Rob slammed on the brakes in the little Nissan Note rental. I lurched forward in the passenger seat, not sure if he’d seen a fox, a bear or maybe a drunk Australian seasonaire lost on the way home from the bar. We swung into a little road-side pull-out, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, half way between Niseko town and Makkari town. Rob has seen not an object of avoidance, but rather an object of deep affection; a roadside hot chocolate vending machine.
Japan has approximately 5 million vending machines. That’s approximately one for every 23 people in one of the world’s most populous countries. That said, while almost any vending machine will be able to dish you up an ice cold Coke or refreshing Pocari Sweat, only a select few contain technology advanced enough to dish up a pre-heated can of hot chocolate or even crustacean-soup.
We grabbed one of each and while I downed mine immediately (blinded by the novelty of the situation), Rob strategically stuffed his inside his spare gloves for consumption once we were up the hill.
This route is often referred to as the cemetery route as it starts at the Makkari cemetery. The more obvious landmark might be the bloody great big water tank that we parked next to.
The starting elevation is 100m or so lower than the Makkari route and there’s about a 1km flat walk to start that probably will see splitboard riders wanting to ski out. The climbing proper starts around the low erosion protection ‘check dam’ at 450m elevation.
There were a couple of groups ahead of us which meant a nice packed in skin track and fast going The track split at the check dam and we went down into the creek (lookers left) and then climbed the gully, again, still within others’ tracks. We soon caught up to the groups in front, a couple of local Japanese parties and after passing we took turn about to break trail.
We climbed up out onto the gentle ridge on the lookers right of the gully and found ourselves in lovely well spaced birch trees. It was a slope for painting on a nice skin track and we wove our way up in big arcing turns, aiming to leave those behind with the speed (and energy) benefits that we’d earlier had from them. The top of this slope would be the spot we’d use to transition for a YoYo lap later on in the morning. As we made our way up the ridge we started to find a bit of wind affect on the more exposed aspects. We stopped on a small, representative slope at 1000m to dig a quick pit for a look.
We’d had a few days out in the area by now and so we had a good idea of what we were looking for. There were a couple of rain crust layers that, while disintegrating quickly, could still pose a potential risk. The primary concern was the extent to which the snow above the first layer was forming a slab. The temperatures had remained fairly cold (-4 to -10) and so it was really going to come down to the wind.
We dug a reasonable size pit, enough for a couple of compression tests and a good poke around. Straight away we were comfortable with the snow pack above the weak layer; it was right side up and ran from fist hardness at the surface down to about four-finger hardness just above the layer interface. We did a compression test and it broke on the 23rd tap on the first weak layer. Interestingly, it was almost exactly the same result that we’d had at another location and also similar to reports on the Niseko Back Country Facebook group.
Pretty comfortable with that result we pushed on another 100m into the more exposed slope and ripped skins to ski.
It did take us a bit of poking around to find our way through all of the birch saplings without ripping our ski bases out. But, once clear of these we found some lovely pitches; steep, open and with great surface skiing conditions.
Rob and I were both in agreement that this ‘Delta Slope’ and the Kimobetsu Route provided the best skiing of the four major Yotei routes. The main slope provides a range of aspect options from SE through SW and as such will generally be leeward of the prevailing (maybe this snow season excepted!) NW winds coming off the sea of Japan.
The lookers left ridge will form large cornices and so you should be very careful around these and, in particular, pay attention to the risk they present for remotely releasing come spring time.
We got a second YoYo lap in from the top of the birch glade, this time sticking further to the skiers left. Then we headed home following roughly the same route back out. The ‘bob-sled’ run along the skin track out will always be a leg [and arm] burner but we were able to stay in ski-mode the whole way back to the car.
Pressed for time we turned tail quickly back to my cabin. While we forewent an onsen, we can recommend both the Makkari onsen as well as the more luxurious (and expensive) onsen at the Westin Hotel. There’s several food options available at both including a high end French-Japanese fusion restaurant called Maccarina just next to the Makkari onsen.