After a pleasant night at the only AirBnB within about 50km, we made an early start back to the onsen for an 8am start on the skis. We opted to walk along the main road across the bridge, but if there is enough snow, the Issen-gawa river can be skied over on a snow-bridge, which makes it possible to complete the route without walking along the main road across the bridge.
From there, we skinned along the mostly flat forestry road for about 2km. It was simply perfectly pleasant woods and forest. Make sure to ignore the sign pointing left, in the direction of the summer trail up Santo-zan.
We were sharing the forestry road with snowmobile tracks. When we did the route, the snowmobile tracks continued up the Issen-gawa river valley, whereas the ski route outlined here climbs on along the gully to the left at around the 3km point, to join with the relatively less steep spur on the climber’s left side of the Issen-gawa river gully.
At around the 4km point, we kick-turned our way up a short but steep semi-bluff at the head of the main spur which took us all the way to the summit ridge.
After 1km along this spur,, and just before the main ridge, we traversed around to the main summit ridge which took us past a large radio repeater board. Somewhere around here may be a good opportunity to check snow stability for a possible steep descent into the compact Issen-gawa catchment bowl.
Santo-zan literally means ‘three headed mountain’, and the reason for this name becomes apparent as one approaches the summit. The plateau-like summit area is a mess of topography, with the actual summit at the very distant-far left. The final 10m or so to the summit may be best done without the skis. When we were there, we were greeted with a large wall of blown snow which we opted to bootpack up.
On the descent, the choice of where (or indeed if) to drop into the main Issen-gawa catchment bowl will depend largely on steep skiing experience and snow stability – we only attempted to do so after a compression test to get an idea of the snow conditions. A slide in this area would bury a victim very deep. Beyond the main catchment area, the valley quickly transforms into a deep gully, so at around 5oom in altitude, we traversed around to the spur on the skier’s left of the gully.
We skied this skier’s left spur, through relatively dense trees, to its terminus, where a short, steep drop awaited us to return us to the forestry road. The final 3.5km skin along a mostly flat forestry road was a somewhat bitter comedown from the euphoria of a steep summit descent, but at least we were skiing straight towards an onsen, with the option of a hot meal too.