It was that in-between season. Early December. The hills around Sapporo were the classic bottomless, sasa strewn, not-quite-there snowy wilderness, waiting for a few more weeks of snow to get the snow base established.
We were keen to get outside, however, so we honed in on this route up to Horai-san. It was attractive because most of the route was on a forestry road. The early season snow would be enough to allow skinning along the road, even if the surrounding forest undergrowth was still exposed. Along with us this time around were our regular outdoor buddy Saoka, and some new friends from canoeing – Mibo and Taku from Namara Hokkaido.
We arrived at the michi-no-eki parking lot, as per the 2014 guidebook, and started getting our skis ready to go. We were only there for about five minutes when a representative from the michi-no-eki skidded to a halt in his van next to us.
“You can’t park here,” a masked, clearly exasperated middle-aged man yelled from inside the vehicle. “This car park is for michi-no-eki users only. And, please don’t walk on the snow-cleared road!”
This put a spanner in the works, as we weren’t aware of anywhere else to park at the pass. As it turned out, however, there was a well-cleared, large car park on the other side of the pass, open for use for anyone. So we moved everything over there. It was a hairy walk along the busy Route 230 to get back to the michi-no-eki, but at least now we were legal.
From the michi-no-eki car park, we skinned up to the entrance to the cleared forestry road, and cut left into the forest in order not to be skinning along the road, as requested. The snow was bottomless early season snow with nothing below it but unconsolidated sasa bamboo. There were a couple of snowshoers ahead of us, and they were struggling. Even with large snowshoes, they were sinking down to their waists in the snow.
On skis, we made pretty good time though, and soon we had made it past the cleared forestry road section, and were on the uncleared section of the road. From there it was smooth sailing to the summit.
Along the way we passed a few radio towers, and the summit was also an array of large radio towers and communications buildings. The summit was just above the now defunct second lift on the ski area. There was another large group of skiers at the summit.
“We skinned up under the high tension powerlines to the west,” they explained.
We made a note of this and added this to our plan. We’d originally planned to skin up the ski field, but because it was open to the public, we’d need to find a less intrusive way to get back up to the summit after the quick ski down.
We didn’t spend much time at the summit. Skins off, we hurled ourselves down the ski area. First on the un-used closed section, and then onto the groomed slope proper. It was over before we’d started.
“Well that was short,” mused Taku.
He’d never skied Nakayama Pass ski area before, like the rest of us.
After a quick bite to eat, we slapped the skins back on and made the trudge back up to the summit of Horai-san again. This time, we cut west to the high tension powerline clearing, and fought our way through the sasa until we were skinning through gorgeous fields of white.
We were following in the skin track of the large group we’d met at the summit, so it was easy going. Only about 40 minutes back up to the summit. From there, we ripped skins and hurtled back down the forestry road, back to the michi-no-eki. A great way to get the mind and body dialed in a bit for the winter season.