Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:08 am Posts: 123 Location: Melbourne, Australia
On the north-western corner of Hokkaido is a dormant (last eruption about 1,000 years ago) volcano resembling the iconic Mt Fuji - Yotei-San or Mt Yotei, although much lower in elevation. Fuji is 3,700m and Yotei is only 1,900m.
Any mountain range on the west through northern coast of both Honshu and Hokkaido generally gets absolutely blasted in winter by cold, moist air from the sea of Japan and consequently get smashed by powder.
Probably the best known Japanese ski resort (certainly to foreigners), Niseko, is nearby.
On a bluebird day (not many of those this time of year!), this is the view of Yotei from Hirafu.
Given the weather in winter, like any alpine peak, it's best tackled in spring with better weather and a longer day. Talking to people, it seems like a 6-7 hour skin to the top. Being so exposed, the powder rapidly dissipates into icy bulletproof crud above the treeline, although there look to be some protected gullies too.
We had made a plan to take it easy (i.e. not start skiining in the dark in a mad rush to the peak) and skin to the treeline, that way it didn't really matter what the visibility was doing, although up near the treeline if it was super-windy it would have been a little cool!
Also, if I want to ride bulletproof crud and ice, I'll stay in Australia! Japan is all about powder.
There's several access points, we chose the southern side near the town of Makkari. They plow the road not quite all the way to the summer trailhead so there's a bit of a flat skin to start (easy on the legs!).
There's nothing wildly steep, as you can see, around 30 degrees. The tree spacing is fantastic, you can really get up some speed until you reach the flats down low.
Skinning up the flat section at the bottom.
I love resort riding too, but out in the backcountry the slower pace means you appreciate your surroundings much more.
We scored with the weather, it was supposed to snow lightly all day, but we got bluebird for the first half of the day.
This is a view of Shiribetsu-dake, an awesome little peak near Rusutsu, I did last year. It's a bit steeper, some sections around 40 degrees, but is not very high. It's all below the tree-line though and some of the gullies are really protected so the powder is d-e-e-e-e-p.
Of course the best part, the trip down, yielded great snow although not as deep as some of the niseko backcountry being a bit more exposed.
By the time we started going down, the cloud had rolled in a little and unfortunately the light was a little flat.
Ah, japanese white room.
It's amazing how flat photos make terrain look sometimes, from the top of this little section this was a blind rollover yet here it looks like a kiddie slope.
One of the things I really like about the trees in japan is that closer to the treeline, the spacing is fantastic and they're deciduous meaning the tree wells tend not to be as nasty as with large clumps of tightly spaced evergreens.
There's even a gaper ski photo of me as I had to ski the bottom run back to the car. Luckily I was with skiers and they cut me a track (useful for something I guess ).
The Hokkaido snowpack is usually very stable. Generally it's cold all winter and the snowpack is deep. The major problem is usually wind-loading. We dug a pit and found nothing to concern us.
The day was followed by the obligatory apres-ski visit to an onsen - volcanic hot spring (with beer!), in Makkari. Evidently not frequented all that often by gaijin (us round-eyes) as the locals looked at us as if we had just alighted from a flying saucer (not in a rude way though!).
To give you a general idea of the quantity of snow in this area here's some car photos. These are by no means "epic" snowfalls for this area either, just business as usual.
This is 48 hours after I parked the car.
This is finishing around 4:40pm after arriving at 8:30am one day