Posted on Feb 8, 2020
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Posted on Feb 8, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
3.7km

Distance

3.5 hours

Time

431m

Ascent

1080m

Highest point

5.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Apr

Best season

There are 13 major peaks in the Niseko Range, and Nitonupuri (ニトヌプリ, 1080m) is the one of the lowest, tucked away behind an imposing false peak. Given the easy access to its lower flanks, however, Nitonupuri is one of the range's most popular for a relatively quick morning or afternoon ski. With two distinct 'steps' to the mountain, separated by a compact plateau, skiers can adjust plans on the fly according to conditions. The steep climb to the plateau, as well as the steep slope above it offer very good, lappable skiing potential. Our hot tip to Hokkaido Wilds readers is arrive early at the trailhead to avoid missing out on parking.

We visited this route on Jan 18, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

The summit of Nitonupuri is tucked away in the Niseko Range behind a false peak, in between the popular peaks of Iwaonupuri and Chisenupuri. The start of this route is at the closed winter gate near the turn off to Goshiki hot springs, on Route 66.

General notes

Nitonupuri means ‘the mountain with a forest’ in the Hokkaido indigenous Ainu language. The mountain is one of the many dormant volcanoes that make up the Niseko Range. The majority of this Nitonupuri summit route is most certainly more of a ski than a walk, with some fantastic downhill and lappable slopes both down below and up top. The final push to the true summit, however, does require some rather flat traversing. It’s likely that most skiers headed to the summit will leave their skins on for the return to below the false summit. That said, if the weather is good, it’s worth taking the extra 20 minutes or so to bag this minor peak on the Niseko Range. Good views are had down to the coast at Iwanai, east to Iwaonupuri and Annupuri, and west towards Chisenupuri.

  • Parking: Parking is an ongoing issue at the Nitonupuri start point (around here). See our transport notes below for details.
Hut

None

Route details

The first step in making a successful attempt on Nitonupuri is get to the trailhead early. Not because this is a long, arduous route, but because this route has one of the most popular, crowded trailheads in the Niseko Range, with no cleared parking. If you arrive any later than around 9am, you may find the only parking available is on the roadside, which is technically illegal. See vehicle access notes below. Having arrived nice and early in your prime parking position, gear up and start skinning up Route 66 beyond the closed (probably buried) gate. In around 250m, you’ll come across a large road sign, just beyond the bridge. Cut up the steep slope to the right of the road, and zigzag your way up to the 874m plateau. If the weather is foul, this may be about as far as you get up Nitonupuri. This first slope below the plateau is prime lapping terrain, however, so you’ll still have plenty of fun keeping low in the trees.

If the weather allows it, push on across the plateau, and ascend up the looker’s left ridge of the headwall. From here it’s a 100m climb up to a knob on the ridge. Past the knob is another 60m or so of vertical climb, before starting a low-angle contour around the left of the false peak (also referred locally to the Nitonupuri South Peak). Don’t be tempted to climb all the way up the false peak, as you’ll only need to descend down the other side in order to get to the Nitonupuri Summit. Follow the contours around until the last small push to the summit. This route returns the way it came.

Route Timing
Up | 2.5hrs
Down | 1hrs

Expect about 2.5 hours in total for the skin up, and 1 hour back down.

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is a small area at the end of the snowclearing around here, where four or five cars can fit without having to park on the side of the road along Route 66. If this small area is already full, you may see others parked on the side of the road, hard up against the snowbanks on the left side of Route 66. Technically, this is illegal for a number of reasons – parking within the lane, parking too close to an intersection, etc. It can also effectively reduce Route 66 to one lane, causing traffic headaches. While we haven’t heard of vehicles being towed, please obey any signs posted, and always make as much effort as possible to not obstruct traffic. As backcountry user numbers continue to increase, we hope to see a feasible solution. In the meantime, however, it’s up to users to make good decisions and be careful not to cause inconvenience to others.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-4

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

The main point of concern on this route is the steep first slope from the road. While the route outlined here traverses relatively well anchored snow, there are clearer areas which skiers should be aware of. The Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guidebook mentions there was a large avalanche below the plateau (around here) in 2009, resulting in four people buried – all rescued, but there were injuries (see the report here). This risk is manageable – keep abreast of current avalanche conditions by checking the Niseko Avalanche Information website and making your own in-the-field observations. Also note that this route is very much the backcountry – it is not patrolled, and there is no avalanche control. All skiers should be proficient in navigating on their own, have their own avalanche rescue equipment, and be versed in its use. Also note that despite its relative low height of 1080m, like other mountains in Hokkaido, temperatures can plunge to -20°C with windchill – always err on the side of bringing that extra puffer jacket.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Nitonupuri
Onsen nearby

The natural choice for a post-ski natural hot spring soak is Yukichichibu (雪秩父, location, 700yen). With both indoor and outdoor pools, this large onsen hotspring facility is a popular place. It’s known for its volcanic mud infused outdoor pools. They’ve also got an attached restaurant open from 11:30am till 3pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

Extra Resources

See the write-up in the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guidebook, p. 234 to 237.

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

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 238 (translated by Hokkaido Wilds)

Sitting between Iwaonupuri and Chisenupuri in the Niseko Range, few hikers go to the peak in summer. Nitonupuri is somewhat of an unknown hill, known only to the backcountry freaks*. However, the lower stage of the route is on a steep avalanche-prone slope, and the upper alpine slopes are often plagued by wind-affected snow. Route-finding can be difficult in low visibility conditions, so this a peak best enjoyed with an experienced buddy on a fine day.

*Hokkaido Wilds editor’s note: this was written around 2010…much has changed since then.

The forecast was for a windless, blue-sky day in Niseko, so I dropped everything and committed to a 5am start from Sapporo, to get to the Nitonupuri trailhead before the inevitable crowds. All going well, I’d make it a double today – the stretch goal was to bag both the Nitonupuri and Shakunage-dake peaks in the one day.

The 5am departure from Sapporo paid off, and I was kitted up, ready to hit the skin track by 8:30am. At this point, there were only a few cars parked, all crammed into the small snow-cleared space in front of the Route 66 winter gate.

On the ski track, it was a quick 5 minute blat along the road to the first big road sign after the bridge. Here, I cut up onto the slope. Ahead of me was a group of four university students, one of them clearly a first-timer on skis in the backcountry. He was struggling with the kickturns. I followed up behind them on their skin track, but veered hard around to the left when I saw them struggling through a thicket of brush. The low snow year meant there was still a lot of brush and sasa exposed.

My strategy of making a long traversing zig around the thicket of brush paid off, and I was up and past this minor crux well before the students had managed to drag themselves through the messy tangle of bush. By the time I was at the 874m plateau, I was about 20 minutes ahead of the official guidebook time for the route so far. Despite the low snow, surface conditions were looking good, and the going was relatively easy. To the left I could see Chisenupuri standing up proud.

While the route marked in the guidebook takes the left flank of the compact bowl at the head of the plateau, I was following a faint, snowed in skin track which headed up the right side, and across the face of the bowl. In a heavier snow season, I would have taken the left spur, but with plenty of bush still exposed on the face of the bowl, I followed the skin track, enjoying at least some firm base underfoot, despite the skin track being covered with a good 15cm of fresh, light powder.

It didn’t take long to get to the knob at about 970m. Looking back on the plateau, I could see the straggly group of students plodding about deciding which way to go. I watched them as I chowed down on a dorayaki snack. They eventually followed my tracks up the way I came.

Another 15 minutes or so of zig-zagging up the slope had me starting to wrap around the left side of the southern minor peak of Nitonupuri. Here, I had my first glimpse of the northern, true summit of Nitonupuri. A little further around gave me views of Iwaonupuri to the east, and the Japan Sea coast at Iwanai to the northwest. Despite now being in the alpine, the surface conditions were great, with a good 15-20cm of light, fluffy powder on top of a well consolidated base.

I’d mis-judged my traverse up and around the western flanks of the false peak, and ended up higher up than I needed to be. So I had to skin downhill to the saddle, before making the final push up to the peak proper. The snow here was less fluffy and more hard-packed. The views from the summit were great. Chisenupuri and Shakunage-dake to the west, and Iwanupuri and Annupuri to the east. Weisshorn stood broad and low to the northeast, and there were great views out to the sea. I could see large groups of skiers on both Chisenupuri and Iwaonupuri.

With the grand goal of also scaling Shakunage-dake today, I forewent a blat down the western slope below the summit. With less ambitious goals for the day, this would have been a nice slope to ski, and then climb back up for the final descent down the southern face of the false peak.

So I kept my skins on for the traverse back to the main south face of Nitonupuri. Once at the top of my descent, I could see more punters making their way across the plateau. At the trailhead, there was already a long line of cars parked up against the side of the road.

The descent down the south face of the false peak was fantastic. This being a rare solo mission for me, there’ll be no photographic evidence of such, but it was good for at least 15 turns, all the way to the plateau below. I was able to avoid putting skins on for the short blat across the plateau, before the final steep downhill stretch down to the road. Exposed sasa and brush made choosing one’s line more of a strategic challenge, but I can see why this slope could be an awesome spot for hot laps, even in relatively foul weather.

For the more acrobatic skiers out there, this seemingly perfectly angled tree is here.

Back at the trailhead, the parking situation was, for want of a better phrase, orderly bedlam and well-behaved chaos. Route 66 was well and truly reduced to one lane. Later that week I saw a post in one of the local Niseko backcountry Facebook groups about police posting warnings on vehicles at the trailhead. Some screenshots of some of the sentiment below.

My feeling is that there needs to be some long term solution to the issue of parking at backcountry access points around Hokkaido. Here at the Hokkaido Wilds we’ll be very quick to point out that until late January 2020, we didn’t have any Niseko range backcountry skiing routes posted on our website. Despite this, according to anecdotal reports from locals in the area, the last three or four years has seen an exponential growth in backcountry users in the area. For Hokkaido – one of the most rapidly depopulating areas of Japan – this can be a great thing for the local economy (caveats about foreign capital aside). It also means some pretty big potential paradigm changes to how the backcountry is perceived locally – hopefully in a positive direction.   

In the mean time, like all backcountry routes on our site, it’s important at least for backcountry users to be aware of the state of flux and growing pains some backcountry areas are experiencing, and being sensitive of ensuring they don’t block access or cause grievances.

See our tips around backcountry etiquette here: https://hokkaidowilds.org/hokkaido-ski-touring-etiquette

Here’s some alternative routes to try if you find parking backed up too much at this Nitonpuri trailhead.

  • Iwaonupuri – A quick 4.5km drive up towards Goshiki Onsen from the Route 66 turn-off.
  • Chisenupuri South Face – There’s a large car park at the Chisenupuri ski area. Note that by 10am on weekends, this car park can get very full.
  • Mekunnai-dake – Arguably one of the best, most magestic peaks in the Niseko Range. Note, however, that there’s now an extra 4km skin to Niimi Onsen – the road is no longer cleared.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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