We’d already skied Takadomari-yama in the morning, but I was keen to check out Sanmen-yama too. It was in the vicinity, and the weather looked as though it would just hold out for the two or so hours it would take for us to get to the top of Sanmen-yama and back. We ended up not having time to sample the slopes that Yamano-makochan and his troupe enjoyed in their video (above). However, our quick blat to the summit, and then some fun downhill through the tight trees on the way down was plenty worth it.
We visited this route on Feb 22, 2020
Need to know details
Sanmen-yama is an unassuming peak sitting due south of Wassamu Pass on the border of Horokanai Town and Wassamu Town, just over 1 hour north of Asahikawa City in northern Hokkaido. This route starts at the Wassamu Pass parking area, on the Horokanai Town side of the Wahoro Tunnel, here.
Like most ski touring routes in Horokanai (Japan’s coldest and lowest population density town), this route to Sanmen-yama is accessed via a road pass. This means there’s not much climbing to the actual peak. Any downhill skiing, therefore, is from the peak into one of the three main slopes. To get back to the pass, skiers will need to skin back up to the peak and make the final descent from there.
Chirorin-mura (full details here)
Chirorin-mura (チロリン村) isn’t strictly a hut. But to describe it as a hostel or hotel wouldn’t be right either. It is the brainchild and passion of Abe-san, a gloriously energetic, hospitable, and effervescent host, who built the place by hand over 25 years ago. Abe-san and his eccentric Chirorin-mura has received national fame – he’s regularly featured on travel documentaries about interesting places to stay. For 5,000yen a night, you get a warm futon inside your own indoor tent, plus an enormous yaki-niku dinner and delicious breakfast. Did we mention the karaoke is free?
Park up at the gargantuan Wassamu Pass parking area just before the Wahoro Tunnel at the pass (here). From there, skin along side the road for about 150m, and gain the small spur to the right just after a steep gully. It’s also possible to walk further along and gain the ridge from above the tunnel. Once on the main pass, head due south. Similar to the route up Takadomari-yama from Etanbetsu pass, there’s a prominent knob at the start of the route. Don’t be tempted to climb up on top of this – wrap around the right hand side through the woods. This will help avoid having to put skins back on on the way back. Keep following along the ridge, which broadens out and passes though a stand of young white birch all the way to the summit. From the summit, skiers are treated to broad views south, east and west. If snow conditions are stable, ski any of those south, northwestern, or eastern slopes, and climb back up for the final return to the pass.
Expect about 1.5 hours from carpark to summit, and another 30 minutes back to the carpark. The lappable slopes from the summit are generally about 200-300m vertical drop, so allow about 20-30 minutes to climb up after each lap.
Snow and route safety
The bare, treeless slopes to the south and northwest of the peak offer great skiing, but should be checked for stability before skiing. Horokanai is well known for its bone-chilling cold temperatures. Plan accordingly, with extra cold-weather gear.
If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore areas north of 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 in northern Hokkaido, 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.
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