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…