Posted on Mar 30, 2020
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Posted on Mar 30, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
13km

Distance

8.5 hours

Time

1000m

Ascent

1635m

Highest point

9/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Mar

Best season

Ariake-yama (有明山, 1635m) rewards the intrepid skier with 3km of sustained downhill. Located in the Kitataisetsu mountains at the northern reaches of the Daisetsuzan range, it's a very long day out if the summit is in one's sights. But the expansive north-facing ridge offers acres of deep-powder skiing for those willing to make the trek. This is the backcountry of backcountry skiing in Hokkaido.

We visited this route on Mar 20, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Ariake-yama sits on the northern side of the Kitataisetsu mountains in northern central Hokkaido. This ski touring route up the mountain starts here, at the forestry road off Route 333 on the Engaru side of Kitami Pass.

General notes

With the arrival of cat skiing on the once defunct Kitataisetsu Ski Area, the popular Kitataisetsu backcountry mainstay peak Tengu-dake (天狗岳, 1553m) was essentially removed from the Hokkaido ski touring radar. In its place, the acres of prime backcountry real estate on the northern flanks of Ariake-yama just west of Tengu-dake came into relief. The approach to the actual climb, however, is long. Expect just over 2km (up to an hour one way) of breaking trail along a mostly flat forestry road before getting to the good stuff.

The actual peak of Ariake-yama is usually reserved for those really needing to get to the summit. That is to say, from the 1488m mark, it’s only another 200m or so of vertical gain (across 1.3km) to the summit, mostly on a hard-packed, oftentimes icy ridge. The best powder skiing is to be found from the 1488m mark and below. Making the 1488m point your goal will easily shave at least 1.5hrs off the total route time.

That said, do take a look at Yamano-makochan’s route below the image gallery, in his video of the route – his party enjoyed a good lap on the northeastern slope right from the summit.

Hut

Rikugeian AirBnB (full details here)

Somewhere in the AirBnB house notes, this gorgeous down-to-earth Japanese-style accommodation is referred to as a ‘hut’. By any normal standards, however, this fully-featured, incredibly functional ski touring base is anything but a hut. There’s an interior charcoal pit, futons, wood stove, decorative snowboards adorning the walls, heating, water, shower…everything you’d expect from an AirBnB. Rikugeian (六芸庵) isn’t a mountain hut – realistically it’s up to an hour drive to most serious backcountry ski touring terrain. But it’s right next to the delightfully local Pippu Ski area (and attached onsen hotspring), so makes for a really affordable location to base oneself out of for a week or so for exploring the northern Daisetsuzan range. Daytrips to Kuro-dake, the Kitami Pass area, Teshio-dake, and Horokanai are well within reach.

Route details

When we visited in March 2020, various routes up the northern ridge were marked sporadically with ribbon tied to trees. These are not ‘official’ route markers, so it’s important to be prepared to navigate on your own. Start on the forestry road, and follow this for 2km. At around the 1.5km point, the road forks. Confusingly, when we were there, pink ribbon was tied to trees down the right fork, but this appeared to be for a separate route going somewhere else. Take the ascending road to the left. In another 600m or so, drop down to the right off the road, and find a spot to cross the stream. Climb up the other side to join up with a narrow spur. This spur will lead up to the broad northern ridge. Assuming you’re navigating using a GPS, the broad northern ridge is now your playground. Ascending up the ridge, you’ll finally be funneled up to the 1488m point. If the weather is good, underfoot conditions aren’t too icy, and you’ve got plenty of time, it’d be worth the extra hour or so of gentle ascent to the summit. In all other circumstances, skiers would be better served by ripping skins and reveling in about 2.5km of gentle downhill. We didn’t need skins on the forestry road return.

Route Timing
Up | 6hrs
Down | 2.5hrs

The timing above assumes you’re headed to the summit. If just heading to the 1488m powder line, bank on just under 5 hours from Route 333 to the 1488m point, and another 1.5hrs on the return.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

Parking is somewhat limited at the forestry road entrance. If snowclearers have come through recently, expect room for up to 5 cars or so. We recommend arriving early to secure a spot. If the carpark is full, allow about 15 minutes of vigorous shoveling to clear a suitable parking spot to the side of the road.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kitamitoge (北見峠) – map no. NK-54-1-13-4
Official Topo Map 2: Hirayama (平山) – map no. NK-54-1-14-3

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

Snow and route safety

If attempting this route in deep winter (January, February), be prepared for a long slog breaking trail in very deep snow in extremely cold temperatures. The guidebook notes it’s not unusual for a fit party of four or five skiers to spend up to seven hours breaking trail to the summit in deep winter. Anywhere above 1600m in Hokkaido in deep winter is serious mountaineering territory; concomitant experience and equipment is required.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Ariake-yama
Onsen nearby

There aren’t many onsen very close to Kitami Pass, or in Kamikawa Village. If your travels are taking you to Sounkyo, then the Kurodake no Yu (黒岳の湯) in Sounkyo (location | 600yen per person) is a nice place for a soak. This place also serves delicious Italian food (pasta and pizza) in the ground floor restaurant. If staying at the great-value Rikugeian AirBnB in Pippu, then we’d recommend the Yuyu Pippu hot pools just up the road (游湯ぴっぷ, location, 500yen). Yuyu Pippu also serves good value food in their restaurant.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore areas north of Sapporo together with a local certified guide, get in touch with either Wataru Nara or Takao Miyashita. They’re both born-and-bred Sapporo-based guides. They both cut their teeth on peaks including those in northern Hokkaido, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido.

Yamano-Makochan's Video Report
Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 364 (translated by Hokkaido Wilds)

Ariake-yama is connected to Shirataki Tengu-yama via a ridge-line summer trail. The northern ridge we outline here is quite mellow in steepness, but it makes up for that with a consistent 3km downhill, where skiers can enjoy spectacular powder skiing. In a previous edition of the guidebook, we introduced a route up Tengu-dake, but due to safety requirements on the Kitataisetsu Ski Area, winter climbing via the ski area is now prohibited. We considered outlining other routes up Tengu-dake, but it’s not possible to use the ski area parking area either.

This was the second day of a three-day weekend. We were making the most of being up north by staying at the hopelessly functional Rikugeian AirBnB in Pippu Village. It meant having to commute up to one hour to and from the Kitami Pass area each day, but the good value accommodation was well worth it. Rikugeian is about 2 minutes drive from the Kita-pippu Interchange on the Asahikawa-Monbetsu Expressway, so it made getting to the mountains really easy. As n added bonus, the expressway is free from Pippu-kita Interchange eastwards.

We left the AirBnB just before 8am. We’d more or less given up hope of getting anywhere near the summit of Ariake-yama today. Windy.com was forecasting 120km/h winds at 1500m. We decided to head to the trailhead and at the very least just go for a walk on skis.

We arrived at the trailhead at just before 9am. There was one other car there, the occupants clearly consulting their phones for a hint as to whether they should attempt the route or not. We’d already resigned to the fact that our outing would highly likely just be a stroll in the woods, so as soon as we arrived we braved the wind and got kitted up.

At the trailhead there was a stiff breeze blowing, but high up on the ridges, the wind was roaring through the trees. The scouring wind was so noisy that we had to raise our voices to talk to each other. The raw power of mother nature was on full display.

As we started skiing away along the forestry road, we saw the occupants of the other car get out and start getting kitted up. Perhaps our unfaltering confidence had rubbed off on them.

The gale-force wind was coming squarely from the west. The forestry road ran east to west, so despite being down low in the relative shelter of the valley, we were being hammered by a headwind. Before long, most of us had discarded our sunglasses and were not wearing our ski goggles.

At times, snow flurries whipped down on us. However, as soon as we turned the slightest corner at the 1.5km mark in the forestry road, we were out of the wind. There was hardly a breath of wind, and the sun was shining. Were we still on the same mountain?

All around us, the tops of the trees still roared, being clawed at by the unfaltering winds. Mercifully, as we ascended the broad northern ridge, we were mostly spared from the wind until around the treeline at 1300m or so. There were a occasional gusts that ripped at the snow surface, but they were very manageable. The snow surface was, predictably, wind affected and heavy. 

At around 1350m, we were starting to top out at the top of the northern ridge. Our original goal – the 1488m mark – was well within our reach. Snow surface conditions continued to deteriorate, however, and soon the full brunt of the wind had stripped every last bit of loose snow off the ridge, leaving bullet-proof sastrugi and ice in its wake.

Lacking ski crampons, we decided to call it a day here. Even if we’d had the appropriate gear, the wind was only likely to be even stronger higher up. It was time to cut our loses and enjoy the OK snow down the northern ridge.

Switching to downhill mode was easier said than done, however. We all struggled with skins, boots, googles and gloves in the unrelenting wind. Our saving grace was that it wasn’t too cold. Had this been mid-winter, we’d have turned back much sooner.

Once we were all downhill-mode sorted, we clattered down the 20m or so of ice we’d clambered up, and then hit good (as good as wind affected snow can be good) snow. It was a joy to be picking our own lines down the mellow downhill slope.

Afterwards, I watched Yamano-makochan’s video report from his trip to Ariake-yama in February 2019. Him and his team had experienced grand, bulbous snow monsters, blue skies, and deep, deep powder. Worlds away from what we were skiing. 

Yamano-makochan’s Ariake-yama Video Report

On our way home, we stopped in at the Kamikawa supermarket (location) to buy supplies for dinner, and then drove to the Pippu Yuyu Onsen (location) near the Rikugeian AirBnB.

It was here that we noticed for the first time that a pair of skis were missing from the van’s roof racks. I shall refrain from naming the individual, but it turned out they never secured the skis to the roof racks. “I just put them on the racks, but got distracted and didn’t strap them down,” the unnamed individual explained.

The only explanation was that the skis must have fallen off the car as soon as we pulled out of the car park at the Ariake-yama trailhead. We quickly drove the 45 minutes back to the trailhead to see if they were still on the road. We were dismayed to see the skis were not there. So many possible explanations were put forward. Someone has claimed the skis as their own. Someone picked them up and handed them into the police. The other skiers at the trailhead picked them up and have them safe and sound, waiting for us to try to contact them in some way.

A quick call to the police confirmed they’d not been handed in. I registered a lost item just in case. That is, in Japan it’s possible to submit a formal Lost Item Filing (遺失届 ishitsutodoke). You can do this by calling or visiting any police box. This will go into the nation-wide system, and if an item matching the description of your item is handed in somewhere, you’ll get a call.

This was the least we could do, so we dejectedly drove back to the AirBnB. I was 100% confident that we would eventually get the skis back. The only thing I was sad about was that it was unlikely we’d get them back in time for tomorrow’s skiing.

“No problem,” the affected party said. “I’ll just ski at Pippu Ski Area tomorrow on rental skis, and see you once you get back from the ski touring.”

I made a post on the main Hokkaido mountaineering Facebook Group that night, and quickly got some extra suggestions – “call the road maintenance company” was the most helpful suggestion, so I noted that away for tomorrow.

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, and hiking route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

hokkaidowilds.orgに掲載されるすべてのスキールート、自転車ツーリングルート、ハイキングルートと同様に、本ページに掲載される情報を利用し行動する場合、必ず自己責任で利用することを条件とします。出発する前に現地の天候や状況、通行止め情報などを確認しましょう。行動中は、公有地/私有地に関係なく必ず現地の利用条件を守るようにし、適切な安全装置や、コンパスや地図などのナビゲーション道具を身に着けてください。いうまでもありませんが、自然に与える人間の影響を少なくし、ゴミの持ち帰りをはじめ環境を傷をつけない(Leave No Trace)ようなアウトドア行動にしましょう。本サイトに掲載される情報はあくまで計画を立てるための一つの情報源に過ぎなく、行為者の先んじて払ってしかるべき正当な注意義務及び努力と合わせて利用することを条件とします。本ページのGPSトラック(GPXとKMLと地図)を含む情報は提供者のできる限り正確な調べにより提供しているものの、その情報の正確性や、提供者の行動判断は、hokkaidowilds.orgは一切の責任を負いかねなく保証できません。また、本ページに掲載される情報を利用することによるいかなる怪我、器物損壊等、その他事件 ・事故等においてhokkaidowilds.orgや本サイトの関係者は一切の責任を負いかねます。

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Ariake-yama, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Ariake-yama Ski Touring”

  1. Great report again, thank you! Very interesting route, lots of potential I think.
    I really hope that the affected party will get the skis back!

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