The highlight of our day on the Kyogoku route was undoubtedly the potato croquette and curry rice dish that we had at the onsen afterwards. 1,000 yen for an onsen and lunch is a fantastic deal. They even had the yuzu flavored pool running. Our time on the mountain, on the other hand, was much more of a bushy-bush-bash than either a walk or a ski… type 2 fun to be sure.
This tour was the 4th and last of the major routes we were looking to knock off in the New Year holiday week of 2019/20. It had been an extremely low snow year to date and even with 20-30cm of snow each day that week we’d found the earlier routes with exposed Sasa grass even up to 1000m.
The route starts at a carparking spot just over 420 meters above sea level. This makes it the highest start point of the four major routes by some 80m (Makkari is about 350m).
The first few hundred meters cross a fairly picturesque farm paddock, replete with lone snow dusted trees. Just after the trail sign was a stand of fairly mature pine trees; with evergreens somewhat of a rarity here in Hokkaido I noted to Rob that maybe the vegetation on this side was a wee bit different to the other routes we’d done this week?
Neither of us knew just what a different level of vegetation lay ahead.
We weren’t the first on the hill and there was a skin track punched in already that we followed for the most part. I’d been quite happy with the grip of my new-this-season full mohair skins so far, but the steepness of some sections of this skin track had me beat. Both Rob and I managed a full faceplant into the snow as our skis slipped out behind us… maybe it’s less annoying when decked out in full Montbell Gore-Tex but I’d rather do more miles and a nice gentle angle. Some of the stuff here in Hokkaido would make even a Wasatch skier weep.
The deep bush snuck up on us. Gradually then suddenly then all at once….
The vegetation wasn’t different on this side at all… it was the same sapling birch trees just but they were somehow enchanted…
…they clawed at our packs… snapped at our thighs… and nipped at every piece of exposed skin…
We slowly trudged up the ridgeline dog-legging and doubling back as we found ourselves dead ended by dense, almost mystical, snow covered thicket.
By 1000m we’d had enough and so, traversing to lookers right for what appeared to be a clear-ish slope, we ripped skins and began our descent. Now we were fighting not only the trees but also the terrain. The low snow year meant that the small gullys and creeks that might otherwise disappear were quite difficult to pass. Even though they were only a meter or two deep we had to drop down into them and then often side step back out.
Sure, there were turns to be had. But, where on other routes they might come in 10s or 20s, enough to get your legs burning, here we were picking out pitches for 2 or 3 turns before slamming on the anchors to stay out of the trees.
I caught a tip about half was down and hurtled head first into the ground. Hokkaido powder is almost as fun to crash in as it is to ski. Rob found me completely buried but punch drunk on the thrill of it all.
I’d driven past the Kyogoku onsen many times on may way to and from Chitose airport but I’d never had a chance to stop. Rob and I had mildly urgent errands to run at Homac but we ducked into the onsen on the way for a quick soak and a bite to eat. 1,000yen got us a big bowl of curry, rice and a potato croquette and then an onsen. We didn’t have towels but at 150yen for a wash cloth it wasn’t too much of a burden to just buy one at the front desk.
The Kyogoku route has potential, we are sure of that. But, it really does need a good amount of snow to be tolerable and worth the effort. We’d say that it wanted at least another couple of meters for it to work. Put this one on your spring skiing list but stick to the other routes for early winter.