It was somewhat of a last-minute decision to ski Horonai-yama on this particular weekend. I was looking at the weather forecast for various locations around Hokkaido for the weekend, and despite overall clear weather, the only places that wouldn’t be blowing a 100km/h plus gale seemed to be either the Shiretoko Peninsula (about 7 hours drive away) or the Niseko area. So Niseko it was.
And it was the guidebook’s promise of a 3km downhill that clinched it for us. Views plus an easy, long downhill…weekend plans were sorted. We were very grateful to fellow backcountry explorer Chris for putting us up for the night in his cabin just down the road in Rankoshi – this made the 7:30am start at the trailhead much less painful had we been traveling from Sapporo in the morning.
Once at the trailhead, we started looking around for parking spots. The guidebook mentions that it is possible to dig out a space on the side of the road next to the trailhead and park there. But with the amount of snow present, this would have taken far longer than driving the 400m down the road to a parking area next to a minor road junction (here), and walking from there. This worked out fine, and we enjoyed the crisp spring-like morning walk along the side of the road.
Interestingly, the trailhead is currently very close to a large construction area. They seem to be working on a tunnel, presumably for the shinkansen bullet train. The shinkansen is slated to arrive into Sapporo, via Niseko, by the year 2030.
We trod on by, up and over the forestry road that skirts around the side of the hill and along the Konbu River. At the first fork in the road, we carried on downhill, towards the river – we’d definitely be needing our skins on again at some point on the return. Soon enough, we came into the clearing marked on the map and carried on towards the small Horonai-dai-2-gawa creek. We had to get creative here, as the shallow ford was not covered over. Haidee found some downed trees further downstream that we were able to cross over.
It felt like proper spring conditions. Not super hard and crusty, not corn, just nice firm packed snow. We continued up according to the route on the map, cutting up the short section of narrow ridge from the creek to a dogleg in the forestry road above. From there we were following the forestry road till around the 330m point, where we started our climb up the mellow eastern ridge in earnest.
Apparently this ridge was once clear-felled, hence the wide open spaces and relative lack of trees. The whole way up, there was never really anything steep to speak of. I secretly felt happy that we weren’t breaking trail through knee-deep powder.
It wasn’t long before we turned around and were taken aback at the view. Mt. Yotei stared at us through the trees. An absolute treat. At places, the white birch re-growth was a bit thick, but this was limited to some certain locations.
With not a hint of anyone else around, we were feeling very lucky to essentially have a 3km naturally groomed ski field all to ourselves. The trees continued to thin out as we climbed, until we were atop Horonai-yama’s unassuming peak with magnificent 360-degree views.
There was a stiff, cold wind blowing at the very summit, so we didn’t waste much time in getting geared up for the downhill. A glorious, sustained almost-groomed 3km run was waiting, all to ourselves. It was never anything steep, but just what the doctor ordered on a day where nothing this side of Sapporo City had any fresh soft snow.
We cleaned up the downhill in just over 30 minutes. Back at the creek, we stopped to put the skins back on for the trek back to the trailhead. We were already stripping off layers – has spring come early this year, we wondered.