Mt. Yotei Backcountry Ski Routes

Posted on Jan 14, 2020
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Posted on Jan 14, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
Mt. Yotei (i.e., Yotei-zan, 羊蹄山, 1898m), situated within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園), is a near-perfect, free-standing conical volcano just east of the bustling Niseko ski resort area in southern Hokkaido. This impressive mountain is also referred to as Makkari-nupuri in the indigenous Ainu language, or Ezo-Fuji. Yotei-zan's dramatic southeastern aspects offer some of Hokkaido's best backcountry skiing for intermediate- to expert-level backcountry skiers. Here, we outline four established backcountry skiing routes up Yotei-zan. Beyond around 1300m in altitude is solid ski-mountaineering territory, so all times and descriptions here assume skiers will only ascend to the 1300m 'powder line', and descend from there.

Featured image kindly provided by Sea & Summit Media / @seaandsummitphotography

Last updated Jan 21, 2020

Quick Facts

Yotei-zan is gloriously unavoidable. It invades the views from the busy Hirafu ski slopes. No matter which direction you approach Niseko from, you have to drive around it. Climb any mountain in southern Hokkaido, and it’ll be there, in the distance, calling your name, blowing soft powdery kisses in your direction. It’s no wonder it’s such a popular place for backcountry skiing.  Here’s some quick facts.
  • Yotei-zan is uncontrolled backcountry – There are no marked winter routes up Mt. Yotei. Winter routes are not maintained. There is no avalanche control on Mt. Yotei – all backcountry skiers should have beacon, shovel and probe, and be versed in their use.
  • The south and eastern aspects are where it’s at – In terms of access and snow quality (due to prevailing winds) all established routes approach the mountain from the eastern side. I.e., not the side you can see from Niseko.
  • The best skiing happens below 1400m – Leave the icy summit and crater rim approach for the unhinged bootpackers. No one gets faceshots for dayz beyond about 1300m. From the 1300m powder line to the crater rim (1890m), it’s icy and hard-packed. Most climbers will be bootpacking (probably with crampons).
  • Summit attempts need about 8 hours – While the best skiing happens below 1400m, crater skiing may be the pinnacle of your skiing career. If you must get to the crater rim and/or summit, be prepared for a solid 8-hour day (return). Slap on another 30 minutes for good measure if skiing into the crater.
  • Public transport – Two routes on this page (the Makkari Route and Jinja-no-sawa Route) are accessible by bus from JR Kutchan train station. Given the long time required on the mountain, make sure to catch the earliest bus at 6:40am from JR Kutchan station, arriving at the mountain at 7:12am.
  • Police notification of intentions – In addition to telling your plans to someone who cares about you, all skiers are strongly advised to submit their climbing intentions to the local police either in person, or online using Mt-Compass.

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Makkari Route 真狩コース

5hrs 915m 9.5km SSW
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Highlights: Skiing from the locally well-known 1000m Terrace, comparatively straight-forward route finding, good access with plenty of parking, accessible by public transport.

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Makkari Route (真狩コース) is arguably the most popular backcountry skiing route on this iconic Hokkaido volcano. The route starts climbing in earnest very early, meaning altitude is gained quickly, unlike other routes on the mountain requiring longer flat-land approaches. This comes at the expense, however, of less terrain real-estate for the downhill; on busy weekends, it may be more challenging to find untracked lines. That said, the relatively compact valley makes navigation easy up to the prominent small plateau at 1000m, referred to locally as the Terrace (テラス). Likewise, so long as skiers keep within the main valley below the Terrace, it would be relatively difficult to end up anywhere other than the trailhead on the way down. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the best skiing is to be had from below around 1300m, just above the treeline.

Jinja-no-sawa Route
神社ノ沢コース

5hrs 1000m 11km S
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Highlights: The world-famous (in Hokkaido) Delta Slope, one of the most direct routes to the crater rim, relatively wide-spaced trees right from the outset with an easy forestry road approach, accessible by public transport.

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Jinja-no-sawa Route (神社ノ沢コース) – also known as the Cemetery Route – gives prime access to the locally well-known Delta Slope (デルタ斜面). This roughly triangular south facing area, fanning out from around 1250m down to 600m, is a smörgåsbord of terrain, with gloriously well-spaced trees. Even on a busy weekend, it is unlikely skiers will struggle to find their own untracked line. Of all the popular routes up Yotei-zan, this route is arguably the most suited to lapping, even if the weather is unsuitable for venturing into the alpine. Invest in a good solid skin track, and lap to your heart’s content. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the most consistent skiing on this route is to be had from below 1300m.

Kimobetsu Route
喜茂別コース

5hrs 950m 10km ESE
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Highlights: Decently wide-spaced trees from the outset, most direct access to Yotei-zan’s highest point (1898m), wide-open slopes for the downhill.

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Kimobetsu Route (喜茂別コース) is one of this volcano’s more popular routes, for good reason – from around 1400m down to 800m is an uncannily plane-like slope that seems to stretch out in all directions. If it wasn’t covered in waist-deep fluffy powder, you’d be forgiven to think you’re standing on a groomed slope. This route is also the least wooded of all the routes outlined on this page. For the more adventurous, there are also a few gullies to the left and right of the route that will allow for some relatively sheltered couloir-like downhill skiing options in stable snow conditions. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the most consistent skiing on this route is to be had from below 1300m.

Kyogoku Route
京極コース

5hr 40m 930m 10km NE
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Highlights: Good access to one of the better crater skiing slopes, great views to the north and northeast, challenging  vegetation and ridge-line skiing, good access from trailhead to Kyogoku springs.

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Kyogoku Route (京極コース) is home to a plethora of tight spurs and gullies, which will please experienced backcountry skiers seeking variation and excitement on the descent. Down low, however, it’s also the most tightly wooded route of the more popular Yotei-zan routes, so we’d only attempt this route again in February, once there is a reliable covering of snow. This would be a very direct route to the good southwest aspect crater ski slope when the weather is good. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the most consistent skiing on this route is to be had from below 1300m.

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