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

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Reading time: 5 min
10km

Distance

5.5 hours

Time

1000m

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) Kimobetsu Route (喜茂別コース), situated within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, is one of this volcano's more popular routes, for good reason - from around 1400m down to 800m is an uncannily plane-like slope that seems to stretch out in all directions. If it wasn't covered in waist-deep fluffy powder, you'd be forgiven to think you're standing on a groomed slope. For the more adventurous, there are also a few gullies to the left and right of the route that will allow for some relatively sheltered couloir-like downhill skiing options in stable snow conditions. 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 Dec 29, 2019

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 Kimobetsu Route Hiking Trail (喜茂別コース), on the eastern side of the mountain (from here), in Kimobetsu Town.

General notes

It was an unusually low snow-fall December when we first did this route (29th December, 2019), and this contributed greatly to our choice of doing this particular route on this particular day: the lower 1km or so was on a forestry road (hence avoiding too much sasa bamboo grass bashing), there are no creek crossings requires, and it’s one of the more open routes in terms of tree density. It turned out to be a good choice.

Hut

None

Route markers

While this route more or less follows the summer Kimobetsu Route hiking trail, any trail markers will be buried in winter, so climbers will be navigating on their own. There’s a Kimobetsu Route hiking trail sign on the roadside, just south of an abandoned house, but it’s often buried in deep snow in winter. It’s around here. From the trailhead, head up the forestry road – in about 500m there’s a gate. Keep heading straight up the forestry road, and cut straight up while the road zigzags its way up the hillside – skiers will cross the road multiple times.

At around 550m in altitude the forestry road ends, and the climb starts in earnest. From around this point, if the weather is clear, the upper 1300m point where most skiers start their descent will be in view. Even from this point, the slopes are dotted with relatively well-spaced birch trees. While other popular routes on Yotei-zan have lower sections with relatively tight trees, this Kimobetsu Route is unique in having good skiing slopes even quite low down. The route runs to the left of a deep, large gully – keep well away from the edge. At around 700m there’s a short but sharp steep section – a number of short zig-zags should make short work of it.

From around 800m to 1000m in altitude, the trees thin out even more, and the slopes broaden out just as the slope angle also starts to get steeper. Looking up towards the 1400m mark, there’s an imposing looking ridge the grows in height up the mountain. This is usually beyond the realm of good skiing though, so most skiers will just head to around the 1300m mark and enjoy the descent from there. On the descent, keep an eye on the uptracks, and until the 800m mark keep towards the right, away from the large, deep gully. From 800m and lower, keep towards the left – it’s easy to get pulled to the right, where the summer trail will lead skiers too far to the south.

Route Timing
Up | 4.5hrs
Down | 1hrs

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

The only parking for this route is on the roadside, up on the buried sidewalk. The sidewalk is cleared regularly, but after large snowfall, visitors may need to clear the sidewalk themselves to make a parking space. Allow at least 10 minutes of vigorous shoveling with avalanche shovels for this. Make sure to park as close to the snowbanks as possible, so as to not obstruct traffic.

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 closest onsen to the trailhead is the Kyogoku Onsen (京極温泉 京極ふれあい交流センター, location, 600yen). They’re open from 10am till 9pm (closed the second Monday of each month). The attached restaurant is open 11:30am till 7pm. Full details in Japanese here.

Extra Resources

See the write-up on p. 262-265 of the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guidebook (in Japanese).

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.

We rolled away from our apartment in Sapporo at 5:45am, with our sights set on the Kimobetsu Route on Mt. Yotei. Snow levels were looking grim for the end of December, but we’d seen posts from contacts on Facebook, suggesting there should be enough cover for an OK ski tour up the mountain. For better or worse, the forecast was also for blue skies over at Mt. Yotei.

After the 2 hour drive, we arrived at the Kimobetsu Route trailhead at 8:00. It was a Sunday at the beginning of a long string of year-end public holidays. Unsurprisingly, there was a huge line of cars parked up along the road. The previous few days had seen about 50cm of new snow fall, and the sidewalk had not been cleared. So we spent 10 minutes shoveling snow to make ourselves a spot to park.

8am was obviously a late time to arrive at the trailhead. Given the weather forecast, we figured most parties were probably headed for the crater rim. We were happy with setting our sights on around the 1300m mark, beyond which we weren’t expecting particularly good snow. We set off, and enjoyed the mellow skin along the dead-straight forestry approach road.

This led us out into a typhoon waste-land, with a huge number of trees downed. We weaved our way through, with great views up the mountain to where we’d eventually end up, far up on the slopes. Already, a few snowboarders were on their way down the mountain. We stepped aside to let them speed down the gauntlet between the debris. Further up, we could just make out a party of three skiers, making the most of an exciting looking gully.

We pushed on and soon arrived at the first dot on the route – the end of the forestry road. Here, the skin tracks forked. One headed up a spur on the right, another on the left. We started up the one on the left, since the trees looked a little more well spaced out. However, were not 100% certain that the spur would connect up with the spur on the right, which was the more certain given what we could see on the topomap. So we backtracked a little, and started up on the more certain right hand spur. For the end of December, the snow was indeed low. At times, we were snaking between twiggy bushes, trying to find the best line.

As we zigged and zagged up the narrow steep section of the route, things started to clear out a bit, with more of the green sasa bamboo grass buried, and fewer thickets of brush. Of course, the Japan-style skin tracks were as usual far too steep for our liking, so despite there being a multitude of skin track options, we spent most of the climb breaking our own trail at a more humane angle.

Soon enough, we were well within great skiing territory. We were skinning up a perfectly angled plane-like slope. Given that this was a Sunday before a public holiday, we were also sharing the slope with at least 20 other skiers and snowboarders whom we had caught up with. Literally every person and their dog seemed to be up the mountain today.

We stopped at around 1300m for a lunch break. Despite digging a hole to keep out of the wind, however, we were still getting cold pretty quickly. “Should we carry on climbing?” I asked Haidee. “I’m neither here nor there,” she replied.

The snow further up still looked pretty good however, so we decided to press on a little bit more after lunch. Regardless, there’d be some brush-dodging to be done. Had this been a normal year, we’d likely have been skiing on a base at least another meter deep.

We didn’t get much further up before we decided to call it a day. We were now at around 1400m, and any higher would have involved skinning on ever-hardening snow and rime. As we were setting up to drop down, another party of four skiers came screaming down one of the small gullies to the south of us. Afterwards it turned out it was none other than Yutaka Chiba, a talented skier I follow on Instagram. They’d put in the effort to get as high as possible, and were rewarded with some great skiing. We made a much more subdued descent.

We were slower going on the downhill than other parties above us, and were quickly overtaken by a whole army of snowboarders.

Our progress was slowed even more due to plenty of sasa bamboo grass still exposed further down the mountain. As we exited from the slopes onto the forestry road, Yotei-zan was basking in clear blue skies. A beautiful sight to behold, but for December heading into January, we’d rather it be covered in snow clouds…

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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