I learned about Karifuri-dake’s existence just twelve hours before meeting at the trailhead. There weren’t any significant storms hitting Hokkaido for the emperor’s birthday (a February mid-week national holiday), so Tim, Rob, and I decided to plan a tour in my “backyard”, here near Shimukappu.
I’ve got a list of local mountains I want to explore, but I haven’t made much time to tour in the Shimukappu area since I arrived a year and a half ago. There’s usually a far-off mountain with a fresh dump beckoning to us. But, the forecast for a moderate breeze from the west meant a skiable lee slope with as much fresh snow as anywhere, which left us with a simple decision.
Plus, Rob blew my mind when he shared that Karifuri-dake is where Hoshino Resorts runs a cat skiing operation. Wait, whatttttt?!?!?! The existence of paying customers indicated an abundance of skiable slopes if we were game for the lengthy approach (we always are!). I was learning so much about the Shimukappu Township, and it was time to research the mountain myself. Rob had a GPS track for the tour, so I focused on reading up as much as I could about Karifuri-dake (in the limited time I had before the trip).
The first English resource my search turned up was a heli-skiing incident report from 2013 (PDF here | HokkaidoWilds.org backup). The pilot caught one of the helicopter’s landing skids on a small ground pine, lost control, and crashed. No one was injured and it was just the beginning of the entertaining reading. I then turned to John Morrell, a legendary Australian mountain guide who now runs a ski lodge in Tomamu. His arrival in the early 80s and his ski shop in Furano are often credited with opening Central Hokkaido to foreigners.
Rob had arrived to my place in Shimukappu that night, ahead of an early start the next morning. We had gotten caught up in the excitement of planning for the next day when we realized that it was past our bedtime. I started a fresh loaf in the bread maker for lunch (unwittingly, I tested Rob’s ability to sleep through a commotion), and we said good night.
The clouds were high and we had a beautiful view to the northwest of Tomamu Resort and Ochiai-dake; we kept moving, knowing that the forecast called for the breeze to increase and the clouds to move significantly lower throughout the day. Our route started us on a farm road through fields before transitioning to a forestry road as we climbed up the base of the mountain.
As we transitioned into the forest, we noticed there were many downed trees and it was a peaceful, mixed forest to be hiking through. Our approach to the mountain’s western aspect had us cross under a high-voltage transmission line before the slope increased as we gained the ridge and reached the summit. The track Rob had found on Yamareco.com followed the ridge north and skied the backside and the mountain’s northern and eastern aspect. We were interested in seeing the possible slopes and taking a run.
We chose our first spot to drop in and had a sweet 150ish-meter ski. It was good, albeit short.
We transitioned to climbing mode and broke trail through deep snow back up to the summit ridge for another run.
This time, we decided to continue down through a dense thicket of shirakaba to see if it was possible to get any good turns lower down. There was hooting and hollering as Rob broke through to a wide-open slope with towering, gnarled shirakaba. We got to the bottom, excited that we had discovered an almost equal length run to the first.
We skinned up for two more runs before deciding to call it. We were tired, but most importantly, Rob had an online meeting to get to at 5. Each of our runs had moved us farther north down the ridge, and we were thoroughly impressed by the widely spaced trees and the length of the runs. We looked forward to returning, but for today the clouds had socked in the summit, and the wind had picked up, making it the right time to get to the onsen and a motsunabe feast at my apartment.
We made our way back to just below the summit, ripped our skins, and traversed to where we could ski down the western aspect. The exit was nothing special in terms of skiing, but it’s always fun to be bouncing around snowy woods. We all agreed that Karifuri-dake had lots to enjoy for folks willing to put in the effort on the approach. At the trailhead we said bye to Tim and got back to my apartment in time for Rob’s meeting.