Asahidake to Nakadake Onsen Loop Ski Tour

中岳温泉

Posted on May 9, 2019
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Posted on May 9, 2019

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Reading time: 11 min
14.7km

Distance

9.5 hours

Time

762m

Ascent

2290m

Highest point

8/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Mar-May

Best season

This is the classic overnight winter camping trip in the Daisetsu Range, via the gorgeous Nakadake Onsen hotspring (中岳温泉, 1840m) and Hokkaido's highest peak, Asahidake (旭岳, 2290m). As some freak of nature, the hotspring is a perfect temperature year-round. Most people will be content with soaking their feet in the pool, whereas the more bold will happily strip off for a full-body soak. Camping next to the onsen is only possible during the snow season. Nakadake Onsen makes for an excellent base to explore nearby peaks, with some fantastic high-altitude skiing.

Last updated Sep 2, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This overnight ski touring loop starts at the top of the Asahidake Ropeway (here) at the foot of Asahi-dake, about 40km east of Asahikawa City in central Hokkaido.

General notes

As mentioned above, this route is the classic Daisetsuzan National Park winter camping trip. You can’t beat camping in the snow right next to a natural hotspring, with easy access to multiple 2000m-plus high peaks in the immediate vicinity. It is a wonder why this is not a more popular place in the spring skiing months. With a good clear forecast, this is paradise on earth.

As you’re ascending the Asahidake Ropeway and at the top station, however, a loud-speaker warns skiers and hikers that “Asahidake and the surrounding area has a much harsher climate than even the 3000m peaks of Honshu,” and for good reason. While Hokkaido’s highest peak is ‘only’ just over 2000m in altitude, winter here is serious mountaineering territory. Hence, we recommend this trip for the relatively temperate months of March, April, and May. Of course, the trip is possible during the mid-winter months of January and February as well, but good luck getting a safe two-day weather window of no forecasted snow. Temperatures in mid-winter will hover around -20deg C without windchill, so anyone attempting this route in mid-winter will need to be well prepared.

  • Access to the hotspring in deep winter
    In the deep winter months of January and February, only the hotspring will be visible through a hole in the snow, but it will still be accessible.
  • Poop Management
    The narrow Nakadake Onsen gully is not a particularly crowded places in winter, but it does get its fair share of visitors. Make sure to pack out all your waste, including your poo. Outdoor stores in Sapporo sell portable poo bags. See our write-up on packing out your own poo here.
  • Camping Legality
    Strictly speaking, camping anywhere in a national park in Hokkaido outside of designated areas is illegal without permission from the Hokkaido prefectural government. In winter, however, this is not enforced, as camping on meters of snow has very little impact on the flora below (just make sure to pack out your own poop, and of course don’t litter). I spoke to a representative from the Daisetsuzan Yamamoritai Inc. – a volunteer association working to improve trails and other wilderness facilities; website – to double check about this, and they confirmed that while technically illegal, winter camping in the Daisetsuzan Range is generally accepted. “Depending on who you speak to at the environment department, they’ll give you different answers,” he added. Indeed, when I called the Kamikawa Division of the Ministry of Environment, they did inform me that erecting a tent in the park was not allowed. “You’re not allowed to erect a structure without permission,” I was told. “But what about a snow cave?” I asked. “That’s not considered a structure, so that is OK,” was the reply.
  • Hiking this route
    This route can, of course, be hiked in the non-snow months. See that route on the Hokkaido Wilds by Rick here.
Hut

Asahidake Refuge (full details here)

The Asahidake Refuge (旭岳石室, 1,660m) is a basic but well-built stone hut on the western flanks of Asahidake, Hokkaido’s highest mountain, located in the Daisetsu mountain range in central Hokkaido. The hut is designated as an emergency-use only hut – non-emergency overnight stays are not allowed. The hut is only 20 minutes walk from the Sugatami ropeway station.

Route markers

This route is not marked. The route indicated in this post approaches Nakadake Onsen via the summit of Asahidake, and along the western wide of the Ohachidaira crater rim. This is the most exposed option for getting to Nakadake Onsen, and will likely take strong skiers around 5 hours. From the Sugatami Station at the top of the Asahidake Ropeway, follow the summer trail marked on topographical maps to the summit of Asahidake, along the prominent southern ridge of the Jigoku-dani (地獄谷) volcanic gully. Depending on the snow cover, in order to get to the top of Asahidake only on skis, you may need to stay on the snow-covered slopes to the climber’s right of the ridge, taking a more shallow traverse with a few more zig-zags. From the summit of Asahidake, take the skins off and ski down to the saddle to the east of the summit. From the saddle it is back on with the skins to make your way to the summit of Mamiya-dake (間宮岳, 2185m), where you’ll sidle around the western edge of the Ohachidaira crater rim to just before the Nakadake Bunki (中岳分岐). To access Nakadake Onsen on skis from here, you’ve got two options. Option 1 is to ski along the southern spur above the gully leading to the onsen, and drop down to the onsen just beyond the prominent rocky ‘gate’ in the onsen gully. Option 2 is a little more exciting, and involves making your way along the onsen gully and skiing through the impressive cathedral-like gully (and ‘gate’) directly to the onsen. We opted for the latter in May, and had to clamber down some rocks, as the gully was no longer fully filled with snow at that time of the year. The return to the ropeway is a traverse around the flanks of Asahidake, trying to maintain altitude as much as possible. We managed this return without skins, but it does require some side-stepping in places. From the ropeway top station it is possible to ski down the groomed ski runs or through the trees to the base of the ropeway.

If you’d prefer to just get to the campsite with minimal climbing and in the shortest time, take the return route around the flanks of Asahidake instead of going via the Asahidake summit. This will take between 2-3 hours.

Route Timing
Up | 6hrs
Down | 3hrs

Bank on around 5-7 hours from the ropeway upper station to Nakadake Onsen via the Asahidake summit. Allow between 2-3 hours on the return from the onsen to the ropeway.

Transport

Public transport:

From JR Asahikawa Train Station, there is a bus (Ideyugo いで湯号), operated by the Asahikawa Denki Kido Bus company (tel: 0166 23 3355), that runs to the Asahidake-Onsen spa area. The fare is around 1430yen one way, and it takes around 1 hour 40 minutes, with around four buses per day. See the timetable here.

By car: 

There is ample parking at the Asahidake Ropeway carpark, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Aizankei Onsen (愛山渓温泉) – map no. NK-54-7-2-4
Official Topo Map 2: Asahidake (旭岳) – map no. NK-54-7-3-3

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

This route is entirely above the treeline, and brutally exposed to the elements 100% of the time. The route, for the most part, is relatively featureless, and involves covering ground across expansive snow fields, which would be impossible to navigate in low cloud conditions, without a GPS and map/compass. Never attempt this route without consulting the weather forecast. The route – even the traverse route direct to Nakadake Onsen – should not be attempted in anything but the most amicable weather. The Daisetsuzan Range is moderate in altitude when compared with mountain ranges in other parts of Japan and around the world. However, it is not to be underestimated. It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of this mountaineering environment – be prepared for -20deg C and lower temperatures. On a warm spring day, one will wonder what all the fuss is about, but when the weather does close in, unprepared people do die in this area.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Nakadake Onsen
Onsen nearby

The bottom of the ropeway is in Asahidake Onsen village, with a number of onsen to choose from. Yukoman Onsen (location) was nice (800yen per person).

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Central Hokkaido together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks around Tokachi-dake, Asahi-dake, Sandan-yama and others. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Last year, Haidee and I had planned to go for a two-night ski camping trip to Nakadake Onsen during Golden Week. The weather forecast for that string of five public holidays, however, was less than ideal – high winds with snowfall. So we went cycling instead to Yagishiri and Teuri Islands off the coast of Hokkaido (route here). This year’s Golden Week, however, was no less than 10 days long (to celebrate the ascension of the new Japanese emperor). This meant we had a better chance at hitting a few days with great weather. And indeed we did hit the jackpot this time, with a string of three days of brilliant blue skies – our Nakadake Onsen ski camping trip was on!

The only spanner in the works was that we’d not booked a rental car – we don’t own a car – lest the weather not cooperate like last year. It was now two days out from our planned trip, and it seemed every rental car in Hokkaido was booked out for the entire 10 days of this extra long Golden Week. Our mate Chris came to the rescue, however, and lent us his car he wouldn’t be using during that time. 

We arrived at the bottom of the Asahidake Ropeway at around 9:30am on Sunday the 28th of April, after driving from Sapporo that morning.  We’d hoped to be a little bit earlier, to get the first lift up at 9am, but we still felt like we had plenty of time. We walked out of the upper ropeway station to glorious, glaring sunlight.

Looking up towards Asahidake from the ropeway station, we could see a line of hikers and skiers heading up towards the summit of Asahidake. Today, we’d see people in crampons, on skis, and just hiking up in sports shoes. Our packs felt heavy on our backs as we crossed the flat snowfield towards the base of the climb. We were both in two minds as to whether it was a good idea to schlep all of our camping gear up and over Hokkaido’s highest peak. I was even carrying my Italian mokapot coffee maker…if we were going to camp out for two days in the snow, I wanted good coffee…

Haidee was also at the tail end of a head cold. This seemed to sap her normal energy, and we made slow progress. I opted for a less steep climbing strategy that involved us making a few long climbing traverses with some kick-turns along the south face of the main ridge. This helped blunt the sting of the climb – everyone else was tramping up the rocky ridge, those with skis had them strapped to their packs.

At around noon, we stopped in the sun on the southern face, and sat down for some onigiri rice balls for lunch. There were clear, unobstructed views along the Daisetsu and Tokachi Ranges. We couldn’t have asked for better weather.

From around the 2100m point, we finally joined the throngs on the main summer trail ridge. There was just enough snow covering the ridge that I was able to clamber my way up to the small ‘step’ at 2250m without taking my skis off. Haidee opted to carry her skis for about 100m of particularly narrow trail. We’d brought crampons (both boot and ski), and we both briefly used our ski crampons, and Haidee used her boot crampons when walking the short distance with her skis.

We were at the summit before long, and quickly took some pictures. For both of us, this was our first time at the summit of Asahidake, Hokkaido’s highest peak. There was a stiff, cold breeze blowing, so we didn’t spend too much time at the top – just enough to take the skins of the skis, and get ready for a short descent to the saddle between the three peaks of Asahidake (旭岳, 2291m), Ushiroasahidake (後旭岳, 2216m), and Kumagadake (熊ケ岳, 2210m).

We’d had high hopes for the descent from the summit to the saddle. It was supposed to be a punctuation mark of great downhill skiing during this mostly uphill or flat day. But unfortunately we didn’t get the corn snow we’d hoped for, and rather, we were skiing on a very hard, icy surface. With heavy packs on, it was tough on the legs. We took a long well-earned break at the saddle, in the warm sun with hardly a breath of wind.

Whereas the summit and the approach to the summit was relatively bustling, we were now well and truly alone in a moonscape like environment.

After our leisurely break, we put our skins back on and started our way towards the Ohachidaira crater. Whereas the summer trail follows a ridge most of the way, we opted to stay on a low traverse, as there was already no snow along the ridge. This was tough going in places, especially on our wide skis (mine are 105mm underfoot, and Haidee’s are 103mm). The snow was hard in places. Haidee put her ski crampons on for better grip. The day was getting late, and the shadows were getting long. We passed two other skiers who had opted to pitch their tent on a bare piece of ground. Were we foolish to carry on, considering the day was getting on?

The views across Ohachidaira crater were worth the effort, however, and from here, it was mostly downhill to Nakadake Onsen. 

Once again, we were clattering and scratching our way down icy north-facing slopes, towards the small saddle on the crater rim, where the summer trail veers off towards the onsen. In hindsight, we descended a little too far towards the saddle, and ended up having to clamber across a couple of small spurs with no snow in order to get back to the spur above the Nakadake Onsen gully. Either way, snow was all rather thin on the ground up on the crater rim.

I’d seen reports of groups skiing into Nakadake Onsen via a cathedral-like rocky ‘gate’ just above the onsen, and I was keen to try this out. We eventually found a spot on the ridge to drop down into the very narrow mini-couloir, and it was indeed inspiring, rocky topography. I would have preferred more snow, as we had to clamber down a few meters of rock where the snow had already disappeared. Haidee was convinced the whole cathedral of rocks would collapse down on us – they were towering above us, put into stark relief by the late afternoon sun.

Right below this gate to Nakadake Onsen, was the onsen and four tents already pitched nearby. One of the occupants of the two large tents closest to the onsen gave us a cheerful wave as we descended. It was every bit as idyllic as I’d hoped. With daylight fading, we quickly set up camp close to the stream, and cooked up a hearty dinner of fresh veges, tofu, and soba noodles. We’d taken a leisurely 7 hours from ropeway station to Nakadake Onsen via Asahidake, and we were pooped. We didn’t even soak our feet in the onsen that night…

Our plans were constantly changing during this trip. The original plan was to camp at Nakadake Onsen for two nights, spending the day in the middle exploring some skiing options on the surrounding peaks, and then actually skiing across to Kurodake to make it a full traverse across the range. That plan was canned early on due to the lack of snow on the tops and around the Ohachidaira crater rim. We’d likely be carrying our skis quite a ways. By evening on the first night, we’d also all but decided to just make it a one night trip, and return to Asahidake Ropeway the next day. The skiing on the north-facing slopes was so dismal – hard and icy. Why torture ourselves on less than ideal snow?

The next morning, however, we woke to glorious, warm sunshine, and things started looking a little more rosy. This little pocket of paradise that is Nakadake Onsen is situated almost perfectly running west to east. It gets the evening sun as well as the early morning sun. We had a leisurely breakfast, soaked our feet in the onsen, and mulled on our options for the day.

It was around 9:30am that one of the other campers returned from a very early morning ski up to Antaroma-dake (安足間岳, 2194m), a peak that had been on my radar for a possible ski on this second day of our trip. I asked him how the snow was. “It was amazing,” he gushed. “The perfect spring snow on the southern face.”

I was hoping this would be his reply. By this time, Haidee and I were both leaning in the direction of staying another night at the onsen. We had mountains of food, and the thought of packing everything up after only setting up the night before felt like a whole lot of work. Now that we’d had some positive information about Antaroma-dake, a day of skiing was sounding much more palatable. 

So, we quickly geared up and made our way down to the plateau to start a 2.5 hour climb up Antaroma-dake. I’ll leave the trip report and route guide for that trip for another time, but suffice it to say it was some of the best skiing I’ve done in Hokkaido. Gorgeous views, massive wide open bowls, and fantastic spring corn snow.

We were back at Nakadake Onsen by around 2pm with plenty of time to spend the rest of the day napping or soaking our feet in the hot spring. I spent a bit of time digging the spring a little deeper. If someone was keen enough, they’d easily be able to soak their full body in the spring. It was quite silty, however, so I decided it would be more effort than it was worth. Haidee spent some time perched on a rock with binoculars in hand, watching some of the curious birds who were visiting a small patch of recently uncovered grass. We were also pretty sure we could hear nakiusagi (northern pika), but we never got a glimpse of any.

Like the previous night, the clear evening allowed us views across to the city lights of what we assumed to be Higashikawa Town in the distance. With hardly a breath of wind, it was all a very pleasant night. It was cold – perhaps -5degC – but calm.

The next day consisted of packing up and getting back to the Asahidake Ropeway. We had a long drive ahead of us that day, so we were packed up and on the skis by 6:30am. It was another beautiful blue sky day. We’d really hit a great string of brilliant weather for this trip.

Another group was also packing up as we were leaving. The green tent next to us and its three elderly occupants. I’d wandered past their tent a previous night, and got a waft of warm, alcohol-fume air from the entrance of their tent. They were a jovial lot. I asked them if they were some kind of mountaineering group. “No! We’re just friends who like mountains, onsen, and alcohol!”

To get back to the ropeway, we had to cross the expansive Susoai-daira Plateau. This would be a terrifying place in bad weather, I thought. 

 

This was obviously a popular place to visit with skiers, snowboarders, and hikers, even at this time of year. There were plenty of ski traces around the place. In an attempt to avoid having to put skins on the skis, we opted for a high traverse most of the way back to the ropeway. It could be debated whether this was worth it or not. We did our fair share of small sidesteps along the way. 

We arrived back at the ropeway top station at around 8:30am, just before the first load of tourist throngs were due to arrive. To my great excitement, the ski courses had just been freshly groomed. For the first time in my life, I’d be getting first tracks down a freshly groomed ski slope. I was on fat skis with a pack pushing 20kgs, but still, it was divine. The group of gazelle-like cross-country skiers near the bottom of the run practicing uphill skiing, in lycra and their super light, skinny skis, looked on in bewilderment as I barreled past like an unwieldy elephant.

It was with a great sense of achievement that we arrived back at the car, in glorious, warm sunshine. This trip had certainly been on my radar for a very long time, and I was very happy that we’d had the weather and time to pull it off. A huge thanks again to Chris for the lend of the car – this route is accessible by public transport, but we’d likely missed the weather window had we gone that route.

We allowed a gear explosion, filling Chris’s car with damp tents, gloves, boots, and then got on our way. We settled in for the 5-hour drive to Lake Kussharo, to visit Rick, who was in the area with his wife, visiting his mother-in-law. This would be our last chance to catch up with him before he moved back to the UK. He’ll be sorely missed!

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

2 thoughts on “Asahidake to Nakadake Onsen Loop Ski Tour”

  1. Depending on weather and snow conditions you may find that the hot spring is buried under a dome of snow. I was there once 20-some-odd years ago with a friend and we had traversed across the flanks of Asahidake from Sugatami Station. We were sure we were in the right area but couldn’t see any rising steam or anything else to indicate a hot spring. As we moved about on our skis, my friend suddenly disappeared. He was fortunate to land on a rock ledge that stopped him from falling further down into the gully and I was able to pull him back up to the snow surface. We had found our hot spring, but it was impossible to take a soak as it was buried under this dangerous dome of snow. Being so long ago, I can’t remember the exact time of year, but I think it may have been in March. Just keep in mind that snow conditions will vary considerably from year to year and blizzard to blizzard, and if you don’t see the welcome steam of hot water where you think there should be some, consider that you might be standing right above it on a dangerously hollowed out dome of snow.

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