Yotei-zan Backcountry Skiing (Jinja-no-sawa Route)

羊蹄山 | Makkari-nupuri

Posted on Jan 14, 2020
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Posted on Jan 14, 2020

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Reading time: 5 min
11km

Distance

5 hours

Time

1050m

Ascent

1300m

Highest point

6/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-May

Best season

NOTE: If climbing to crater rim, allow an extra 2.5 hours on top of the route time on this page. Route timings on this post assume skiers only ascend to around 1300m. From around 1300m the snow deteriorates considerably; crampons often required. Crater-rim timings on the PRINT and GeoPDF topomap versions of this route overview are provided for reference only.

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Jinja-no-sawa Route (神社ノ沢コース), situated within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and also known as the Cemetery Route, gives prime access to the locally well-known Delta Slope (デルタ斜面). This roughly triangular south facing area, fanning out from around 1250m down to 600m, is a smörgåsbord of terrain, with gloriously well-spaced trees. Even on a busy weekend, it is unlikely skiers will struggle to find their own untracked line. Of all the popular routes up Yotei-zan, this route is arguably the most suited to lapping, even if the weather is unsuitable for venturing into the alpine. Invest in a good solid skin track, and lap to your heart's content. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the most consistent skiing on this route is to be had from below 1300m. See all popular backcountry skiing routes on Yotei-zan on our Yotei-zan overview post here.

We visited this route on Jan 03, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Yotei-zan is a large free-standing volcano near the Niseko ski resort area in southern Hokkaido. This ski touring route up Yotei-zan heads up from the Makkari Town cemetery, around here.

General notes

As mentioned above, the main draw on this Yotei-zan backcountry skiing route is the large ‘Delta Slope’, which is perfect for lapping. While it’s unlikely you’ll find this area tracked out, it is always worth hitting this route early to get in a few solid laps. The downside of the Jinja-no-sawa route as compared with the nearby Makkari route is that it begins at a lower elevation and has a large flat skin in and ski out. Splitboarders will probably want to change to ski mode to get out; it’s not an ideal snowshoe route. The Delta Slope provides a range of skiing options in the SW to SE aspect and is generally somewhat sheltered from the prevailing NW winter winds off the Sea of Japan. There are relatively safe skinning options through trees to about halfway up the slope. Beyond this be aware of potential stability problems and, in particular, be aware of the steep headwall and corniced ridge on lookers left.

Hut

None

Route markers

This route is not marked. From the cemetery, head along a forestry road for about 1200m; the road follows an obvious jaw-bone shape and in higher snow years you may want to cut the corner off. A small erosion-stop dam will appear on the Jinja-no-sawa creek. After crossing the creek and climbing a short way, the large Delta Slope (as it is called locally) will come into view. Progressing towards this slope, the route slowly gains altitude through well-spaced trees on lookers right – your egress route is back down this creek so remain aware of where your are oriented in relation to your tracks in.

Once at the three-gully intersection point at 530m, it’s tempting to head up the first main ridge, but the less obvious ridge further up to the lookers right is much more manageable on the climb. By this point views of Makkari Village below, as well as Lake Toya and Knobu-dake should be in view. By the 700m point, the trees should have spaced out even more. From this point up to around 1400m, there are views up the slope of what is called the Delta Slope – a roughly triangular wide open slope with sparsely spaced trees, at an angle of about 30 degrees. Perfect for skiing. The head-wall at the top of the Delta Slope does steepen significantly so be aware of overhead avalanche hazard if stability is a problem. Beyond around 1400m the snow typically deteriorates considerably, with icy conditions often requiring crampons. In the spring skiing months, it’s possible to get to the crater on skis, but it’s very steep – a whippet or similar is recommended for self-arrest.

Route Timing
Up | 4hrs
Down | 1hrs

Transport

Public transport:

From JR Kutchan train station, take the Donan Bus Company bus bound for Rusutsu Resort. Get off at the Yotei-shizen Koen Iriguchi (羊蹄自然公園入口) bus stop (here). See the timetable here (Google translated). There’s about one bus every two hours, the trip takes 30 minutes, and costs 670yen one way. As of December 2019, the earliest bus is at 6:50am, arriving at the Yotei Shizen Koen Iriguchi bus stop at 7:12am (see Google Translated timetable here). It’s a 20 minute walk (or skin) from the bus stop to the trailhead near the town cemetery. To return to JR Kutchan train station, there are buses from the Yotei Shizen Koen Iriguchi bus stop at 12:40pm3:34pm5:35pm, and the last is at 7:45pm. Note that by 5:35pm, it will be dark. Sunset is around 4:30pm during December to February in the Niseko region.

By car: 

The road leading up to the town cemetery is snow-cleared, but make sure to park well to the side of the road in order to keep the way clear. Don’t park in the snow-clearer’s turn-around spot.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Yoteizan (羊蹄山) – map no. NK-54-20-4-3
Official Topo Map 2: Kutchan (俱知安) – map no. NK-54-20-3-4

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).

Snow and route safety

Yotei-zan is a big mountain requiring good weather, plenty of time, and good backcountry experience. This route is unmarked, not maintained, and is not avalanche controlled – it is serious un-managed backcountry terrain. At the very least skiers should be familiar with avalanche rescue procedures and have the appropriate tools on hand (shovel, beacon, probe). This free-standing volcano is exposed to the weather from all sides and it has the potential to get pretty wild pretty quickly; your escape is a rapid descent and so pay attention to potential routes as you climb. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, if you’re shooting for the summit this may be one of the few times you’ll use your ski crampons and boot crampons in Hokkaido. 1500m up Yotei-zan while dancing on sheet ice is not the time to be working out how to get your crampons on and off. You should practice fitting these in the carpark to remind yourself. Err on the conservative side and fit these devices before you really need them.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Yotei-zan
Onsen nearby

The nearest onsen to the trailhead is Makkari Onsen (真狩温泉, location, 500yen), which is about 5 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.

Extra Resources

See the write-up in Japanese on p. 274-277 in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Mt. Yotei backcountry ski routes together with a local Japanese certified guide, get in touch with Hokkaido born-and-bred Jun Ishiguro. He’s a JMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide and Director of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA). As a senior figure in the Hokkaido guiding scene, and with extensive experience, he can tailor trips to your needs. Alternatively, if you’d like to capture your Yotei trip with professional level photography (along with professional guides), we heartily recommend our friends and long-term Hokkaido residents at Niseko Photography and Guiding – tell them we sent you.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 262 (translated by Rob Thomson)

In the old days, the Ainu called this mountain Makkari-nupuri. After the Japanese arrived, it was called Shiribeshi-yama, but now it’s known as Yotei-zan. Due to it’s perfect conical shape, it’s also called Ezo-fuji. It’s a close to 2000m high free-standing peak, so climbing conditions are challenging. The upper reaches in winter enter the realm of ice-axe and crampon territory. This Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook focuses on areas that are good for skiing, so we’ve only included a route description till just beyond the treeline.

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.

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

 

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Jinja-no-sawa Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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