Emil, a HokkaidoWilds.org reader and powder snow enthusiast, has been a Japanese resident for the past eight years. He began enjoying Japan’s powder snow five years ago in resorts, and it wasn’t long until he began venturing out into Japan’s local backcountry with mountain guides. He has skied widely throughout Honshu and Hokkaido, but still hadn’t tried his hand on Mount Yotei, an iconic 1,898 m (6,227 ft) stratovolcano near Niseko, located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in Hokkaido.
After reading our page on Yotei’s backcountry routes, Emil followed our link to JMGA guide and Director of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) Jun Ishiguro, listed on Explore-Share’s guide platform. With Jun, Emil began to plan his ultimately successful ski touring mission into Yotei’s crater.
Mount Yotei has no marked winter routes or avalanche control. It is also an almost-perfect conical mountain with a dizzying array of ascent and descent options on every aspect. Therefore it’s very important that any skier attempting to summit or ski the volcano have an excellent command of avalanche rescue techniques and equipment, as well as excellent route-finding skills. Even then, to make the most of skiing Yotei’s many aspects, gullies and spurs, hiring a guide – as Emil and his friends did – is an excellent way to fully enjoy Yotei safely and make full potential of the mountain on any given day (see our recommendations regarding Hokkaido guides here).
Emil reports that the experience was well worth it. Not only is skiing in a crater a unique adventure, simply getting to the top of Yotei is challenging in its own right, so there’s double the reward. Another great thing about Mount Yotei is that because it’s a free-standing conical volcano, conditions on its slopes will always be exceptional somewhere, even when conditions on the nearby Niseko range are average. Plus, although Yotei can be tough and icy beyond around 1400m, there’s actually no need to shoot for the summit. The best skiing (besides the crater) is below 1,400m.
In the case of Emil and his friends, they ascended Mount Yotei with Guide Jun from the south via the Makkari Route. They also descended on this south side. They initially planned to make it to the top in four to five hours, but it actually took them six, which is why it’s important to set off early. Jun’s expert experience on Yotei and local knowledge of the weather and snow conditions made all the difference in helping the group make it safely to the top, and then on into the crater.
The mission was a success, and now Emil reports he is planning to explore one of Mount Yotei’s other routes. He’s also keen on ski touring on Rishiri (our route here | Explore-Share guided options here) and skiing the Niseko Haute Route from Niseko to the Sea of Japan. His suggestions for anyone aspiring to the Yotei crater include being mindful of the ascent time and being properly prepared in terms of hydration, experience and equipment for the long and sometimes icy hike up. Here at HokkaidoWilds.org we rate Yotei routes up to the 1400m ‘powder line’ as Intermediate, but summit (and crater) attempts as Advanced. That said, with a guide, it’s a peak that even relative newcomers to the backcountry can enjoy and learn a lot from.