Posted on Mar 17, 2020
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Posted on Mar 17, 2020

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Reading time: 8 min
21km

Distance

8.5 hours

Time

1190m

Ascent

1625m

Highest point

7.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-May

Best season

Maefurano-dake (前富良野岳, 1625m) stands as advance-guard to the mighty Furano-dake (富良野岳, 1921m) in central Hokkaido. Sitting at the southwestern-most point of the Daisetsuzan National Park, Maefurano-dake's southern slopes offer some spectacular skiing from the summit. On a clear day, skiers will be treated to a rare glimpse of Furano-dake from the south, as well as dramatic views across the primeval forests and marshes of the Genshi-ga-hara plateau. Unlike it's big brother Furano-dake, however, Maefurano-dake is a remote peak. Just the approach alone is almost 8km. Along the way, however, is the Ningle Forest Management Hut, which makes for an excellent base to explore the area.

We visited this route on Mar 02, 2020

Hiro Miura contributed photos to this post.

Last updated Mar 18, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Maefurano-dake sits at the southwestern terminus of the Daisetsuzan mountain range in central Hokkaido. More specifically, it’s right at the southwestern tip of the Tokachi mountain-range end of the Daisetsuzan National Park. This ski touring route up Maefurano-dake goes via the Ningle Forest Management Hut (details here), which is accessed about 6.5km west of the hut via a snowed in road. Cars can be parked here, at the road closure gate.

General notes

We’ll go out on a limb here and claim that Maefurano-dake has some of the best and sustained south-facing skiing in the entire Daisetsuzan mountain range. It’s also some of the less accessible skiing, with a return daytrip in mid-winter requiring at least 8 hours return for a strong party. In April, it’s possible to drive to the Akigumo-bashi Bridge (秋雲橋, location) on the Daisetsuzan National Park border, so that would cut out around 2 hours return of mostly flat-land skinning. Fill a large backpack (or sled) with provisions, however, and the Ningle Forest Management Hut can make a great base for an overnight mission. Maefurano-dake has three prominent south-facing ridges, all of which are feasible ascent routes. The ridges themselves may be hard-packed snow and/or ice, so carrying ski crampons is recommended. We opted to ascend on the eastern-most north-south ridge, as the initial ascent is more gentle. Regardless of route, however, depending on snow conditions the final 20 meters or so to the summit ridge may require some icy traversing.

  • Hut notes: The Furano Alpine Club stressed to us that unlike other huts in Hokkaido, the Ningle Forest Management Hut is, in principle, not open for use by the general public (it is locked). That said, the general public is allowed to apply for permission to stay at the hut – call the Furano City Council in Japanese to arrange this, and arrange to pick up a key. See full details here.
Hut

Ningle Forest Management Hut (full details here)

The Ningle Forest Management Hut (ニングルの森管理棟) is an immaculate, well built and insulated hut at the southern-most end of the Daisetsuzan mountain range. It sits at the Genshi-ga-hara (原始ヶ原) trailhead. The hut allows easy access to Daisetsuzan’s southern major peak of Maefurano-dake (前富良野岳, 1625m), as well as access to the northern-aspect slopes of Dairoku-zan (大麓山, 1460m) for the more adventurous ski tourers. The hut is only open to the public upon prior request – contact the Furano City council to apply for use, and arrange to pick up the key. In winter, the closest car parking is 7km away – about 2-3 hours walk through deep snow on a snowed-in road.

Route details

Park up as far to the side of the road as possible near the road-closed sign in Higashitomioka (東富岡), here. On your skis or snowshoes, carry on up the road and turn right at the t-intersection. After about 1km on a very gentle descent, turn left onto the main access road to the Genshi-ga-hara trailhead (and Ningle Forest Management Hut). Follow this road for about 5km, and you’ll arrive at the hut, passing a national park sign along the way.

From the hut, to get to the eastern-most north-south ridge (the one we followed to the summit), carry on along the upper Genshi-ga-hara hiking trail for just under 2km. Just past a prominent gully, gain the ridge to the left. It’ll be a steep zig-zag to start with, before emerging onto a gently sloping plateau with frequent clearings. Follow the left (western) edge of this plateau as you climb. Gradually, this eastern-most north-south ridge will become more apparent. To the climber’s left, another viable north-south ridge will be visible. Depending on the snow conditions, either trudge up the icy ridge line, or zig-zag up the open face to the climber’s right of the ridge proper.

Eventually, you’ll be funneled up to a false summit at around 1540m. From here, the final approach to the summit ridge – and indeed the summit – will likely appear dauntingly steep and impassible. Proceed along the gently sloping ridgeline, and most skiers will find it practical to veer right from the ridge (to the north, away from the actual summit) to make a short, airy traverse and gain the main summit ridge. Once on the summit ridge, it is a short 400m gentle-then-steep skin to the summit. The final 250m climb to the summit proper is moderately steep, and may be icy/rimed. Be prepared to bootpack and/or use crampons.

We returned from the summit back to the false summit the way we had come. Near the false summit at around 1560m, we did a snow compression test on the face of the gloriously tempting south-facing bowl below the summit and found some marginally weak layers about 20cm down. We’d had at least three days of strong easterly winds with snow the previous few days, so opted to play it safe and ski the southeast face we’d skinned up instead. This southern bowl was likely to be even more wind-loaded further down due to the previous days’ easterly winds. Any avalanche on the south-facing bowl would be funneled deep into a rapidly tightening gully.

At the treeline at around 1360m, we veered off the southeast face into the main, wide southern gully, now well anchored with old-growth trees. We alternated between skiing the fall-line, traversing, and skiing the fall-line, eventually skiing all the way to the floor of the gully, and back to the summer trail. From the summer trail, it’s just possible to get back to the hut without skins. From the hut to the reservoir near the national park border, the road is steep enough to ski without skins. From the reservoir skins may be required, depending on the snow quality – with warmer temperatures we were able to get all the way back to the car without putting skins on.

Route Timing
Up | 5.5hrs
Down | 2.5hrs

Our route timings here assume you’re carrying (or pulling) overnight gear to the hut. If doing this as a daytrip, one might be able to shave off an hour or so. Either way, if attempting this route as a daytrip before mid-April, we’d strongly suggest starting well before daybreak (sunset is around 4:30pm in mid-winter).

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is roadside parking at the road-closed gate around here. Park well to the side of the road, and don’t park too close to the gate, as snow-clearing equipment uses this area to turn around. You may need to spend 15 minutes or so clearing your own parking space off the side of the road.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Honko (本幸) – map no. NK-54-7-8-4

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 requires alpine travel well above the treeline. On the descent, there are multiple opportunities to ski big lines on big, south-facing open slopes – do the appropriate tests to ascertain snow stability before attempting to ski these lines. Despite the peak’s low altitude, temperatures can drop to below -20°C. Prepare accordingly. This is a remote peak, with very limited overland access. Skiers must be experienced, well prepared, and very self-sufficient. There’s very limited mobile reception deep in the approach valley, so some sort of emergency GPS messenger is highly recommended.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Maefurano-dake
Onsen nearby

From the winter trailhead, the closest onsen is Furano La Terre (ふらのラテール, location, 980yen). It’s about 14km (20mins) from the trailhead. There’s indoor baths, a cave bath, outdoor baths – it’s a huge facility. It also has an attached restaurant. If you’re headed further into central Hokkaido, then it would be worth making the extra 20 minutes drive up the mountain to the Tokachi Onsen area. Ryounkaku (凌雲閣, location, 800yen) at the end of the road arguably has one of the most epic outdoor onsen views in Hokkaido. Of course there’s good old Hakuginso (白銀荘, see our post here, location is here, 700yen for a soak). And for the adventurous, there’s the Fukiage Onsen free wild onsen just down the road from Hakuginso (吹上温泉, location, free).

Extra Resources

Here’s a search for Maefurano-dake on Yamareco.com (in Japanese, requires free membership to view posts). You’ll see most people visit the peak in April.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Central Hokkaido together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks around Tokachi-dake, Asahi-dake, Sandan-yama and others. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan. 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

“There’s no firewood in the hut,” said an apologetic Furano City staff member on the phone. This was a year ago, March 2019. Hiro and I were all set to make the trek the hut, but at the last minute plans fell apart. We put Maefurano on the next-year list.

Fast forward to March 2020. Once again I called the Furano City Council to arrange to pick up the key. “I heard there’s a wood stove but no firewood in the hut,” I said to the Furano City staff member on the other end of the phone. “That’s right,” she said apologetically.

This wasn’t a deal-breaker. We knew that despite it being up to about 7km, the approach to the hut was on a road the whole way. We’d be able to pull sleds loaded up with firewood, enough for a couple of days. Hiro and I recruited two more unsuspecting guinea-pigs, and our merry troupe of firewood haulers was now four.

We arrived to the road-closed gate at 9:30am. We had just started unloading the sleds and gear when I realised I’d forgotten something important. “The hut key! I forgot to pick it up!” I exclaimed.

Luckily, the Furano City Council office where I was supposed to pick it up from was only 20 minutes drive away down the hill. We got all the gear unloaded from the car, and I left the boys to load up the sleds while I hightailed it back to Furano.

40 minutes later, I was back, just as the last of the sleds were being roped up and secured. Finally, at 10am, we were on our way.

The sleds were heavy. In total, we had just under 50kg of firewood split across the two lager sleds. Hiro had his own sleds – two smaller ones trailed behind each other. Probably the smarter choice. Tim, Jake and I decided to take turns hauling the heavy sleds. 30 minutes at a time, with 15 minutes break between each haul, rotating on tight shifts. The sleds were heavy, but the gradients so far were perfectly manageable. There was even some minor downhill.

After about 2km of relatively easy hauling, we turned onto the main hut access road, and things got a little more serious. We were now gaining altitude at a much faster pace, which slowed our forward progress somewhat. Far in the distance we could see our ultimate objective – Maefurano-dake – standing proud against a perfect blue sky. We put our heads down and kept hauling. The promise of having a roaring wood stove was more than enough of reward for the effort to get firewood up to the hut.

At a small reservoir dam, we were almost at the Daisetsuzan National Park border, and we only had another 1.5km or so to go to the hut. But once again, the angle of the road increased, and we were having to really lean into our packs to haul the heavy sleds up the slope. Left to their own devices, the sleds would happily slide backwards. We were well and truly working against gravity.

When we finally made it to the hut, it was a sight for sore eyes. Nestled into a clearing at the Genshi-ga-hara trailhead, it was forest cabin perfection. I unclipped my sled and hurried to get the hut unlocked.

“What the…?”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Very much contrary to what I’d been told on the phone by the Furano City Council staff member, the hut was full to the brim with firewood. Behind the hut were large cages full with extra firewood. There had to be about a cord of wood in the hut, and one and a bit cords of wood outside the hut.

The lads were stoic about the discovery. “I guess that’s our contribution to the hut,” chimed Tim. 

He was right. There was no fee for using the hut. We would end up leaving the bundles of wood we took to the hut in the hut wood pile.

We got the fire going and had lunch. With the window shutters open, the hut interior was bathed in glorious sunshine. It was the perfect stay-in-a-hut-in-the-woods weather. We were impressed with everything about the hut. There were clean toilets accessible from inside the hut, the stove was a beautiful cast iron affair, and the floor was covered with clean tatami.

That afternoon, we made the most of the rest of the daylight hours by going for a 2-hour skin up to the Genshi-ga-hara plateau. This vast marshland stretches most of the way along the southern side of the Daisetsuzan Range. We were at the very southern terminus.

As the light was fading, we skinned back to the hut, got the fire roaring again, and cooked dinner. Our plan was to make an attempt on Maefurano-dake the day after tomorrow – the forecast was for blustery easterlies tomorrow, but blue skies on our final day at the hut.

Fast-foward to our third and final day at the hut. The previous day we’d explored some interesting looking north-facing slopes at the foot of Dairoku-yama (大麓山) – route overview coming soon.

The preceding few days had seen us suffer on south-facing slopes. The snow on northern slopes was beautiful powder, but on southern aspects it was difficult breakable but variably breakable sun crust. This made us nervous about what we’d find on the expansive southern aspect face of Maefurano-dake. For me, if the lower reaches proved to be breakable crust, then so be it. It would be a miserable downhill ski, but we’d make do. It was the upper sections that had me more concerned. In the alpine, we had vast swaths of treeless slopes, some quite steep. If these were acres and acres of bulletproof rime and snow, we’d have little chance of getting anywhere near the summit – only I was carrying ski crampons.

We decided we’d skin most of the way towards Genshi-ga-hara, and if the snow looked too toublesome, we could always abort and explore some more of the northerly aspects of Dairoku-yama, on the other side of the marsh.

Soon after gaining the broad eastern-most ridge up Maefurano-dake, however, we started feeling glimmers of hope that we might actually make it a fair way up the mountain. We were breaking trail on the gently ascending plateau through gloriously soft powder snow. The previous few days’ snow had not been stripped off the mountain as we’d expected.

The soft layer of new snow remained most of the way up the ridge. To our joy, this made long sweeping upward traverses a breeze. We kept plenty of space between us all on these open slopes, but the snow felt solid and well consolidated underfoot.

Image by Hiro Miura

Even more exciting were the views that greeted us part way up the climb. We’d been climbing in on-and-off mist, but at around 1300m we finally got above a prominent inversion layer. Stretching to the northeast was the entirety of the Daisetsuzan Range, emerging out of a sea of clouds. We were all buzzing.

As promised by the topomap, we were soon funneled to a false peak, and from there we had a short flat ridge-line walk to a crux-like scramble onto the main summit ridge. Luckily the short traverse to the right was relatively soft underfoot. Had it been bullet-proof snow, it would have been a very risky crux, with a steep slope below.

On the summit ridge, Furano-dake sat in the distance behind us, and Maefurano-dake stood tall in front of us.

Image by Hiro Miura

The final push to the summit had looked insurmountably daunting from lower on the summit ridge. Approaching it, however, it looked more and more manageable. We were able to get up to the summit with the help of a few airy kick-turns on ever-hardening rimed snow. And then we were there. On top of the world 

Image by Hiro Miura

There was a stiff, cold breeze blowing at the very summit, so we only stayed for a few minutes before heading back down the way we came on the summit ridge. We scratched and scraped cautiously down the ridge, only opening things up once the snow finally started to soften up a bit.

Just below the crux-point, we stepped out on the the gloriously tempting south-facing bowl. The snow here was perfection, but the terrain was not confidence-inspiring. There was a convex roll heading down to the gully, and the easterly wind from the last few days had obviously loaded the slope further down. We dug a pit and did a compression test. On one light tap from the wrist, a 20cm layer of snow slipped a couple of millimeters. This was enough to convince us that we may as well ski the southeastern slope we’d skinned up. The snow wasn’t as good on that slope, but it was still not at all bad.  

Image by Hiro Miura
Image by Hiro Miura

In all the excitement of screaming down the mountain, I didn’t get any photos of the descent. Pure, unadulterated fun. We cut into the bowl slope just below the treeline, and continued down into the gully, weaving a perfect downward ski through the well-spaced trees.

“This was the best skiing I’ve done all season,” beamed Hiro.

“This is the best skiing I’ve done in my life,” gushed Tim.

Despite the warm temperatures, we had excellent skiing all the way back down to the summer trail. From there, we waddled up short inclines and roared down the skin track to the hut.

This was our last day at the hut, so we scoffed down some lunch, and cleaned up the hut. 

The return back to the car was surprisingly easy. There was plenty of angle to the road, enough that we could ski without skins, and let gravity do most of the work.

An absolute blast of a trip with another great crew.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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