. And in the process I’ve had some really scary experiences. Exploring here takes more time, effort and risk tolerance than most people have on a two-week ski holiday.

Even if you are skiing the peak, make sure you’ve got your backcountry skills dialed and you’re ready to make safe decisions about avalanche safety (with no forecast or weather info), or hire a guide.

The Sounkyo backcountry is accessible from:

  • Sounkyo. It’s very convenient. There are plenty of onsens with accommodation. Be aware that there are only a couple of restaurants open in winter.

  • Asahikawa is about 90 minutes away.

  • It’s a bit over two hours from Asahidake and even further from Furano and Tokachidake.

You’ll want a full day here and you’ll be tired at the end of it. It’s not a good day trip from anywhere further than Asahikawa. If you’re coming from Asahikawa my personal opinion is that getting on the expressway as soon as possible and avoiding the traffic is well worth the 670 yen.

You can get to Sounkyo by bus from Asahikawa. Once you’re there you don’t really need a car to get to the ropeway but you’ll need one to go anywhere other than Kurodake.

What do we offer around Sounkyo?

We guide here. It’s one of our favourite places to ski and if the weather is good this is a likely place to find us.

We come here on:

  • Day trips from Asahikawa.

  • Multi day trips, either commuting from Asahikawa if there’s a short weather window or staying in Sounkyo if conditions are good.

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. In midwinter they’re usually best for a chance to climb mountains and look at great views in good weather. 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 (steam vents). 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 will 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).

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, (non-Japanese) 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 that has improved recently - 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 there are no crowds. That said, there is a bunch of fun 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 with the right timing 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 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 Niseko

So… Confession time. We don’t really know much about Niseko. I’ve been there a few times and stood in the queue for the gondola for 40 minutes and met a bunch of Australians in every shop and it didn’t really suit my style.

But! There is a bunch of backcountry skiing around. So we asked a friend who guides there to write us a quite summary. Stay tuned, we’ll put it up ASAP.

 The Otaru Area

Otaru is sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, so there’s definitely some options nearby for backcountry riding. Most of the backcountry in this area is accessed from the ski areas. There are some other hills around and I’ve done a few quick exploratory missions but in generally the trees are pretty tight and the terrain is convoluted so it isn’t as promising as it looks on a map.

The main backcountry options are behind Teine and between Kokusai and Kiroro. There’s a few good steep faces about and even a hut you can ski tour to (although the actual skiing near the hut is quite lame). There also looks to be some quite promising areas near Jouzankei but again beware of tight trees.

The touring from Teine and Kokusai is accessed from the top of the lifts. At Teine there’s a bowl behind the mountain that often turns out good lines. Kokusai’s back bowl is more mellow, with some drainages that break up the terrain in awkward ways.

Between Kokusai and Kiroro is Yoichidake, which has a steep south face. It’s easiest to access from Kiroro, again using the lifts. Kiroro also has some small steep faces accessible from the car park. Lots of the Niseko based guiding companies go here, so consider linking up with them.

The area gets heaps of snow, but that also means that visibility is often limited. Another good reason to stay near the ski areas!

There are some potential road laps in the hills behind Otaru as well, if you’ve got someone who likes driving more than skiing.

There’s good news:

  1. There’s backcountry around, and it’s easy to access. Generally it’s near the ski areas.

  2. The area gets plenty of snow.

  3. The stuff around Teine isn’t particularly busy.

There’s also bad news:

  1. The area around Kiroro and Kokusai is getting busy, especially on the Kiroro side.

  2. In general there’s not a heap of backcountry terrain, and a lot of the places that look promising turn out to be covered in tight trees.

  3. Visibility is often poor, which makes objectives like Yoichidake difficult.

  4. The whole area tends to be dominated by a single weather pattern, so it all tends to be bad (or good) at once.

  5. A lot of the terrain is mellow and broken up by drainages. Be really careful of the drainages in this area - there are some super deep holes and some steep-sided drops that you wouldn’t want to miss in bad visibility. The ski patrol at Kiroro ski around with crevasse rescue gear and at first I thought that was a joke but it’s actually a very sensible idea.

There’s enough backcountry here to keep you amused if you’re mostly interested in resort skiing with a few touring days on the side. If you’re serious about skiing in the backcountry there are better options elsewhere.

The Otaru area is accessible from:

  • Otaru.

  • Niseko is roughly two hours away. Just close enough that you’ll see the overflow from Niseko at the popular areas, and it will be busy if Niseko is shut down by wind.

  • Sapporo is close enough for day trips.

You’ll need a car or a cab to get to these hills. You can get public transport to Kiroro and Teine but it will take ages. Hire a car.

What do we offer in the Otaru area?

We used to ski here quite a lot, but over the years we’ve found it harder and harder to justify the drive - especially as we’ve done more backcountry skiing and less resort stuff. Now we go here on long trips (10 days or more) if conditions are good here and not in Central Hokkaido. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen often.

We come here on:

  • Multi day trips, generally staying in Otaru.

 The Hidaka Mountains

This is one of Hokkaido’s major mountain ranges, stretching from roughly Tomamu, south of Furano, down to the southern end of the peninsula. These mountains are generally quite steep and the potential for touring here is huge. However, there aren’t a lot of roads, so access is limited, and the area doesn’t get much snow from the prevailing northwesterly airflow.

To be honest, I don’t know much about skiing in the Hidaka mountains. The main foreigners to talk to about skiing there are Ninja Powder - they mostly do resort guiding but Pat, the owner, has lived in the area for ages. The most popular touring destination there is Nissho Pass. That area looks pretty good, but in general the snow is deeper and there are more weather options to the north.

Once we become fabulously wealthy and all buy monogrammed snowmobiles this is high on the list of areas for us to check out. So feel free to donate us a snowmobile and we’d be happy to update this section ASAP.

 The Deep North

If Hokkaido is considered remote by the standards of Japanese people on the mainland, then the Deep North is remote by Hokkaido standards. This is the northern part of the island, beyond Nayoro. If you like your lines untracked and your slopes uncrowded, this is one place to try.

The Deep North has plenty of snow. The same weather pattern that smashes the Otaru area smashes the whole west coast. The mountains are generally low, with a handful of hills reaching roughly 1000m and everything else a fair bit lower. That said, you can ski to sea level, so there’s still reasonable vert if you can find it.

It’s quiet, and foreigners are not a common sight. The whole area has a slightly dilapidated feel. On my first trip here, years ago, my buddy Goro looked out the window as we passed through one town and said:

“This town is famous for…” he searched for the word.

“Cancer.”

I wasn’t sure if his English was quite right. But it was. We didn’t stop.

Carcinogens aside, the skiing out here can be quite amazing. On a clear day, from the right hill, you can see the Japan Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean all at once. And if you’re looking for the “just you and your friends on a whole mountain” experience, all you need to do out here is pick a mountain.

The downside is that good terrain is quite limited. These are generally low, rolling hills and it takes a bit of searching to find good skiing. If you just want short mellow laps in good snow you could practically fall out of your car anywhere and have a good time, but for longer laps or more interesting gradients it takes a bit of looking around.

The good news:

  1. Absolutely the opposite of crowded.

  2. Amazing locations and views if the weather is good.

  3. It’s a cool place to explore.

And the bad news:

  1. The terrain is mostly mellow and short - it takes a bit of looking around to find good lines.

  2. Some of the approaches from the road are quite long, which further limits the convenient good terrain.

  3. The area gets quite a bit of wind. February is apparently the best time: More snow, less wind.

I wouldn’t plan a trip around the Deep North, but I would jump at the opportunity to ski there if the conditions were right.

The Deep North is accessible from:

  • Asahikawa. It’s a long but do-able day trip.

  • You could stay out here. There are towns. I’ve never done it but I’m sure it’s great. Maybe not the cancer town. But elsewhere.

You’ll need a car or a cab to get to these hills. You’ve got no hope on public transport.

What do we offer in the Deep North?

To be honest, we’ve never guided here. We’ve often had the intention of coming out, but the skiing has usually been better closer to home. If conditions warrant we’ll come out here, but it would have to be part of a multi-day trip.

We come here on:

  • Multi day trips, generally staying in Asahikawa.

 Eastern Hokkaido

Most of Eastern Hokkaido is flat farmland, but there’s a string of mountains stretching from Akan-Mashu National Park (near Lake Kussharo) out to the Shiretoko Peninsula. The most inspiring peak out here is Sharidake, a standalone peak with some cool steep lines. It’s a long hike from the end of the road (don’t trust what’s on the map - the road isn’t plowed in winter) and the locals use snowmobiles for access. There are also some big faces in the mountains along the Shiretoko Peninsula (a World Heritage Area with outstanding natural value) but again access is a problem. The road that goes over these mountains is also closed in winter. It reopens in spring and there’s potential for spring touring, but you’d need to watch out for bears. This area has lots and lots of bears.

Around Akan-Mashu National Park there are a few faces that offer good skiing, but you’d have to drive past a bunch of good touring to get there.

The area doesn’t tend to get as much snow as Western and Central Hokkaido. The prevailing weather comes from the northwest so this region is in the rainshadow. It would make for a cool road trip to do some exploring but there are plenty of mountains with more snow and more terrain options closer to home.

The good stuff:

  • Interesting location to explore, lots of neat stuff to see that isn’t snow related (volcanic features, Shiretoko, bays that fill up with ice floes).

  • No crowds.

  • Some cool mountains.

The bad stuff:

  • Limited terrain compared to elsewhere.

  • Lots of long approaches and other problems with access.

  • Gets less snow than Western and Central Hokkaido. Plus the mountains are generally standalone and thus more exposed to the wind.

This would be a good place to do some exploring and have a road trip (perhaps in spring when the weather is a little better and you can see) but it’s not really a destination for backcountry skiing as such.

Eastern Hokkaido is accessible from:

All the places I’ve listed are too far from any of the usual accommodation centres for day trips. You’d have to go and stay there (there are plenty of towns). Shari is a pretty nice little town and could be a good base.

What do we offer in Eastern Hokkaido:

Nothing, at this stage. If you really want guiding out here we could do something as a custom trip.

 Southern Hokkaido

Another place I know basically nothing about. There are some cool looking mountains around Hakodate (the main town in this part of Hokkaido) but I’ve never made the journey here to ski. When I’ve suggested going here to my local friends, they give disparaging looks and say there’s not much snow. But by Hokkaido standards, that could mean just about anything.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

  • It’s the only place in Hokkaido to see monkeys. They were imported from Honshu for tourists to look at, and have had their own hot pools constructed for them.

  • The ski lift at Hakodate charges for each run. Scandalous!

  • There’s not as much snow as elsewhere.

If you head here and have a good time, let us know! As with all of this stuff, we’ll update this if we ever get a chance to get to the region.