Shiribetsu-dake West Bowl Backcountry Skiing

尻別岳 | Pinneshiri

Posted on Jan 21, 2020
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Posted on Jan 21, 2020

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Reading time: 5 min


3 hours





Highest point



Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds

Best season

NOTE: Parking on the road is illegal. All visitors should snow-clear their own parking spot, about 2m in from the side of the road – allow about 15 minutes of vigorous shoveling. See also the avalanche warning by the Rusutsu Town Council here (img).

This Western Bowl Route up Shiribetsu-dake (尻別岳, 1107m) is one of this volcano's most popular routes. Access is straight forward, navigation is relatively simple, and there are a variety of descent options. On a clear day, the lower summit will allow views of Yotei-zan to the northwest, and Lake Toya far in the distance to the south. Due to the route's popularity, it's advisable to get in early, and make the most of one's turns before the hordes arrive. The descent down the clear avalanche path should only be attempted in stable conditions. The well-spaced trees on the looker's right are also fantastic skiing terrain.

We visited this route on Jan 05, 2020

Thanks to Junior Vary and Andrew for leading the way.

Last updated Feb 9, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details


Shiribetsu-dake’s southeastern flanks are home to part of the sprawling Rusutsu Ski Resort in southern Hokkaido, about 20km southeast of Niseko. This particular backcountry ski touring route up Shiribetsu-dake, however, approaches the mountain from the west, starting here. It first approaches via a straight farm road, and then up the looker’s right of a large south to southwest facing bowl, also known as the Shiribetsu West Bowl.

General notes

For the advanced backcountry skier, Shiribetsu-dake offers some of southern Hokkaido’s steepest terrain, still with the south’s voluminous powder that it’s known for. At only 1107m in height, this mountain packs some punch. The entire eastern side of the mountain from the peak is home to a number of steep chutes and gullies. This western bowl route outlined on this page is, arguably, the ‘bread and butter’ route of the mountain, popular due to easy access, ease of navigation, and a number of good descent options.



Route details

After parking well to the side of the road near the agricultural road entrance, head due east parallel to the rows of trees. After about 1km, the road will veer to the right, but skiers can carry on straight ahead to cut the corner, joining up with the road again in about 200m. After joining with the road again, it’s another 200m or so until it’s time to veer left (northeast) off the road through the forest towards the base of the west bowl. As of January 2020, there was still an old, faded sign nailed to a tree. Before the sign faded, it warned skiers of avalanche danger in the area.

About 250m through the trees will be the base of the bowl. The bowl itself is an avalanche slide-path, naturally void of old-growth trees. While in stable conditions it makes for a good descent slope, it’s advisable to zigzag one’s way up through the trees on the looker’s right. The trees are generally quite well spaced, so the tree-skiing here is good too.

Sticking to the trees at the looker’s right of the main bowl will lead to a small saddle between the west bowl summit (989m) and the Shiribetsu-dake summit proper (尻別岳, 1107m). From the saddle it’s possible to head up to the main summit in about 20 minutes, however many will simply ski from the west bowl summit. Make the descent either on the main bowl itself if conditions are stable, or in the trees via your skin track if things are looking questionable.

Route Timing
Up | 2hrs
Down | 1hrs

Expect just over 2 hours from road to summit, and about 45 minutes on the descent.


Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is no dedicated parking area for this route. Park on the eastern side of the road near the farm road entrance, as far to the side of the road as possible, so as to not block traffic. Note that while you’ll see many cars parked along the road near the trailhead, this is, technically, illegal. A call to the Kutchan Police confirmed this; “unless road users can clear their own parking space off the road, our official answer is that road users are not allowed to park on the road,” was their reply. While we’ve never heard of parked cars being towed, we have heard reports of cars being moved on during busy periods, so please respect the orders of any official present, and obey all signs posted.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kimobetsu (喜茂別) – map no. NK-54-20-4-1

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

While the Rusutsu Resort sits at the southern end of the mountain, Shiribetsu-dake is well and truly the backcountry – it is not patrolled, there is no avalanche management, and routes are not marked or maintained. All backcountry travelers on this route should, of course, carry avalanche rescue equipment, and be versed in its proper use. As mentioned above, Shiribetsu-dake has a reputation locally as high-risk for avalanches. While not Shiribetsu-dake specific, the Niseko Avalanche Information website is the only source of daily avalanche information in the general area – use their reports in conjunction with weather reports and your own on-the-ground observations.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Shiribetsu-dake
Onsen nearby

For a down-to-earth soak with the locals, try the Makkari Village Onsen (真狩温泉, location, 500yen). About 15 minutes by car from the trailhead. Open from 11am till 9pm, they have great outdoor baths, and an attached restaurant. Closed on Mondays. Details in Japanese here. If heading back towards Sapporo then you may also want to try one of the various onsen at the Rusutsu Resort. 1,300Yen with towel service included.

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

“Can I bring Junior along?” asked Andrew. “He needs constant exercise.”

The natural answer was, of course, yes. Junior, an energetic ever-positive bundle of stoke, would be the icing on a nice early-morning blat up Shiribetsu-dake’s West Bowl. With his tail wagging, Junior led the way as we set off from the roadside at around 7:30am.

While Andrew had been up Shiribetsu-dake more times than he could count, this would be my second time. The first was during a storm, on the third day of AST2 training with Whiteroom Tours. On that trip, we’d not been able to get very far up the western bowl before doing the requisite compression tests, and then making a hasty retreat.

Today was much more benign, with hardly a breath of wind. There was also much less snow than the previous year. The Hokkaido snow season felt like it was still about a month delayed. Even then, the forest approach to the bowl was enchanting and calming, snow clinging to the trees.

Before long, Andrew, Junior and I were at the base of the climb proper.

We started up at the base of the avalanche slide path, but soon veered right into the trees. There were multiple skin tracks and snowshoe tracks, some at humane angles, some not so. We eventually chanced upon a more rationally angled skin track, and followed this on it’s zig-zagging path up the slope through the trees. By the time we got to just below the saddle, we were getting breaks in the clouds with beautiful sunshine. Testament to this year’s dismal start to the season, we were still picking our way across exposed sasa bamboo grass.

We stopped to dig a pit, to see if we could replicate findings from the previous days – a disintegrating rain crust at about 60cm. We found the crust, but couldn’t get it to make the snow above it to move during the compression test. It turned out, however, that it was being held in place by some errant sasa.

We pushed on towards the saddle.

“This is super rare,” mentioned Andrew as we arrived at the saddle. “I’ve hardly ever been up here in clear weather, and I’ve been up here often.”

We didn’t have clear views very far in the distance, but visibility immediately around Shiribetsu-dake was good. The sun was warm. It hardly felt like January at all. Junior was clearly enjoying it, perusing his kingdom from high above on the west bowl summit. Following his gaze down the hill, we could see a couple of other parties making their way up through the trees to the saddle.

As we were gearing up to make our descent, a Hokkaido Backcountry Club heliski helicopter came in to land on the true summit, some 500m away. From the looks of their promotional materials, it seems as though their heliski offerings give very quick access to the eastern gullies and spurs of the mountain. For those happy to splurge both the emissions* and dollars to outsource the climb, route and safety decisions, a short helicopter trip to the summit would be a great way to get easy-earned turns.

*We approached Hokkaido Backcountry Club for comment on emissions, and they acknowledged the need (and their desire) for long-term emissions solutions for heliskiing. They told us that theirs is “one of if not the most efficient heliski operations in the world regarding fuel usage” due to close proximity to the mountain, low elevation, near-new Rusutsu Resort helicopters they use, and efficient pick-ups and drop-offs.

Once we were kitted up for the descent, we started on down. Junior the Snowdog careened down behind us, charging through the powder like he was bred for it. Despite the still exposed early season sasa bamboo grass, it was good skiing – a bit tracked up due to the lack of overnight snow, but good times.

As we made our descent back through the forest and onto the approach road, we passed the late-comer hordes. We were glad to have had an early start – we were done and dusted by just after 10am.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Shiribetsu West Bowl Parking

This is one of Hokkaido’s busiest backcountry routes – arrive early to avoid hassles with parking.

Even if arriving early, if space is not available on the cleared verge, visitors must clear their own parking spot about 2m off the road – allow about 15 minutes of vigorous shoveling.

Parking on the road at the trailhead at this Shiribetsu West Bowl route is illegal.