Posted on Dec 17, 2019
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Posted on Dec 17, 2019

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Reading time: 4 min
12km

Distance

7 hours

Time

782m

Ascent

1009m

Highest point

8/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Apr

Best season

As one of the highest peaks in one of Hokkaido's coldest locales, Santo-zan in Horokanai (幌加内三頭山, 1009m) is a challenging peak for experienced ski tourers seeking an athletic, steep, and engaging day trip. While only just over 1000m in altitude, Santo-zan (literally 'three-headed mountain') requires a good level of fitness, technical uphill skiing ability, and route-finding. The skiing on the northeastern aspect gully is short but steep, the latter aspect a relative rarity in Hokkaido. Expect the same great views as other locales in the area, including across to the majestic Mashike Range to the southwest.

We visited this route on Mar 03, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This winter route up Santo-zan in Horokanai, about 60km north of Asahikawa, starts and finishes at the Seiwa Onsen, here, about 10km north of central Horokanai Town.

General notes

As mentioned in other posts about ski routes in the Horokanai area, backcountry skiers come to this quiet town in winter seeking some of the driest, coldest powder in Hokkaido. The stats don’t lie, with the February average low hovering at -15°C. Despite these cold temperatures, on average, 1348cm of snow falls in any given year in Horokanai Town. Compare this to Kutchan’s (Niseko) February average low of -10°C. This all adds up to Horokanai and its surrounding hills being one of the most overlooked areas in Hokkaido for great powder skiing.

Most of the action happens in the one long valley, with multiple options in the hills on either side. Santo-zan stands heads and shoulders above all other peaks in the immediate vicinity, but requires a fairly long approach to get to the summit. In summer, there’s two routes up to the summit, while the winter route here takes a slightly more ski-friendly approach, only joining with the summer route at around 700m in altitude.

Hut

None

Route markers

This route is not marked.

Route Timing
Up | 4.5hrs
Down | 2.5hrs

Expect between 4-4.5hrs from Seiwa Onsen to the Santo-zan summit, and another 2.5 hours back down.

Transport

Public transport:

The JR Hokkaido bus that runs from Fukagawa JR Station to Nayoro Station conveniently makes a stop at the Seiwa Onsen and michi-no-eki. The full route (in Japanese) is here. According to this timetable, the earliest bus leaving Fukagawa JR Station is 8:05am. According to this timetable planner, it would take 1 hour 40 minutes on the bus from Fukagawa JR Station to the Reonto-mae (ルオント前) bus stop just outside the michi-no-eki at the start of the route, arriving at around 9:45am. This is unlikely to be early enough to safely complete the whole route up to the Santo-zan summit and back. Consider arriving a day ahead and staying at the National Horotachi Ski Area accommodation, the Horotachi-sanso (here, TEL: 0165-35-3410). The Horotachi-sanso charges 6,500yen per person for one night including dinner and breakfast, or 5,000yen for bed only. They would likely be able to arrange a taxi to take skiers to the onsen early in the morning. The Horotachi-sanso is a 2km walk from the Horokanai bus stop and information center (route here).

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at the Seiwa Onsen carpark, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Santo-zan (三頭山) – map no. NL-54-12-16-3

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

This route gets an 8/10 for difficulty for good reason. This route up Santo-zan in Horokanai calls for careful and experienced route-finding skills, snow stability assessment knowledge, as well as plenty of fitness and experience to be out in the remote backcountry for up to 7 hours, all in a very cold region of Hokkaido. The route has a couple of very steep sections, one in particular with a long run-out, which will test one’s kick-turn abilities and confidence. Make conservative decisions and be quick to turn back if weather conditions deteriorate.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Horokanai Santo-zan
Onsen nearby

This route starts and finishes at the Seiwa Onsen carpark (here, 500yen per person), so you’ll be skiing door-to-door to a natural hotspring.

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

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.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

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.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Horokanai Santo-zan, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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