Chisenupuri South Face Ski Touring

チセヌプリ | Chise-nupuri

Posted on Feb 4, 2020
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Posted on Feb 4, 2020

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18 0
Reading time: 5 min
5.6km

Distance

3 hours

Time

542m

Ascent

1134m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Apr

Best season

Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ, 1134m) is the classic backcountry peak in the Niseko Range. The summit affords grand views east and west along the range, as well as north to the Japan Aea at Iwanai. With a classic volcanic shape, the mountain lends itself to a number of routes. This particular route via the Chisenupuri ski area and the southern face of the mountain, is considered the safest in terms of avalanche risk. The good folk at Hokkaido Backcountry Club have marked a public up-track to the west of the ski area for easy backcountry access to Chisenupuri.

We visited this route on Jan 18, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Chisenupuri sits about 5km as the crow flies west of the main Niseko United ski resort in southern Hokkaido. This south-face ski touring route up Chisenupuri starts at the Niseko Chisenupuri parking lot at the base of the Hokkaido Backcountry Club’s Chisenupuri catskiing area.

General notes

Chisenupuri, a volcano in the eastern end of the Niseko range, is one of the Niseko region’s most popular backcountry skiing destinations. A relatively short approach reveals a huge amount of skiable terrain on the mountain’s flanks. Being one of the most popular mountains in the Niseko range, it’s advisable to get to the trailhead early – by 9am you may be too late for an untracked backcountry experience.

  • One-time snowcat lift up the mountain: If you’d rather not spend 40 minutes hiking up the side of the Chisenupuri catskiing area, Hokkaido Backcountry Club offers one-time snowcat lifts up for 2000yen at 8am on the days their snowcats are operating (irregular holidays).
Hut

None

Route markers

Starting from the Niseko Chisenupuri Ski Area parking lot, head towards the Hokkaido Backcountry Club’s catskiing base. Approaching the old wooden building, you’ll see a clearly marked public-use up-track to the left, marked with the words ‘Backcountry’. Hokkaido Backcountry Club’s commitment to keeping the backcountry accessible to all is commendable – respect that commitment by keeping to the left of the main ski area. From the cat ski base, there’s the public use uptrack, clearly marked by orange tape tied to trees – once again, thanks Hokkaido Backcountry Club! Follow this uptrack to around 750m, where the marked up-track will veer uphill to the right – the uptrack heads right, towards the upper (derelict) cablecar station. Early in the season, instead of following the marked up-track, head straight ahead, following the shallow gully, eventually veering to the right. Staying in the shallow gully will avoid having to drop down from the 832m point and then up again. Later in the season, there a large cornice develops above the gully to the looker’s left. In this case, it’s safer to follow the up-track to the lift top station, and head north from there.

Once roughly due north of the derelict lift station, start climbing in earnest out of the shallow gully, veering to the looker’s left to avoid the cornice. In about 50 vertical meters or so, you’ll emerge onto the 870m plateau. If the weather is clear, you’ll have a clear view of Chisenupuri’s south face. The faint south-southeast ridge is where this route ascends , all the way to the summit. If visibility is low, skiers will need to be vigilant to check their bearings – the flat plateau can be disorienting.

The Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide notes that the eastern face of Chisenupuri above the treeline is classic Hokkaido avalanche terrain, so should be avoided. Also note that nearing the summit, underfoot conditions can deteriorate, with crust and rime common. This route returns the way it came from. On the descent, make sure to keep to the skier’s right of the Chisenupuri Ski Area – non-paying skiers are asked to keep off the catskiing area.

Route Timing
Up | 2hrs
Down | 1hrs

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport. A taxi from central Hirafu will likely be about 6500yen one way to the Chisenupuri Ski Area.

By car: 

There is a large carpark at the Chisenupuri Ski Area carpark, but this can be full on busy weekends. Arrive early to avoid missing out on a parking spot.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-4

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

Given Chisenupuri’s popularity, it’s easy to fall into a state of easy hubris on this mountain. It is, however, very much the backcountry – it is not patrolled, and there is no avalanche control. All skiers should be proficient in navigating on their own, have their own avalanche rescue equipment, and be versed in its use. Also note that despite its relative low height of 1134m, like other mountains in Hokkaido, temperatures can plunge to -20°C with windchill – always err on the side of bringing that extra puffer. The Hokkaido Yukiyma Guidebook notes heightened avalanche risk for the upper eastern face below the summit, and the eastern aspect slope in the gully above the Oyu-numa hotspring pond, going so far as to marking those slopes as ‘entry prohibited’. Only attempt skiing these slopes if conditions are stable, and even then, avoid these slopes when it’s unclear who might be lower down on the slope.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Chisenupuri
Onsen nearby

The natural choice of post-ski onsen for this route is the gorgeous Yuki-chichibu Onsen (雪秩父温泉, location, 700yen). Famous for its outdoor baths and mud-infused waters, this is an onsen that should not be missed. They also have a restaurant, operating from 11:30am till 3pm each day.

Extra Resources

See the detailed write-up in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook, p. 230-233 (in Japanese).

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Niseko areas together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Jun Horie. He’s a Niseko-resident guide with seven years experience advanced-level ski instructing in Austria (he speaks German as well as English and Japanese). He has also guided in New Zealand and has previously led guiding operations in Hokkaido before going independent.

Also consider contacting the Hokkaido Backcountry Club – given they have a catskiing operation on the lower half of this route, they know this area intimately. They offer backcountry guided tours for all experience levels.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 230 (translated by Rob Thomson)

The name Chisenupuri is Ainu language, meaning ‘mountain that looks like a house’. The old ski lift on the mountain has been out of commission since 2013, but the ski area is still alive with lots of backcountry skiers and snowboarders. This route is a classic central Niseko range ski touring route. The mountain lends itself to a multitude of routes, but there are avalanche slopes that require close attention. Ascending via the ski area, then up the mountain, and then returning the same way is the safest route.

The previous night, I’d been in Noboribetsu, at the Noboribetsu Outdoor Meeting. Hokkaido Wilds gave a presentation about our PDF topomaps at the meeting. In attendance were 33 local Hokkaido guides, nature center staff, Ministry of the Environment officials, and local government people. They were from as far away as Kiritappu in eastern Hokkaido. Always great to share and get feedback on what we’re doing.

Hokkaido Wilds presenting at the Nobribetsu Outdoor Meeting (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Naoki Matsuzawa
Hokkaido Wilds presenting at the Nobribetsu Outdoor Meeting (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Naoki Matsuzawa

I stayed the night at the meeting venue – the Noboribetsu Nature Center – and got away at 6am, trying to get to Niseko by 8am. I’d left a pair of boots at Boot Solutions in Hirafu to get the shells adjusted, and the plan was to pick those up on the way to the Chisenupuri ski area parking lot. I’d bought the Dynafit TLT7‘s in February last year, and they’d been giving me grief. Just not enough width in the fore-foot. After three incremental boot-punches later, the good folk at Boot Solutions had them dialed though. I picked them up on the way through, and long story short, they fit like the comfiest slippers now.

This was a rare solo trip for me. I was, essentially, going home to Sapporo from Noboribetsu via Niseko, so it was essentially just a stop in on the way home…with a four hour mountain climb thrown in for good measure. It was a Thursday, and when I arrived at the parking lot, there were only a few cars parked up. It was unclear if I was going to be completely alone on the mountain, or if these were the cars of others already skinning up towards the peak.

I geared up and set off on my way towards the public use up-track that Hokkaido Backcountry Club has made available, on the looker’s far left of the Chisenupuri Catskiing Area. It was, as before, very well marked. Hats off to the Hokkaido Backcountry Club.

NOTE – I only just noticed this, but one-time cat-lifts up the ski area are 2,000yen (once a day, at 8am), according to the sign. Not a terrible deal at all if you want to save up to 1hr on the trip up the mountain. For strong, fit climbers, the skin up the uptrack will only take just over 30 minutes though, so your mileage on your 2000yen investment may differ.

The skin up the far western side of the ski area is quite pleasant. Generally, skiers will also descend down in this area too – non-paying guests are asked to stay off the main ski area, but this western slither of terrain has plenty to keep people entertained on the final 10 minutes or so of the descent off Chisenupuri.

I was skiing on the 18th of January 2020 – one of the latest starts to the season that Hokkaido has seen in a long time (but certainly not the latest ever). So, I was spending some time weaving my way through brush and sasa bamboo grass. On a normal year, most of this would have been covered by now.

The one thing that Hokkaido had not been lacking, however, was great surface conditions – with almost boring predictability, the snow was light, dry, and powdery.

On the way up, I followed the public uptrack to its terminus at the upper lift station. From there, Chisenupuri was in clear view. There didn’t seem to be anyone else climbing it at that point. I dropped down into the gully and began the ascent up onto the small plateau. I was following a faint, day-old skin track, which made the going relatively fast. One step off the skin track resulted in an automatic 20-30% increase in resistance and work. Late start to the season it may be…but it’s still tough work breaking trail in Hokkaido.

From the plateau at about 850m, it was time to start heading up the south-southeast ‘ridge’ to the summit. It wasn’t much of a ridge, more like a long shallow hump up to the summit. The visibility chopped and changed, alternating between thick cloud and clear skies. Part way up the ridge I came across three Swiss skiers, who had ascended via the east, along the road. I carried on past, trying to get to the summit before the weather completely closed in.

When I got to the summit, it was blowing a gale and there was no view to speak of, apart from the lonely summit pole.

The three Swiss skiers brought a moment of clarity with them though, about 10 minutes after I arrived at the summit.

On the descent, the snow was OK…but the visibility not so much. With next to no contrast, I was picking my way down the slope carefully. Half way down the slope, it was tough going – despite there being about 30cm of fresh snow, underneath was rock-hard tracked up snow. Not a great combination when contrast was so low.

The descent down the western side of the Chisenupuri ski area was, as usual, rip-roaring fun. It’s a good-angled traverse-like decent through well spaced trees. A bit more snow would have made things even more fun.

A few days after this trip up Chisenupuri, I skied the nearby Shakunage-dake and Nito-nupuri. Visibility was much better, so I managed to get the following shots of Chisenupuri’s south, eastern, and western faces.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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