Posted on Feb 25, 2019
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Posted on Feb 25, 2019

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Reading time: 5 min
12km

Distance

5 hours

Time

674m

Ascent

842m

Highest point

6/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Feb-Apr

Best season

"Enjoy a 3km downhill run," boasts the guidebook. One needs little more encouragement than this to head up Horonai-yama (幌内山, 842m) only 30 minutes drive south from Niseko Hirafu. The views from the unassuming peak are stellar - Yotei, Konbu-dake, the entire Niseko Range, and then the Pacific Ocean and Kariba-yama to the west. The route itself consists of a very low-angle broad ridge, so would be perfect for a conservative day trip when steeper slopes in the Niseko region have elevated levels of instability. There's no summer trail, so put this on your winter list!

Many thanks to Chris Auld for putting us up at his Rankoshi cabin the night before our trip up Horonai-yama!

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This route up Horonai-yama in Rankoshi Town (Niseko area) starts about 10km south of Konbu Station on the JR Hakodate Line. The trailhead is here, just north of the Shinkansen tunnel construction on Route 34.

General notes

When it is possible to skin straight up a ridge with little to no zig-zagging – as is the case with Horonai-yama’s eastern ridge – the mind starts wondering if all the effort is going to result in some decent downhill skiing. It was very early spring when we visited, so I needn’t have worried – the promised 3km downhill ski was mellow but sustained and plenty of fun. I’d therefore position Horonai-yama as a great route for when the slope stability on steeper terrain in the Niseko region is less stable than normal, but the weather is otherwise clear. It is the conservative choice that will ensure an enjoyable day out, even for a party with relative beginner backcountry skiers. Note however that the upper reaches are relatively featureless, so your navigation skills will need to be on point, and this route would best be avoided in low visibility conditions. Also note that this is a very seldom-frequented peak, so you’ll be very alone. The climb up is also a solid four-hour plus trek, so best to start early.

Hut

None

Route markers

This route is not marked.

Route Timing
Up | 4hrs
Down | 1hrs

Allow about 4 hours from the forestry road entrance (here) to the summit, and another 1 hour back down. On the descent, from the creek-crossing at around 200m in altitude you’ll likely want to put your skins back on for the final walk along the forestry road back to the main Route 34.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

There is no parking at the trailhead (here). Therefore, either park in the first construction carpark, at an intersection here, or at the turn-around spot further up the road, here. In either case, expect around 5 minutes walking along the side of the main road from the car to the trailhead.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shiribeshitachikawa (後志立川) – map no. NK-54-20-8-4

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

The main safety concern on this route is ending up on the wrong ridge on the descent. Make sure to keep to the main broad eastern ridge – the same as you came up on. Also take care in low visibility conditions. The main ridge is broad and undefined at times.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Rankoshi Horonai-yama
Onsen nearby

The closest onsen is Yusenkaku Onsen next to Konbu JR Station (幽泉閣, 500yen), about 10km north along Route 34 from the trailhead.

Extra Resources
  • See the write-up (in Japanese) on p. 278-281 of the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047).

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.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

There are other mountains with the name ‘Horonai-yama’, so we’ll call this one Rankoshi Horonai-yama. To the south of the Niseko Range, there’s a southern massif that boasts only one peak – Konbu-dake – with a summer trail. Therefore, this range of southward mountains is relatively unknown among mountain goers. Horonai-yama doesn’t have a summer trail, so it is a winter-only peak. However, the 360-degree views are top-class. You can see the Niseko Range, Yotei-zan, Horohoro-yama, Orofure-yama, and also the Japan Sea and Pacific Ocean. The mellow eastern ridge from the summit is a slope that even beginners will comfortably have fun on.

Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 278.

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.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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