Despite the blustery and rainy weather from the day before, the day started off clear and dry – just as the forecast promised. I met Rick at Chitose Station with a rental car, and we set off from there towards Lake Shikotsu. If you have a Japanese license and can speak Japanese, I recommend Nikoniko rentals for the best value rental cars (all over Japan).
From Chitose station, it is less than one hour to the start of the forestry road, which you follow for 1.5km before heading up to the wide undulating ridge. Late in the season it is possible to drive the 750m from the main road to the gate. Otherwise, there is a small area for parking near the entrance of the forestry road (before crossing the river, if coming from the Chitose side). If that small area is full, then there is a larger parking area about 5 minutes walk back towards Lake Shikotsu. On this particular day, there seemed to be already quite a few people up the mountain.
Beyond the gate, the road was clear of snow. We were beginning to wonder how far of a walk it would be before we could put on the skis. In the end it was less than 500m before we could indulge in that beautiful sound of skins sliding across snow. Wet spring snow, but snow nonetheless. We were following the gorgeous Izari River for around 50 minutes, before heading left at around 700m in altitude to get to the ridge that would take us up to the peak.
Once on the wide ridge, it is a good idea to take bearings and add markers if necessary for the descent. It would be fairly easy to lose one’s way or miss a turn on the ridge in poor conditions. Even in clear weather, the relatively featureless ridge, with plenty of trees, can be confusing to navigate on the way down.
That said, there were plenty of old route markers along the way when we went up, making for easy navigation. From around half-way up the ridge, the route becomes steep enough to allow for massive views over Mt. Eniwa and Lake Shikotsu. This view stayed with us all the way to the summit.
This is a great hill to get some serious kick-turn practice in. The last 15 minutes to the peak, in particular, is very steep and requires some long diagonal traverses, punctuated with some smooth turns. Rick was getting better with each turn…when his skis cooperated, that is
We were at the top in just under three hours. The sun was shining, and all was well with the world. While we were eating lunch, a few more groups arrived, including a group of kids in gumboots and jeans. It is fair to say that on a clear day with stable weather, this is a fairly straight forward hill to tackle. It even comes with its own little shrine at the top.
The descent back to the car is rip-roaring fun…for the first 10 minutes. The super steep spot that requires the smooth kick turns is fantastic for getting in some smooth and fast turns on the way down.
From the col at 1,100m, however, the descent consists of some traversing which includes some 5 minute side-stepping climbs, punctuated with some short fast downhill bits, and then some flat pushing, and then some fast tree-dodging, before being spat out onto the forestry road. The forestry road descent is not particularly exciting, and does require some pushing. This is generally the reality of skiing the lower hills around Sapporo – long-ish approaches on forestry roads and plenty of trees to dodge.
The forestry road threw us a couple more curve balls typical of this late spring season, with the road clear of snow in places, requiring some last-minute clambering before arriving back at the car. All in all though, this is a fantastic half-day ski within very easy reach of Sapporo. I’m sure it would be even more magnificent in mid-winter.