The first time I tried Shokanbetsu-dake was in my first season ski touring in Hokkaido, late in April with Leon. In those days you had to pick up the key to the hut in Mashike. Frustratingly the road had been cleared but not yet opened, so we had to skin up beside it to the hut. After a comfortable night, disturbed only by the pattering of the hut’s small furry permanent residents, we had set off early in calm conditions. But soon we could hear the wind above roaring like a jet engine, and as we made our way up the long ridge below the dome we began to feel its force. A couple of lads passed us on their way down, having decided to turn back. Below the dome, sandblasted by the coarse snow crystals being savagely stripped off the surface and barely able to stand, we did too.
Since that time I was determined to come back, so a few years later one Saturday night in early May found Jeff and I at the hut, having enjoyed a quiet but pleasant evening with friendly locals in a coffee shop and restaurant in Mashike. The weather was clear next morning and we made good progress up the ridge, but ominously the wind was getting stronger and I began to have visions of having to retreat again. We pressed on. At one point below the large bowl the ferocious wind ripped Jeff’s sunglasses from his face. All we could do was watch them sliding down the hill out of sight. The view of the wide untracked bowl ahead lifted our spirits with the anticipation of skiing it on the descent, so we headed on up and around the shoulder to battle the relentless wind to the summit.
Once there it was no place to linger despite the amazing views over the mountains to the south. Being battered by the full force of the wind it was difficult to communicate, let alone rip skins, so we retreated back down the flattish ridge with our skins still on till we found a more sheltered spot to transition near the shoulder. From here the skiing was a blast, linking fast turns down the wide open slope of the north facing bowl on good spring snow before traversing back across to the up track. The next section was flatter but had a good cornice that tempted Jeff’s inner ski bum; unable to resist he jumped it before I had a chance to set my camera to burst mode.
Another good downhill followed, then the longer flatter ridge, but the wind at our backs made it easy to keep the speed up and have some fun, flying past a group toiling up into the teeth of the gale. After dropping off the ridge to get back to the hut the weather became much calmer although the snow was decidedly patchy. At one point we had to take our skis off to bash through some bushes and over a stream before reaching the car park. Just down the road Jeff spied the yellow flowers of エゾリュウキンカ、a tasty wild mountain vegetable, and immediately pulled over to wade into the stream in bare feet to get some. Fried up with some dried tofu and sesame oil that night they provided a fitting end to a great day out.