Posted on Jan 20, 2021
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Posted on Jan 20, 2021

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Reading time: 4 min
7.5km

Distance

4 hours

Time

580m

Ascent

796m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Otoe-yama 音江山 (795m) is one of the three main peaks in the compact Irumukeppu volcanic group just southeast of Fukagawa City. With a broad and steep north facing slope, the mountain is popular among backcountry skiers seeking good dry powder snow in the area. With plenty of terrain to ski, the slopes hold up well even under busy weekend traffic. The peak allows views across the Ishikari River plain below, and across to the Shokanbetsu-dake 暑寒別岳 in the Mashike range to the northwest.

We visited this route on Jan 11, 2021

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Otoe-yama is the western-most peak of the Irumukeppu volcanic group southwest of Asahikawa City in northern central Hokkaido. This route up the northern flanks of the mountain starts a few kilometers past an underpass under the Doo Expressway, here.

General notes

Otoe-yama has long been known as a bastion of good powder skiing relatively close to Hokkaido’s two largest cities of Sapporo and Asahikawa. Some might be put off by the 1hr+ gradual approach to the base of the northern-aspect slope proper. But those who do put in the effort are rewarded by a large acreage of downhill skiing area. Slope angle varies from very steep just north of the summit, to nicely mellow further northwest along the summit ridge. On all slopes, the old-growth forest consists of well-spaced trees.

Hut

None

Route details

Start from the end of the snow-clearing, about 800m beyond the expressway underpass. With skis and skins on, the remaining 1km along the uncleared forestry road is a gradual climb, and will take about 20 minutes. The forestry road continues straight on across a bridge, but here, veer right onto the summer hiking trail. Climb in earnest now towards the low saddle indicated on the map. From the saddle at 380m, contour around the western side of the ridge, aiming to keep a very gradual incline as you aim for the stream crossing at around 495m in altitude. Other ski tracks may drop from the saddle more directly to the gully floor and then making the climb to the 500m stream crossing. This will, however, require bootpacking back up on the return. From the stream crossing at 495m, zig-zag your way up the 300m or so of vertical to the summit ridge. If the weather is favourable, carry on to the summit, or just lap the slope you just climbed. Return via your up-track.

Route Timing
Up | 2.5hrs
Down | 1hrs

Expect between 2-3hrs on the ascent, depending on how much trail-breaking you need to do. The descent can be quite quick, but depends on how much you avoid dropping down into the gully on the ascent (this will require bootpacking or re-applying skins on the return). The 1km forestry road on the return is steep enough to allow easy poling back to the cars.

Transport

Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car: 

There is ample parking at the end of the snowclearing, about 800m beyond the expressway underpass, here. Note, however, that this parking area extends into private property. On weekends there shouldn’t be any issue, but if visiting during the week, make an effort to talk to any workers present to ask where you can park your car.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Irumukeppuyama (イルムケップ山) – map no. NK-54-7-15-3
Official Topo Map 2: Ishikarifukagawa (石狩深川) – map no. NK-54-7-14-4

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 approach to the norther slopes is quite sheltered on this route, but once up on the summit ridge, skiers will be very exposed to the elements – despite the relatively low altitude of the peak, expect extremely low temperatures with wind chill. Skiers should also be very careful about checking snowpack stability before skiing the open areas on the northern slopes.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Otoe-yama
Onsen nearby

Just 10 minutes drive from the trailhead is the beautiful Fukagawa Irumu-no-yu 深川イルムの湯 (location, 500yen). There’ve got fantastic outdoor baths (including solo tubs), an attached restaurant, and local produce for sale.

Extra Resources

On the same day as we were on the mountain, the folk from HokkaiCamp.com also visited Otoe-yama. See their post here.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore areas north of Sapporo together with a local certified guide, get in touch with either Wataru Nara or Takao Miyashita. They’re both born-and-bred Sapporo-based guides. They both cut their teeth on peaks including those in northern Hokkaido, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido. 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

For weekend warriors from Sapporo City, accessible backcountry routes with reliable powder snow are relatively limited, particularly if one doesn’t want to commit to a long drive to the Niseko area. Jozankei and the surrounding area have some excellent options (see the routes here), but north of Sapporo is limited to Horokanai (see those routes here).

Somewhere in between Sapporo and Horokanai, however, lies the often over-looked Irumukeppu volcanic group near Fukagawa City. We finally made it there this season, and it did not disappoint. 1.5 hours on the expressway, and you’re right there.

Haidee and I had spent the night in Hokuryu town nearby, and made it to the trailhead at 7am. At that point we were the only ones in the car park, but there was a faint skin track visible on the uncleared road heading towards the mountain. It was cold. Haidee’s thermometer was registering -15°C. 

I sent up the drone for some trailhead shots, but quickly regretted it. Standing in the cold, my fingers were freezing.

Haidee wisely hurried on ahead of me to keep warm. By the time I had caught up with her, I almost had feeling returned to my fingers.

It was easy going along the faint skin track. We were grateful for it – stepping off the skin track reminded us just how deep and soft the snow was. It would have been much slower going without a solid track under our feet.

Soon we arrived at the summer trail head. The summer sign was still visible. Later in the season I imagine it would probably end up buried. There was a faint skin track carrying on up the forestry road, but we decided to stick to the plan and follow the more well-travelled trail up to the saddle.

It’s an interesting route, this one. It involves crossing a low ridge to access the higher main ridge further on. But if one makes a careful contour around the far side of the minor ridge, one can avoid having any climbing to do on the return. That’s the only tricky bit about this route, but not a fatal one. Even if one follows all the ski tracks down to the gully floor after the saddle, you’ll still make it to the base of the main slopes.

After questioning our decision to take the contour route to the stream crossing, we finally made it and joined up with the main up-track again. From here, we made the final long slog up the main northern-aspect slope. Once again, we were happy to be following an established (albeit half-buried) skin track. The soft, dry powder was deep.

At the summit ridge, we were greeted by a stiff, frigid wind. We donned our goggles and pushed on the final few hundred meters to the summit. Despite a clear-sky start, we were not graced with good views at the top. We made a hasty transition and headed on down.

I was having too much fun on the steep powdery slopes to take any photos of the descent. Sublime.

Our careful contouring on the ascent paid off on the descent – dodging sticks and branches along the way, we were able to mostly coast along our up-track with no side-stepping required.

Considering we only saw one other person on the mountain (a solo snow-shoer) we were very surprised to see a full carpark when we arrived back at the car. It was a Monday on a long weekend, so it seemed we were not the only ones seeking the famous Otoe-yama pow.

I recognized the red x-Trail to belong to an acquaintance, and sure enough a few days later he posted his report from their trip to Otoe-yama:  http://hokkaicamp.com/yama/2021/0111/index.html

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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