Hakkoda O-dake Sukayu Onsen Ski Touring

八甲田山酸ヶ湯温泉

Posted on Feb 19, 2020
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Posted on Feb 19, 2020

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Reading time: 4 min
8.2km

Distance

4 hours

Time

471m

Ascent

1440m

Highest point

4/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Apr

Best season

The loop around O-dake (大岳, 1585m) is a classic spring skiing route starting from Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉) on the south side of Hakkoda-san in Aomori Prefecture. In deep winter, it's quite unlikely most skiers will see weather suitable for attempting the full route - we certainly didn't - but the storm skiing in the compact slopes just above Sukayu Onsen are infinitely lappable, and hold the snow well. Our foray to O-dake was cut short due to weather, but despite this, our Sukayu Onsen skiing experience was one of the best of our Tohoku trip - deep, dry, sublime powder.

We visited this route on Jan 25, 2020

Main post photos by Rob Thomson.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This loop route around O-dake is on the southern side of the Hakkoda-san massif in Aomori Prefecture, northern Honshu. The route starts and finishes at the historic and famous Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉), here.

General notes

The Hakkoda-san (Mt. Hakkoda) massif is a conglomerate of multiple volcanic peaks in central Aomori Prefecture, northern Honshu. Aomori is the northern-most prefecture of the broad Tohoku region of northern Japan – Tohoku comprises of Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Fukushima, Miyagi, and Yamagata Prefectures. The northern-most three prefectures – Aomori, Akita, and Iwate – get apocalyptic amounts of snow in the winter. Snowfall numbers here easily outstrip those of Hokkaido, further north. While the season tends to be a little shorter than up in Hokkaido, the snow is light, deep, and dry. It is truly the last frontier of backcountry skiing in Japan.

This particular route is squarely intended to be a spring route. The months of January, February, and early March will rarely allow the skier the weather window to spend much more than a few hours in the alpine, before closing in and dumping that inhuman volume of snow the region is well known for. In those deep winter months, therefore, it’s the lower reaches immediately north of the Sukayu Onsen complex that are best suited to almost infinite laps and amazing storm skiing on well-anchored slopes.

  • Hakkoda-san Ski Touring Map: Here’s the full PDF version of the official Hakkoda-san ski touring map, developed and provided by the Hakkoda-san Promotion Committee.
    • GeoPDF version: Hokkaido Wilds has converted the original PDF version of the Hakkoda-san backcountry ski touring map into a GeoPDF – see it here. Use it in the free Avenza Maps app to double-check your location on your smartphone in real time.
Hut

None

Route details

This route is not marked. Unfortunately we only got about 1.5km towards Odake Hut before worsening weather turned us back towards Sukayu Onsen. So, we don’t have any beta for those attempting the full route circumnavigating Odake. We were bearish on our chances of getting very far from the very beginning – the weather forecast was for classic Japanuary snow dumps. The thing with the area just above Sukayu Onsen, however, is that even with the skies dumping snow, the well anchored tree-slope just due north – i.e., within view of – Sukayu Onsen is a broad, veritable playground for skiers who prefer to ski rather than walk. We quite contentedly entertained ourselves with multiple laps, hardly climbing any more than 100m vertical on each lap.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 1hrs

Times, distances and elevations on this post are for the full circumnavigation of O-dake. If you’re just lapping the Sukayu Onsen slopes, allow about 3 hours for 3 to 4 laps of the slope.

Transport

Public transport:

There is a JR Bus service service to Sukayu Onsen from Shin Aomori station. This takes approximately 1 hour. The bus also stops at the Hakkoda ropeway in each direction and will be useful if you want to drop a car at the onsen and bus back to the ropeway to tour off the top of the hill. There are about 4 buses each way each day; timetable is available in Google maps. Cost is ¥1,100. Taxis exist, but calling one involves the taxi coming from Aomori City, just under 1 hour away.

By car: 

There is good road access to Sukayu Onsen (here) from the north and south. Many of the roads around the mountain tend to close over winter, either completely or from 6pm till 7:30am. This webpage (which Google Translates well) has the winter road closures depicted. We found that Google Maps was not reliable for road closure (and thus journey routing) information.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Sukayu (酸ヶ湯) – map no. NK-54-24-1-3

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

The slope behind Sukayu Onsen is well suited for poor weather ‘storm skiing’; it’s steep but well anchored by dense large trees. It is fairly regular and well supported from below. Keep away from the open bowl if conditions are sketchy. It’ll be pretty hard to get lost here given you’re skiing in sight of the onsen the whole time. If setting one’s sights on the full circuit, note that it may take much longer than the stated four hours – breaking trail in deep winter snow conditions will be long, hard work. It goes without saying that this is well and truly the backcountry – it is not patrolled, there’s no avalanche control, and the route is not marked. Skiers need to be experienced, prepared to navigate on their own, and self-sufficient.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Sukayu Onsen (Hakkoda-san)
Onsen nearby

It’s hard to go past Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉, location, 1000yen) given that you’ll be parked there to start your trip. A day visit will set you back ¥1,000 which is on the higher end, but, this does include both a drying towel and a souvenir wash cloth to take home. True to its name (‘su’ means acid), the water is very acidic (for want of a better word). Quite unlike any onsen we’ve been in in Japan. In the onsen building itself, there are two main bathing areas – the historic, all-cypress mixed-gender bathing area and a couple of gender-separated newer bathing areas. Definitely worth a visit! There are several other ryokan in the area and if you’re staying at one of these you may like to head back there for a soak.

Extra Resources

The 212 Backcountry Skiing Routes book (in Japanese) covers a very small portion of this route on p. 48-52.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Tohoku together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Kenichi. He’s JMGA certified, and spends a large chunk of his year guiding clients on mountaineering trips around the world. He’s Honshu based though, and guides clients from around the world to prime locations on the island, including Tohoku.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

I’m quite partial to YoYo-Laps “just above the car” to be honest.  If the skiing’s in deep, dry, fluffy snow through old growth deciduous trees; if the après involves a soak in one of Japan’s most traditional onsen, no more than 50m away; and if I’m powder-turning pretty well every vertical meter than I’m uphill-earning then it’s the recipe for a great day.

This was Day 1 of our January 2020 (Chinese New Year holiday) trip to the Tohoku (東北地方) region in the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Our crew of four had rendezvoused at the Hachinohe Comfort Inn early that morning and driven straight through to the Hakkoda Mountains (八甲田山). I’d flown up from Melbourne where I’d been working that week, Andy and Katie had come from Detroit for their third year in a row and Rob, bless him, arrived at 0445 with the van from Hokkaido. We were all a little tired but there’s no rest on a powder day.

Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)

We’d done a run of the Hakkoda Ropeway in the morning, but given that Rob doesn’t do ‘lifts’ and I certainly don’t do ‘lift lines’, we’d decided to earn our turns for the afternoon. We were well rewarded for our efforts.

The plan had been to drop the car at the onsen and then tour off the top of the ropeway down. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you look at the end result) the logistics got the better of us. We thought we’d be able to get a taxi (rather than waiting for the 1pm bus) from the onsen back down to the ropeway (about 4km) once we’d dropped the car. The hotel front desk advised us that getting a taxi there was fine, but, that it’d have to drive the 45 minutes or so up from Aomori city. We decided that sort of move make me about as popular as I was when I tried to pay for my ramen using my horde of  ¥1 coins.

Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)

Andy and Katie had done another lap of the ropeway and so we whipped back down in the van, raised them on the 2-way radios, and loaded everyone back to the onsen car park. Our guidebook influenced plan had us climbing up and along a fairly flat plateau towards the Sennintai Refuge (仙人岱避難小屋). We tucked up and around behind the  onsen and found a pretty nice skin track already set, weaving through large old growth trees. You can gain good elevation almost immediately and we made note that there were good turns to be had on the way down.

We weren’t far onto the plateau when we made the call to turn around. The winds that Hakkoda is famous for has been in and stripped and packed the surface and we knew the skiing was going to be a bit shit if we continued. Turning tail, we skied back down our skin track to setup above the pitch behind the hotel. The skiing was nothing short of sublime. We were scoring untracked deep powder turns not more than 200m for the car… parked in the carpark of a fairly substantial ryokoan (旅館)

Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)
Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)
Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)
Hakkoda Sakeyu Onsen Backcountry Ski Touring (Aomori, Japan)

The first couple of laps through the trees directly behind the onsen were enough to put paid to any concerns about snow conditions. We’d been watching the weather models all week and knew that the first couple of days would be some of the best of the trip.

On the second lap we were joined by another group of half a dozen European skiers. There was plenty of room and they stacked out on skiers left of us along the ridge. They also appeared to be finding the ‘worst snow season ever in Japan’ to be remarkably tolerable under-foot. We were able to really make the most of reusing the skin track and so our laps were super efficient.

For our last downhill run we moved from the trees out into a more open (and more gentle) bowl on lookers left from the car park. While this was lower angle it made for some classic ‘Japow’ faceshots to send back to family and workmates at home in humble-braggadocio. 

Being on an ‘exploratory’ trip we retired to the onsen to relax and compare notes for the rest of the weekend. The Sukayu Onsen (酸ヶ湯温泉) was also amazing. It offered a mixed gender bath that was a very traditional wooden style bath. For those worried about their modesty be reassured that in winter months the bathhouse is so dark and steamy that you can barely make-out the white onsen towels on top of other’s heads. For the really shy there is women’s only time 0800-0900 and 2000-2100.  

The onsen was ¥1,000 for the day visit but we think we’d really try and stay the night here if we come again.

Andy cals this ‘liquid stretching’. We approve!

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Sukayu Onsen (Hakkoda-san), or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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