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

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Reading time: 4 min
9km

Distance

5.5 hours

Time

1000m

Ascent

1350m

Highest point

6/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Feb-Apr

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) Kyogoku Route (京極コース), situated within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, is home to a plethora of tight spurs and gullies, which will please experienced backcountry skiers seeking variation and excitement on the descent. Down low, however, it's also the most tightly wooded route of the more popular Yotei-zan routes, so we'd only attempt this route again in February, once there is a reliable covering of snow. This would be a very direct route to the good southwest aspect crater ski slope when the weather is good. 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 04, 2020

Last updated May 9, 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 Kyogoku Route trailhead on the east-northeast side of the mountain (starting here), in Kyogoku town.

General notes

Generally, the wind blows from the northwest in Niseko. This means that the southeast side of Yotei-zan, in the lee of the wind, usually has the best snow. This route up Yotei-zan arguably sits on the northern-most edge of this southeast side of Yotei-zan. Accordingly, it’ll be a little bit more of a gamble as to the condition of the snow. That said, you’ll still get plenty good enough snow up to around 1350m. Also, for those who have the experience and gear to tackle crusty, steep, and icy mountaineering conditions, this route gives the most direct access to one of the better crater-skiing slopes on Yotei-zan, on the interior northeast side of the crater. Note that going to the crater will add at least 2.5 hours to the time outlined in this post.

Hut

None

Route details

This route generally follows the summer Kyogoku Route hiking trail, but the trail markers are not visible in winter. From the parking space, head due west across a broad snowfield to the trailhead proper of the summer Kyogoku Route Hiking Trail, in about 20 minutes. Passing the trailhead sign, you’ll enter a tall forest of larch. Just follow the summer trail uphill for about 40 minutes before crossing a forestry road for the second time. From there, continue following the summer trail uphill.

At around 600m a prominent creek-like feature will appear. Either take the left or right spur – either way they’ll join again further up. By the time you arrive at the narrow spur at 970m, you’ll have dramatic views down to the Shiribetsu River valley and Kyogoku Town. By now the trees should have thinned out considerably, but as you climb further up towards the 1350m mark – often on more than a 30 degree uphill slope – the downhill potential only gets better.

You’ll know you’re at around 1350m once you arrive just below a prominent knob. By now, you’ve scaled 1000m. Beyond the 1350m mark is usually crusty and icy, so anyone heading further up needs to be well equipped to handle serious ski-mountaineering conditions. On the descent from 1350m, skiers will get a good long run before joining up with the narrow spur. Either side of the spur are deep gullies, so keep the turns tight.

As you’ll see in our detailed trip notes, this route really needs a good amount of snow to make it work. Probably one for spring or a really big snow year.

Route Timing
Up | 4.5hrs
Down | 1hrs

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is room for about 5 to 6 cars to park near the trailhead (around here).

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

As is the case for other routes on Yotei-zan, skiers should not take this large mountain lightly.  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). Yotei-zan is a big mountain requiring good weather, plenty of time, and good backcountry experience. 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

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.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

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

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.

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). 

Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

 

Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Yotei-zan Kyogoku Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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.

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, and hiking route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

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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!

2 thoughts on “Yotei-zan Backcountry Skiing (Kyogoku Route)”

  1. The delta slope looks great, but another option we skied today (25/2/2020) can be found on the other side of the drainage to the east. Similar to the delta slope, there are infinite lines, and it would take a small army to ski it out.

    Enjoy 🙂

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