Posted on Feb 1, 2021
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Posted on Feb 1, 2021
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7.7km

Distance

4.5 hours

Time

681m

Ascent

1301m

Highest point

6.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Shirai-dake 白井岳 (1301m) has been long known as a magnet for backcountry skiers, with relatively easy access and great snow. Its northern aspect slopes offer a great variety of spurs lower down, and some spectacular lappable terrain further up. Given its close proximity to Sapporo Kokusai Ski area, the peak gets a fair amount of traffic. Given the sheer acreage of terrain below the summit, however, there's plenty of untracked snow to go around.

We visited this route on Jan 23, 2021

Last updated Apr 2, 2021

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Shirai-dake sits to the south-southwest of Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area, about 1 hour drive from central Sapporo. The peak sits at the far southern end of a long horse-shoe ridge arcing southwards from Asari-dake 朝里岳 above the ski area. The start of the route is just south of the main ski area buildings at the base of the slopes, around here.

General notes

Given its proximity to the Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area, one would be forgiven for thinking that you could just ride the lifts to the top of the ski area, scooch over to Shirai-dake, and ski down. The reality is that it’s actually quite a long way from Asari-dake to Shirai-dake along the horseshoe ridge, to the tune of almost 2 hours, not including the climb from the top lift station (which is, at any rate, frowned upon). The hike from the base of the ski area up the Asaridake-sawa gully is really quite picturesque, however, and is very much worth it in its own right.

Note that you’ll be sharing the Asaridake-sawa gully with ski area punters descending the side-country on the southern aspect slopes off the ski area. Climbers should take caution and make way for skiers descending. While you might start wondering why you didn’t just take the lifts up and ski those southern-aspect slopes, rest assured that you’ll be getting the goods – the northern aspect slopes below Shirai-dake is where the good snow is at, only available to those who earn their turns.

  • Snowbridges: This route crosses the Asaridakesawa-gawa creek a number of times. Snow bridges may not be fully formed early in the season, so take care.
Hut
None
Route details

The topography of the northern slopes of Shirai-dake lends itself to a number of ascent and descent options. In this post, we outline the route most commonly traveled; skiers may see pink tape tied to trees along the way. On any given day, however, skiers are likely to see a number of other skin tracks heading up the numerous spurs and gullies. As always, we highly recommend the use of GPS navigation apps on a smartphone (see our list here), with official Japan topomaps pre-loaded for offline viewing.

Start at the Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area car park, and make your way past the southern side of the lower gondola station via the staff car parking area. Head due southwest along the Shiraidake-sawa stream, following the bottom of the gully. Watch out for skiers descending from the ski area sidecountry – they have the right of way. You’ll cross the stream two times along this pleasant wooded gully.

At around 730m, head left into a very steep-sided gully, cutting a traverse along the base of the slope just above the gully floor, for about 200m. The route soon climbs out of the gully to gain the spur on the looker’s right. The topomap shows a labyrinth of mild spurs headed up the mountain. They all end up in the same place eventually, so keep an eye on your location and head uphill, favouring looker’s left rather than right. About 1/3 of the way up, the forest thins somewhat, with brush replaced by well-spaced old-growth white birch.

At around 1100m, you’ll make the final push to the summit ridge connecting Shirai-dake and Asari-dake. There may be a small cornice to navigate, and the ridge will likely be windy. From gaining the ridge to the summit is another 20 minutes of mostly flat walking, with no meaningful skiing to be had. If the weather is horrid on the ridge, there’s nothing lost by ripping skins at the ridge and making the descent from there. Descend the way you came. Take care not to ski directly along gully floors, as snow bridges over creeks may not support skiers in places.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 1hrs

Transport

Public transport:

There are regular buses from Sapporo City to Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area. See access details on their website here. From Sapporo JR train station it takes 1.5hrs and costs 1,300yen one way. Note that ski boots cannot be worn in the bus. In the past we’ve just worn our ski boot liners in the bus (with plastic bags over them to keep them dry).

By car:

There’s ample parking in the ski area car parking. During the weekends, get there early (before 8:30am), as the upper car parks fill up quickly with punters from the city.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Yoichidake (余市岳) – map no. NK-54-14-14-4

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).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is North. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Shiribeshi area, consider looking at the Japan Avalanche Network weekly avalanche bulletins or the daily Niseko Avalanche Information website. These may give extra insight into avalanche conditions in the greater area around the route.

Snow and
route safety

Despite this route’s proximity to the ski area, this is very much uncontrolled, unpatrolled, unmaintained backcountry. It is far removed even from the ski area side-country. Climbers should carry avalanche rescue equipment and be versed in its use. The numerous gullies along the route present terrain-trap hazard risks, as well as thin snow bridges over the creeks; avoid these where possible. The upper portion of the large bowl to the looker’s left of this route (to the direct north of the summit) is known avalanche terrain. As mentioned above, given the number of spurs and gullies along the way, navigation can be confusing at times – carry a map, compass, and GPS-enabled device.

Shirai-dake Ski Touring Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

B

35

Time ascending

C

3

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

C

6

Navigation

B

12

Totals

66/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shirai-dake
Onsen nearby

For those accessing the route from Sapporo, you’ll be returning to the city via the Jozankei onsen area. There’s a number of options, including Yu-no-hana 湯の花 (location, 850yen), a large onsen complex with good views of the Jozankei river gorge from the outdoor baths. They also have a large, airy, open restaurant/lounge area. Closer to Sapporo City is also the more down-do-earth Matsu-no-yu 松の湯 (location, 650yen), right next to the Toyohira River. They also have a small restaurant, plus lovely views of the river gorge from the outdoor baths.

Extra Resources

See p. 126-129 of the Hokkaido Ski Touring Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド (in Japanese) for a detailed overview of the route.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other hills around 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 around Sapporo City, 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

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 126 (translated by Hokkaido Wilds)

Shirai-dake is a well-loved peak by many skiers, who would use Helvetia Hut as their base. Shirai-dake makes up one of the “Yoichi Three-Peaks”, made up of Shirai-dake, Yoichi-dake, and Asari-dake. The whole area is prone to strong winter storms, but it gets a lot of snowfall, and skiers can expect good powder snow.

I’d been itching to get to Shira-dake this season for a while. Unlike the rest of Hokkaido, however, reports from friends suggested a lower-than-usual snowfall this season around Sapporo Kokusai Ski Area and Kiroro. “Word is that Shirai-dake is still a bit bushy,” said Greg a few weeks ago.

It was now a few weeks on, and we had a Saturday to kill. As bushy as it might be, I was keen to check this route out. In the past, it had always been relegated to the “it’s so close to home that we could do it any time” bin. Hence we’d never been there. Today, however, would be the day.

Haidee, Simon, Alex and I arranged to meet at the ski area car park at 8:30am. As a last-minute ring-in, Sean also joined in for the hike. Chris’s car was in getting it’s bi-annual shaken (registration and warrant of fitness) done, so Haidee and I were in a rental Nissan Leaf 100% electric car (see our thoughts on the car here).

We started out walking through what seemed to be the staff car parking area. This got us to the gully that Alex, Simon and Sean were familiar with from their past side-country escapades. “We’ve often eyed up the northern aspect slopes on the other side of the gully,” mentioned Simon. “They’re not really accessible from the ski area sidecountry, so we’re really looking forward to checking them out.”

As we ascended the clearly well-traveled gully-floor skin track, we had to jump out of the way of the first of the side-country punters from the ski area as they hurtled down in a hurry for their second lap. Soon enough, however, we cut off the main Asaridakesawa-kawa gully into an even tighter, steeper gully. At this point, we were consciously choosing to follow an established ski track, rather than the guidebook up-track I’d marked as a GPS route from the Hokkaido Ski Touring Guidebook. It appeared this skin track was following one of the descent options marked in the guidebook, however, so we went with it.

The initial narrow gully was a bit disconcerting, with its very steep walls, but the skintrack soon climbed up and onto one of the spurs on the looker’s right.

I remarked to Sean that the route was all rather bushy. “On a normal season, most of this would be covered,” he replied. “Strange that Niseko and Central have been getting buckets of snow, but just this small area around Sapporo Kokusai has been left out somewhat.”

It was still only mid-January though. In most years around Sapporo City, realistically the hills are only fully filled up reliably from February onwards.

That said, as we climbed, the slopes we were on became more and more appealing for the downhill. The snow underfoot was soft on top, with a firmer base. It was going to be very easy skiing.

We were following an old skin track that had clearly had at least one other person on it today. It faithfully followed a series of pink tape ties to trees.

Eventually we caught up to the person who was ahead of us. It was an older gentleman, getting ready to ski back down. “This is about as far enough for me today,” he said cheerfully. “You guys enjoy the rest of the climb!”

This was at around 1100m, and it wasn’t long before we climbed through the final stand of dwarf white birch and onto the summit ridge.

As anticipated, the wind was whipping across the ridge, so we all suited up in goggles and extra layers. Far in the distance, the ski area was in sight. Thankfully we were now far enough away, with the wind blowing in the opposite direction, that the inane synthesized jingles and soulless announcements from the ski area loudspeakers were now inaudible.

Looking towards Asari-dake to the north, we could see a gaggle of more than ten snowshoers, slowly making their way along the ridge in our direction. We could only assume they’d come up from the ski area lift. To the east we could see the summit of Shirai-dake.

Amazingly, it was blue skies. We’d climbed mostly with a light snow falling, and had had very little expectation of any sort of a view – or visibility for that matter – from the top. With the perfect visibility, we now had a renewed motivation to get to the summit before the weather packed it in again.

The summit was broad and flat, and we spent little time hanging about before we ripped skins and headed down.

I’d been lamenting for a while that most of my posts here on Hokkaido Wilds didn’t have much downhill actions shots, so I attached my GoPro to my backpack shoulder strap, set the 4K movie to super high quality, and set it running. This allowed me to grab a few frames from the footage later.

Simply put, the downhill was sublime for the top half, and manageable for the second half. Had there been a couple more meters of base covering the brush, it would have been sublime all the way down. I made a mental note to come back later in the season.

The downhill was over, as always, far too soon. We soon found ourselves scooting along the mellow gradient of the main gully floor. And then we were spat out into the gaudy, blaring mass of humanity that is the ski area. It was a shock after the relative calm and tranquility of the untamed hills.

I’d finally experienced the well known and well skied Shirai-dake, and I can see the appeal. We’ll be back for sure.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Shirai-dake Ski Touring Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

B

35

Time ascending

C

3

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

C

6

Navigation

B

12

Totals

66/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.