Hakkoda Onsen Ski Touring Route

八甲田温泉コース

Posted on Dec 31, 2020
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NEN
Posted on Dec 31, 2020
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NEN
5.3km

Distance

2 hours

Time

30m

Ascent

1310m

Highest point

4.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-AMay

Best season

The Hakkoda Onsen Ski Tour Route (八甲田温泉ルート) is one of the classic established backcountry ski touring routes in the Hakkoda mountains. This lift-assisted route - via the Hakkoda Ropeway - allows a full 700m+ of downhill, with very little climbing. Officially, the route 'opens' from April 1st each year, with bamboo poles put in place along the route during this period to guide skiers down the mountain. Outside of the official spring skiing season, skiers navigate on their own. Given the right weather window, however, deep winter allows skiers a couple of fine, steep powdery turns, before the last long, gentle downhill gradient to the onsen.

We visited this route on Jan 26, 2020

Last updated Apr 2, 2021

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

The Hakkoda Onsen ski touring route sits on the northern side of the Hakkoda massif in central Aomori Prefecture, in the Tohoku region, northern Honshu. The route starts at the top cablecar station on the Hakkoda Ropeway, here.

General notes

Described in one guidebook as “Honshu’s nothernmost backcountry skiing mecca”, 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.

  • 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

Line up and wait up to 1.5hrs to get onto the gondola. I (Rob) almost thought it might be faster to skin up the mountain than to wait so long in the early-morning throng of people. But 1.5hrs is pretty short compared to the 3hrs or so it would take to skin up 650m of vertical climb in deep, deep powder. At the summit ropeway station, fill in the backcountry intentions form (in Japanese) and post it in the box (if you haven’t already posted your intentions online in English). From the ropeway station, bootpack with your skis due east towards the true summit, about five minutes. From there, it’s a short ski down to the flats. Most people put skins on here, as there is some gradual uphill to get to the first short but decent downhill slope. In about 20 minutes, climb slightly up along the northwest ridge of Akakura-dake. Rip skins and drop down to the small plateau – about 30 seconds and five or six turns. Skins back on, head north-northeast to the top of a slope at the head of Naru-sawa (鳴沢), for another shot of downhill, straight to the veins – about 45 seconds and up to 10 or so turns. Skins back on again, traverse again north-northeast to the col and climb up to near the summit of the 1232m knob. This section of the route is famous for its jaw-dropping snow monsters. From the 1232m knob, it’s all downhill on the broad ridge through well-spaced trees. Check your direction regularly – it’s easy to end up well off course if you’re not careful.

Route Timing
Up | 0hrs
Down | 2hrs

There’s very little time wasted to climbing on this route. Skiers will either be skinning along the mostly-flat traverse from the ropeway to the two small drops (about 1 hour) or spending a glorious 45 minutes or so cruising along the long, blissful downhill to the onsen.

Transport

Public transport:

There is a JR Bus service service to Hakkoda Ropeway from Shin Aomori station. This takes approximately 1 hour. There are about 4 buses each way each day; timetable is available in Google maps. Cost is ¥1,100. However, before April there’s no bus service to and from Hakkoda Onsen (or Michinoku Fukazawa Onsen for that matter). This makes getting to and from the end of the route quite challenging in deep winter. Taxis do exist, but calling one involves the taxi coming from Aomori City, just under 1 hour away. While you won’t be charged a callout fee (bless Japan’s taxi service!), you’ll need to factor in this timing and book a taxi well ahead of time. Last year (2019), the spring skiing shuttle bus ran on weekends and public holidays between April 7th till 20th, and then every day from May 1st till 6th (see this pamphlet in Japanese). Our recommendation – regardless of whether you’re using public transport or your own car – is to stay locally, and ask your accommodation if they’ll drop you off and pick you up (payment afterwards in beer or the like always goes down a treat!).

By car:

There is good road access to Hakkoda 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. If you’re renting a car and arriving with a large group, we’d heartily recommend getting two smaller vehicles rather than one larger one. Invest in a couple of cheap strap-on foam roof-racks before you come to Japan, and you’ll be set – along with a handful of 16inch Voile straps to attach skis with, they’re our go-to setup. This will make shuttling to and from the end of the route so much easier – see the notes above about public transport (it’s a headache in mid-winter).

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Tashirotai (田代平) – map no. NK-54-23-4-2

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).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is Northeast. Other aspects that may also be encountered while following the route outlined on this page include: North. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Unfortunately there are no avalanche information services for recreational backcountry users in this immediate area (but see the JAN reports and Furano Avalanche Center for sporadic observations eslewhere in Hokkaido).

Snow and
route safety

Despite this being an ‘official’ ski touring route, 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 outside the very short spring skiing season. Skiers need to be experienced, prepared to navigate on their own, self-sufficient, and have the skills and equipment necessary to rescue companions in the event of an avalanche.

Hakkoda Onsen Ski Touring Route Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

C

6

Navigation

C

6

Totals

47/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Hakkoda Onsen Route
Onsen nearby

The closest onsen to the route is the gloriously rustic Michinoku-fukazawa Onsen (みちのく深沢温泉, location, 400yen), about 5km northwest along Route 40 from the trailhead. Note that as of January 2020, the more well-known Hakkoda Onsen (八甲田温泉, location), from which the route gets its name, is closed for repairs, with no forseeable re-opening.

Extra Resources

See p. 48-49 in the 212 Backcountry Ski Routes book (in Japanese).

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

Hakkoda Ropeway can be extremely busy – get there early. I felt my soul shrinking into oblivion as I waited with the throngs of punters in the lift line. But, as mentioned above, the 1.5 hour wait was, in the end, much more palatable than a 3 hour skin up the mountain.

We were doing the bread-and-butter route today. For documentation purposes, we’d stick with the locals’ insight (or, more specifically, the insight from the two or three guidebooks I had with us). And over all, it was a nice route. Had we had better weather, it would have been mind-splittingly amazing vistas, surrounded with snow-monster trees.

As it was, we had to make do with ‘mind-bending’ – even in the murky haze, the snow and the snow-covered trees were gorgeous. 

The first few kilometers of the route involve short ups and downs, and it’s not until we got to the proper downhill that we were able to open things up and let loose. It was just hopelessly photogenic.

Possibly the best thing about this route was that we were able to ski directly back to our accommodation – the gorgeous minshuku we’d been staying at for the past few nights. Once again, we were treated to a huuuuge dinner of local seafood and produce.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Hakkoda Onsen Ski Touring Route Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

C

6

Navigation

C

6

Totals

47/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.