Iwaonupuri NE Chute

イワオヌプリ北東シュート | Iwaw-nupuri

Posted on Jan 16, 2022
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NEES
Posted on Jan 16, 2022
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NEES
5.1km

Distance

6 hours

Time

550m

Ascent

1116m

Highest point

7.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

The Iwaonupuri Northeast Chute イワオヌプリ北東シュート is a steep (35-40°), committing, 200m vertical-drop chute on Iwanupuri's イワオヌプリ (1116m) northeastern flanks. It's arguably one of the steepest (and deepest) lines in the Niseko Range. Snowpack stability is key for this short but satisfying run, so we highly recommend ascending to the summit via the northeastern face, in order to assess safety. Skiers will either lap the northeastern face, or return via the more well-travelled southern face of Iwaonupuri, direct back to the car park above Goshiki Hotsprings.

Thanks to Ian for the frame-grabs of the run down the chute.

Last updated Feb 9, 2022

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Iwaonupuri sits just to the northwest of the bustling, sprawling Niseko United ski resort in the Niseko Range in southwest Hokkaido. The trailhead for this NE chute route is typically at the end of the snow clearing on Route 58 just beyond Goshiki Onsen 五色温泉. It would also be possible to start on the northern side of the Route 58 pass at the Hanazono Kokuyurin 12-rinpan Gate 花園国有林12林班ゲート, but the approach will be considerably longer.

General notes

The Niseko Range gets no complaints about the depth and dryness of its powder, but steep lines are few and far between. The NE chute on Iwanupuri is a short and sharp remedy however and will be the steep and deep you’re seeking. Its remoteness means skiers must be willing to commit a considerable amount of time for access to the chute, and for the skin out afterwards. You really have to want to ski this thing. The good thing is that once you have a decent skin track set, there are a number of lines on the northeast face of Iwaonupuri that are worth sampling. Also, due to the extra effort required in accessing this side of the mountain, it’s unlikely you’ll be sharing it with many other skiers. On this documentation run during a very busy long weekend, we were skiing 100% untracked lines on the northeast, while the south and southeast aspects were seething with massive numbers of backcountry skiers.

Hut
None
Route details

Park up at the large cleared car parking area just before the Goshiki Onsen gate on Route 58. Skin along the snowed in Route 58 northeast for a few hundred meters before heading uphill to the NNE. In the interest of checking the snowpack on the NE aspect before skiing the chute, we’d recommend wrapping around the southern flanks and climbing to the summit via the NE face. There’s no good way to do this without some ups and downs in the first 1km or so. Returning this way at the end of the day may require putting skins back on.

Once on the E and NE faces, skiers will be exposed to steep bare slopes above, so travel conservatively. Surface conditions in January and February will be extremely deep. Zigzag up towards and then along the faint ENE spur, gaining the summit via a shallow gully just south of the summit. The summit will likely be wind-swept and crusty. The summit should give excellent views SE and NW along the Niseko Range.

The entrance to the chute is about 50m north of the summit, across the flat summit plateau. There’s a prominent convex roll at the very top of the chute, with the chute itself not visible until you’re well over this roll. This top 15m or so may show evidence of wind-slab. We found minor wind-slab at the very top of the chute, but surface conditions below this were very similar to what we’d skinned up previously. The first 1/3 of the chute is relatively committing. It’s steep (35-40°) with very little in the way of escape to the sides. Beyond this, the chute widens considerably to the skier’s left, and there’s bushy shrubs to the skier’s right. The total length of the run is about 300m long, 200m drop. At a fair speed, expect the run to last about 1 minute. The snow is relatively protected, so expect excellent, deep surface conditions in January and February.

At the base of the chute, you’ve got about a 30-minute skin back south to your uptrack. Either lap the NE face, or head up and over the summit again and descend direct back to the carpark via the more popular SW face.

Route Timing
Up | 4hrs
Down | 2hrs

If lapping the slopes, expect to be out for around 6 hours (including time to stop and dig a pit to check snowpack conditions).

Transport

Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route. A taxi from central Hirafu to Goshiki Onsen (23km) would cost around 7,500 to 8,000yen one way.

By car:

There is plenty of parking at the large carpark at the end of the snow clearing on Route 58. Note, however, that this parking can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. By 9am you may find the carpark full.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Nisekoannupuri (ニセコアンヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-2

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).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is Northeast. Other aspects that may also be encountered while following the route outlined on this page include: East, South. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Shiribeshi area, consider looking at the Japan Avalanche Network avalanche bulletins (updated Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8am) or the daily Niseko Avalanche Information website. These may give extra insight into avalanche conditions in the greater area around the route.

Snow and
route safety

Particularly mid-season, skiers will need to be very confident of snowpack stability for skiing the Iwao NE Chute. Make your own careful observations and compare these with advice from avalanche bulletins for the area (JAN | Niseko). In the first 1/3 of the chute, there is very little in the way of escape to the sides of the chute. Also note that the entire north and eastern side of Iwaonupuri is seldom travelled and therefore relatively remote compared to other popular backcountry areas in the Niseko Range – skiers need to be particularly self-sufficient.

Iwaonupuri NE Chute Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

C

30

Time ascending

B

6

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

B

12

Totals

74/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Iwaonupuri NE Chute
Onsen nearby

Goshiki Onsen 五色温泉 (location, 800yen, 10am till 7pm) is a gorgeously rustic natural onsen a few meters down the road from the carpark. It is a must visit onsen, with 100% pure hot spring water, flowing into outdoor baths surrounded by meters of snow. Yukichichibu Onsen 雪秩父温泉 (location, 700yen, noon till 7pm, closed Tuesdays) on the way back to Hirafu is also a good natural onsen option, with a larger outdoor bath area. Yukichichibu also has an attached restaurant (11am till 2pm).

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Niseko areas together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Jun Horie. He’s a Niseko-resident guide with seven years experience advanced-level ski instructing in Austria (he speaks German as well as English and Japanese). He has also guided in New Zealand and has previously led guiding operations in Hokkaido before going independent. 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

Iwaonupuri’s NE Chute had been on my radar for a while, but with so much else to explore around Hokkaido, we’d not really spent enough time in the Niseko Range to commit to doing it. This season, however, with a renewed motivation to get into the Niseko Range and tick off some lines, it was time to have a poke at the NE face of Iwaonupuri.

Haidee and I were once again commandeering Chris’s Rankoshi cabin…once again sans-Chris for a second winter season. “Open the borders!” he would message impatiently as we sent him photos of us making the most of another bumper Hokkaido winter season.

Joining Haidee and me for the trip was Ian and Peter. We arranged to meet at the early hour of 7am at the trailhead, to allow plenty of time for a zone that was new to all of us. With recent reports of avalanche activity in very steep terrain around the area, we were keen to take our time and spend some time checking the snowpack on our way up the NE face.

There were already two huge groups of skiers just leaving the trailhead when we arrived. In the end, they would take the traditional south face route up to the peak, whereas we would forge our own skin track around the eastern flanks of the mountain to the NE face. The weather was settled, with no wind, but it was overcast and dull as we set off. Near the trailhead was a tent.

“What a great spot for camping,” beamed Haidee. “There’s an onsen just down the road!”

We followed the well-trodden skin track for a few hundred meters before veering off towards the northeast. The snow was deep. As far as Hokkaido snowpack goes, it was still relatively early season, with plenty of shrubs still visible out of the snow. We started a very gradual climbing traverse, taking turns to break trail. Every now and then the sun would break through the clouds, allowing us some precious contrast and good views.

We soon made it to the base of the NE face, and started our long zigzagging ascent. Kickturns, where the snow on the uphill leg came up to one’s hip, were tricky for the lead trail-breaker. We took turns. 

At around 920m, we gained the faint eastern spur, and were able to wrap around to the NE side of the spur. This was around the altitude and aspect we were planning on skiing in the chute, so we stopped to dig a pit to thoroughly inspect the snowpack.

We dug a pit wide enough to do an extended column test. Mercifully, the sun was shining as we worked, giving us some marginal warmth.

Initial finger tests suggested we were dealing with a very right-way-up snowpack, with beautiful powder as the icing on the top. A single column compression test revealed a marginal early-season rain crust at around 70cm, but it only budged after a lot of force. An extended column test showed no indication of anything propagating.

This slope was looking about as good to ski as you can get.

We filled in our hole and carried on. The forecast was for more cloud from midday, so I was feeling no small amount of urgency to get to the top of the chute before we lost contrast on the snow.

As we emerged from the NW face onto the summit plateau, we arrived just ahead of another huge group of Japanese skiers, marching in line towards the summit. Today was a Monday of a long weekend, so mountain clubs and other groups were clearly out in the Niseko Range in great numbers.

From the summit, we quickly retreated to the quiet and solitude of the mouth of the chute. It appeared we would be the only ones to ski this line today.

Haidee had been apprehensive about skiing the chute right from the start of the trip. Upon seeing the seemingly bottomless abyss suggested by the rollover entry to the chute, she decided that it wouldn’t be for her today.

Haidee and Peter both decided to head back the way we’d come, to ski the slope we’d skinned up. Ian and I decided to stick with the chute.

Ian went first, starting with a cut across the top of the chute. He noticed shooting cracks in front of him, indicative of the wind slab we’d noticed as we approached the rollover at the top of the chute. Wind was howling through the small opening, between the two rocky outcrops that flanked the chute’s entrance, compacting the snow at the very top of the chute. Based on what we’d observed on the ascent, however, we were confident these surface conditions wouldn’t persist as soon as we got below the initial entry to the chute. 

Avoiding the slabby upper central section, Ian set off driving a large arc towards the skier’s right side of the chute. He then headed to the center, executing powder turn after turn until he disappeared from my view.

Later, he would send me some footage of the descent, from which I was able to grab the following frames, editing them to try to tweak some contrast from the images.

It was my turn next, and I appreciated having Ian’s tracks to give some sense of contrast and depth. It was my third backcountry run of the season. I was overly conservative in my speed, but still found myself gasping for air a couple of times as great plumes of powder filled my vision on turns.

At the bottom of the run, Ian was there, looking ecstatic. 

“I’ve skied steeper in my life,” he gasped. “But I’ve never skied as steep and as deep as that!”

For the close to 2.5hrs we’d spent climbing plus checking on the way up, this one minute run of pure adrenaline was candy. We’d committed a lot of time and thought space to the line, and to pull it off in prime conditions was like a sugar hit straight to the veins. 

I had trouble keeping up with Ian after we put our skins on and headed back south towards our up-track. He powered on, singing praises of ‘one of the best runs I’ve had in Hokkaido’.

We were in radio contact with Haidee and Peter for much of our ski back to the up-track. As we arrived, we could see them on their ski descent down the NE face. They were clearly not missing out on much.

With the team reuinted and the sun shining, we celebrated a successful mission with some birthday cake Ian had packed. It was his birthday the day before. 

“I got three cakes, so we need to demolish them,” he beamed.

We’d originally planned to do the one run and then return the way we’d come. With the snow condition as it was, however, we decided to make the most of our existing up-track to the summit, and ski the SE face back down to the carpark. This would allow us to avoid the long traverse around the eastern flank of the mountain and we’d get another downhill run. We felt like we deserved it after all the effort to get around to this side of the mountain. So started the long hike back up.

We soon arrived at the summit plateau though, and quickly got ready for the final descent for the day. Ian pushed on to the next ridge over and snapped this shot.

📷 Ian Leader

In contrast to our trackless NE face, the southern aspects of Iwaonupuri were predictably tracked up. Multiple groups had left their mark, and we were now later in the day.

Still, we each found our own lines, leaving our last marks on the slopes.

Ian perceptively led us a little further south of the main up-track, and we got a couple more untracked turns in before hitting the pass and the main road back to the carpark.

Ian and Peter decided to call it a day, and we all said our farewells. For Haidee and I, it was straight to Goshiki Onsen for a long hot spring soak. The perfect Après-Ski.

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Iwaonupuri NE Chute Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

C

30

Time ascending

B

6

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

B

12

Totals

74/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.