For a while, I’d heard good things about the skiing in the mountains north of the Daisetsuzan range. But this is a mysterious location, often overlooked in favor of the towering, pure alpine peaks of the Daisetsuzan range proper. Finally, I took the time to leaf through the guidebook and see what a generation of backcountry skiers had distilled as truly worthy of one’s attention in the area. This pointed me to Chitokaniushi-yama and Ariake-yama. Online searches of the area further brought Tenmaky-yama to my attention. Three peaks, perfect for a three-day weekend.
The challenge would be accommodation. The resort settlement of Sounkyo Gorge was a vague option, but pricey. And in reality, while it’s close to Kitami Pass as the crow flies, it requires a long circuitous journey to get there. Then I remembered a great looking AirBnB I’d seen a few years back in Pippu Village. A quick search revealed it was still in business, and it was still available for our stay during the three day weekend. It would be up to an hour each way to and from our skiing locations, but there were onsen and supermarkets on the way. Rikugeian AirBnB it was!
We left central Sapporo at 6am, and immediately got onto the expressway. Just under 3 hours later, we were at Kitami Pass, gearing up for our first route of the weekend. The weather was clear, and we could see our objective in the distance. Rather surprisingly, there was no one else at the car park. We geared up, clambered up the high snow bank, and got on our way.
This was clearly a popular route, with a clear trace of skiers and snowboarders. Along the way we saw pink and yellow ribbons, variously marking the way. In advance, I’d marked a route on my GPS app that followed the main ridge from early on, going via the large radio towers and repeaters. In hindsight, the forestry road route would have been better, as there’d have been less flat-land walking on the way back. In any case, it was a nice leisurely stroll on a long-ish approach through lovely forest.
Soon enough we arrived at the steeper climbing section of the route. The snow surface conditions were pretty abysmal. It was breakable crust. This whole face points south, so the warmer spring weather had done a number on the snow. I imagine deep winter – February in particular – would be amazing here. We cut a number of long zig-zags up the slope, and topped out at the 1258m mark to amazing views of the northern Daisetsuzan range.
There was a cold, stiff wind blowing up here. We all gathered for a discussion. Would we or would we not carry on to the summit? The snow surface conditions were deteriorating fast. We were now mostly on bullet-proof snow and in places ice. And the slope up to the summit was quite steep.
“I’m keen to keep going to see how far we can make it,” proffered Madoka. Everyone else seemed to be in agreement, so we pushed on. I wrapped around the ridge to some softer snow on the steep western side of the ridge, this made going easier for another 100m or so, before the soft snow layer diminished, and it was more like a thick layer of dust on slippery crust. Tim took over the lead and headed back up to the ridge, where the angle was now shallow enough to skin straight up. We were now only a few more steps away from the summit.
We didn’t stop for long on the summit. What felt like a 40km/h+ wind was screaming across the peak. We skied down just to below the summit before ripping skins. The main ridge was hard and icy. The tempting looking south-southwest bowl was surely acres of breakable crust. So, in order to at least get a bit of good skiing in, we decided to ski the steep western face just below the summit. See our actual route below.
The slope was delightfully steep, and the relatively non-sun-affected snow was a welcome relief from the southern aspects. After a great 300m descent, we slapped the skins back on and climbed back up to the main ridge. For the first 10 minutes or so we struggled with the breakable crust on the southern ridge, but this soon softened up and we were enjoying some good spring snow conditions. Our Kitami Pass three-day ski weekend was getting off to a cracking start.