I got the idea into my head that Haidee and I should head away for the weekend for two days of exploring. A quick perusal of the Hokkaido Yuki-yama guide suggested that there were two routes quite close to each other in Niki Town, near Yoichi City. So we booked the accommodation (at the quirky but lovely Hirune-no-Sato) for the Saturday night and made plans. The first day we headed up Gin-zan (銀山, 641m), but for now allow me to focus on Inaho-mine, our pick of the two in terms of snow and slopes. The guide book promised some good skiing on the upper slopes, and both of the hills were ranked as beginner/easy, so they were a great start to the season, to get the legs back into gear.
We left the guest house an hour after sunrise, and everything was still crispy cold, snow squeaking underfoot.
The trailhead was easy enough to find – right next to the Ginzan JR Station. As we were unpacking the skis, some railway workers approached us and asked us to be careful when crossing the tracks. “Make sure to check the train timetable,” they said. Indeed, there were no lights or bells or barriers across the entrance to the tracks. That plus somewhat of a blind corner on the tracks just before the station. A large sign told tourists in four languages not to stand on the tracks to take photos.
The route started at the southern (Kutchan) end of the train station platforms, and followed parallel to the platforms for about 50m before cutting up into the pine forest, in order to connect with the ridge that would take us to the first intersecting forestry road at around 290m. Some route guides I’ve seen have skiers follow along parallel to the tracks until they get to the very bottom of the ridge, but either way, if you carry on up veering to the climber’s left, then you’ll eventually get to the ridge.
Once at the ridge, we were on what appeared to be an abandoned forestry road. This was clearly a popular route, as there were a number of ski tracks and descending tracks, obviously from the previous day. We were glad it had snowed a little the night before to cover most of them with a fresh layer of snow.
The route soon intersected with a road that follows the contour lines around the face of the hills at just below 300m in altitude. Here, we made a short scramble-traverse up a cutting to carry on up along the ridge.
Before long we were at the power transmission lines that cut across the hills at around 370m in altitude. The cutting gave a good view down to the Niki Valley below. Watching for falling icicles, we ducked under the pylons and carring on up the ridge.
Things get a little tight as far as trees go, just before the topography opens out at the top of the ridge at around 460m in altitude. From there it is plain sailing up to the upper ridge-like summit. True to the guidebook’s word, we were greeted with a 200m-wide slope. It was only about 60m vertical, but ideal for some easy laps. The views from the actual summit were spectactular – we were happy to have some clear weather.
From the summit we could not only see Mt. Yotei and Mt. Yoichi in the distance, but also Gin-zan, just along the ridge, with its large radio repeater board.
After a few laps of the upper slope, we headed back down to the car. Haidee found dodging the trees a little taxing, but other than that, it was a relatively straight forward, easy trip.