Posted on Dec 16, 2020
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Posted on Dec 16, 2020

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Reading time: 4 min
6.4km

Distance

3 hours

Time

273m

Ascent

980m

Highest point

3/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Apr

Best season

Horai-san (蓬莱山, 980m) is a diminutive hill southwest of Nakayama Pass (中山峠, 835m) near Sapporo City. Its proximity to Sapporo, plus its tendency to gather a good base of snow early in the winter season, makes is a great place for an early season ski touring training ground. On a good day there are great views across to Niseko, the southern lakes, and Yotei-zan. Just below the summit is the Nakayama-toge ski area, open early and late in the season.

We visited this route on Dec 05, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Horai-san sits at the top of the Nakayama-toge (pass) ski area at the top of Nakayama Pass between Sapporo and Niseko. The route itself starts at the southeastern corner of the Nakayama Pass michi-no-eki parking area, however skiers are asked not to park in the michi-no-eki car park (there’s a large public car park on the northern side of the pass, here).

General notes

The early season months of November and December in Hokkaido can feel frustratingly long for those who are itching to get into the backcountry. Snow base levels around Sapporo can be tantalizingly almost-good, but not quite good enough to not get wrapped up in sasa bamboo grass. This route is mostly on a forestry road, so allows good early-season skinning up to the peak without the bother of undergrowth getting in the way. Access to Horai-san can be a bit convoluted outside of the short early- and late-season times that the Nakayama Pass ski area is open. It is, however, a relatively easy ‘walk on skis’ if accessed via the gently ascending forestry road from the michi-no-eki car park on the southern side of the pass. On a good day, skiers can expect good views across to Yotei-zan.

Hut

None

Route details

Park up in the large parking area on the opposite side of the michi-no-eki road stop on Route 230 at the top of Nakayama Pass (northern side of pass, here). Note that the michi-no-eki parking on the southern side of the pass is for michi-no-eki users only. Cross Route 230 on foot, carrying your skis – take care, Route 230 is busy. Walk southeast to the southeastern corner of the large michi-no-eki carpark, and don the skis at the entrance of the forestry road. Skiers are asked not to use the lower cleared part of the forestry road, so from about 20m from the entrance to the road, cut up to the left into the forest, essentially cutting off the large shallow bend in the road. You’ll emerge in a large clearing. From there, continue heading due south until you hit the forestry road again. Follow the snowed in forestry road now all the way to the summit of Horai-san. You can either return the way you came, or, ski the ski area slope. Because the ski area was in operation when we were there in early December 2020, we opted to climb back up via the expansive clearing under the high tension power lines to the west of the ski field. From the top of the ski area we roller-coasted our way back to the michi-no-eki, following our skin tracks on the forestry road.

Route Timing
Up | 1hrs
Down | 0.5hrs

If you’re just keen on a quick up-and-down via the forestry road, expect about 1.5 hours for the round trip. If doing a few laps of the ski area, note that it takes about 40 minutes to skin back up to the top.

Transport

Public transport:

Donan Bus Co (道南バス, donanbus.co.jp, tel: 0143-45-2131) operates a service four times a day between Sapporo and Toyako Onsen 洞爺湖温泉 that stops at Nakayama-toge 中山峠. Note however that it is reservation only and the times are not convenient if coming from the Sapporo end.

By car: 

Take Route 230 south from Jozankei for 20km to Nakayama-toge (pass). There is plenty of public parking at the large car park on the northern side of Nakayama Pass, here. Note that the michi-no-eki car park on the southern side of the pass is not to be used for parking cars when visiting the area for mountaineering.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Nakayamatoge (中山峠) – map no. NK-54-14-15-4

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

While this route is relatively straight forward, and skirts around a ski area, this is very much the backcountry. There are no patrols, no avalanche management, and climbers need to be experienced in travelling in the backcountry. Note that the Nakayama Pass ski area is not open in Jan/Feb/Mar – there is no vehicle access to the ski area during these months.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Horai-san
Onsen nearby

Jozankei Onsen (定山渓温泉) is back down the road to Sapporo and has a range of bath facilities open to day visitors from upmarket resort hotels to the more proletarian (and cheaper) Yu no Hana (湯の花location, 850yen) complex.

Extra Resources

Hokkaido Snow Hiking book by Hokkaido Shimbun Press (https://amzn.to/2JUBelK), p. 124-127 (in Japanese).

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other hills around Sapporo together with a local certified guide, get in touch with either Wataru Nara or Takao Miyashita. They’re both born-and-bred Sapporo-based guides. They both cut their teeth on peaks including those around Sapporo City, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

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.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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