Posted on Mar 3, 2022
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Posted on Mar 3, 2022
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8km

Distance

3.5 hours

Time

675m

Ascent

959m

Highest point

4.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Shirakaba-yama 白樺山 (954m) is a minor peak in the center of the Niseko Range in southwestern Hokkaido. This is the most common way to get to the peak in winter, via the mellow northern ridge. Family-friendly, more of a walk than a ski, it's a perfect peak for those just getting their feet wet navigating, skiing, and exploring the backcountry. There is even a couple of fun, steeper-pitch sections on the descent that will keep the freerider in you happy. The peak offers inspiring views to Mekunnai-dake in the west, and Chisenupuri to the east, plus the Japan Sea coast to the northwest.

We visited this route on Mar 05, 2022

The crew: HaideeSaokaTim, Madoka, Timbah, Tom.

Last updated Mar 10, 2022

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Shirakaba-yama sits in between Chisenupuri and Mekunnai-dake in the Niseko Range in southwestern Hokkaido. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the bustling international ski resort of Niseko. This ski touring route starts on the northern side of the range, at the end of the snow clearing, near the Kyowa Town incinerator facility, here.

General notes

Given how minor this peak is compared to its towering, free-ride oriented neighbours, it’s easy to write Shirakaba-yama off. However, this northern ridge route up the mountain fills a unique niche among Niseko Range peaks. For less experienced downhill skiers, it’s a wonderful peak to get acquainted with the concept of skiing in deep powder, because the steeper sections are short and manageable. For the less experienced backcountry navigator, it’s the perfect peak to hone one’s map-reading skills – there are a number of features along the way to keep things interesting. There’s also a short alpine section that will hone one’s decision-making skills in less than ideal weather. For more experienced backcountry skiers, this is a great option for those stormy days when you just want to get out and stretch the legs. We’d hardly put this on a must-ski list for backcountry skiers tight on time in the area, but for anyone else, it’s simply one of the most fun and chill peaks in the range.

  • Shirakaba: Shirakaba 白樺 means Japanese white birch (images here).
Hut
None
Route details

Park up well to the side of Route 66 at the end of the snow clearing at Kyowa-cho Oikomi 744-1 Gate 共和町老古美744-1ゲート. Avoid parking in the large cleared area on the east side of the road – this is a turn-around area for snowploughs. Skin south along Route 66 for about 750m, leaving the road where it bends to the west. Carry on south up the broad northern ridge through tight stands of spruce changing to nicely spaced old-growth white and gold birch. You may see sporadic pink tape marking a route, but don’t rely on these – they are few and far between.

The first destination for the climb is the first crossing of the snowed-in Route 66. Just below this crossing at around 500m altitude is a short, 75m slope that is perfect for lapping. In heavier weather, this short slope is a decent final destination for the day in its own right. From the start of the route, it’s about a 1 hour hike to this point.

From the Route 66 crossing, it’s another 1.5 hours to the summit. The broad ridge is tight with younger white birch for a few hundred meters before opening up to a beautiful mellow slope with well-spaced trees. This slope continues at an even pitch to the broad alpine saddle above the treeline between the minor 931m peak to the east and the main Shirakaba-yama peak at 954m. Take care here in low visibility as it could be easy to get disoriented – keep an eye on your map and position.

The summit gives fine views across to Mekunnai-dake 目国内岳, Shakunage-dake シャクナゲ岳, and Chisenupuri チセヌプリ. Return the way you came.

Route Timing
Up | 2.5hrs
Down | 0.5hrs

The timing above assumes a peak-hunt mission with no lapping of the better skiing slopes on the way down.

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car:

Parking is on the side of Route 66, about 100m north of the Kyowa-cho Oikomi 744-1 Gate 共和町老古美744-1ゲート, just across the road from the Kyowa refuse incinerator facility. While it’s technically illegal to park on the side of the road, it’s common practice in winter – as a courtesy, spend about 15 minutes to clear enough snow to get your car a few meters more off the road. Avoid parking in the large snow plough turn-around area on the eastern side of the road.

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).

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 avalanche bulletins (updated Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8am) 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

We position this route as an easy, relaxed way to stretch the legs, but don’t be fooled – the upper alpine area is exposed to the weather where wind chill temperatures can drop to -20°C or lower. Take appropriate gear. Similarly, the route is only sporadically marked with pink tape. Despite being bordered on the northern side by Route 66 and Route 268, it’s still easy to end up in different drainages on the descent without a keen eye on the map.

Shirakaba-yama North Ridge Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

B

35

Time ascending

C

3

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

D

0

Navigation

D

0

Totals

44/100

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 Shirakaba-yama
Onsen nearby

The northern side of the Niseko Range is a little less replete for onsen than the southern side. The Iwanai Resort area has a few good options though, so it’s worth heading in that direction. Our pick of onsen in that area is Okaerinasai おかえりなさい (800yen, location), a traditional-feeling hotspring just 750m from Iwanai Resort. Note that on Saturdays and days before public holidays it closes to day visitors at 3pm. Sansan-no-yu サンサンの湯 (500yen, location) is also a lovely onsen in the area – they have an adorable pet dog (see their Instagram here).

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

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

The weather forecast was less than ideal. 60-70km/h winds at noon from the southwest, with some snow, and low cloud cover. But on these sorts of days in Niseko, the lower peaks and northern aspects tend to be great candidates for leisurely lee-side walks. So it was that Shirakaba-yama became our mission for the day.

We were driving from Rankoshi on the southern side of the Niseko Range, so it was a 45 minute drive around the Japan Sea end of the range. Four of us squeezed into Tim and Madoka’s mighty turbo-charged 660cc Suzuki Jimny, and made the trip in relative comfort. 

Along the way, Tim developed a splitting headache. “Maybe not enough liquid yesterday after the onsen,” he groaned.

I gave him one of my sure-fix loxoprofen painkillers. That, combined with a 15 minute sleep in the car at the trailhead as we were getting ready seemed to perk him up somewhat.

“Let’s get this,” he said groggily as he emerged from the car.

We had met Tom and Timbah at the trailhead, but we set off not long after a much larger group of people had started their way up the mountain. This gave us an easy climb, as they seemed to be breaking trail for us.

For the first 700m or so, we were skinning along a partially cleared road. It appeared some work was being done further up the road. Soon we left the road though, and kept pushing on south up the broad ridge.

True to the peak’s name, we were climbing up through tight stands of shirakaba for a while. Gorgeous white birch for which Hokkaido is known for.

This soon gave way to more widely spaced forest.

This was only the second time I’d skied with Timbah, a recent arrival in Hokkaido from the US. 

“If you let him,” Tim warned me in advance, “he’ll break trail the whole way up any mountain you walk up together.”

True to Tim’s word, Timbah strode in lockstep beside me most of the way, seemingly effortlessly breaking his own trail as we discussed all sorts of topics (as I hogged the existing ski track).

Topics ranged from the place and privilege of adventure in today’s society, harmony and Japanese culture, and no few musings about cross-cultural theories of human behavior. That we were able to get so involved in discussions speaks to the nature of Shirakaba-yama as a peak. It’s one of those peaks you can go for a walk on. To think on. To chew the fat on. It’s nice like that.

Soon, we were nearing the treeline. We stopped for a snack before we hit the ridge, as the weather forecast suggested we would be hammered as soon as we emerged from the lee of the wind. I battened down the hatches by donning my goggles too.

I was glad I did, because as per expectations, the saddle just below the summit was blowing a gale.

As if like clockwork, however, we arrived at the summit with relatively clear conditions and only a moderate wind. I was happy with the result, as given the weather forecast I was extremely bearish on our chances of summiting.

No sooner had we taken the requisite photos and bumped the requisite fists, however, the weather packed in. We were being pummeled by gale-like winds, strong enough to be concerned about the wind picking up a carelessly-placed ski.

We transitioned as quickly as we could, and made our way down to the lee of the gale in low visibility. 

Once off the summit ridge, we were now on the lovely mellow slope below the lower of the two peaks on the summit ridge.

“Family-friendly is how I would describe this,” hollered Tim as we skied the playful powder.

Before we’d started our descent, we saw the large 10+ skier group descend before us. Knowing they’d likely be skiing along the uptrack, we tried to stay skier’s right of our ascent route. This gave us more or less untracked turns the whole way down.

It was fun enough that I didn’t get any more photos on the descent than the ones above. 

We were soon back on the skin track, and sped along it to get back to the trailhead.

Along the way there were a couple of steeper slopes and gullies to the skier’s right which kept things interesting. It’s certainly not a freerider’s dream peak, but given the conditions of the day, we were all happy.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Shirakaba-yama North Ridge Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

B

35

Time ascending

C

3

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

D

0

Navigation

D

0

Totals

44/100

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.