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

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Reading time: 5 min
9.5km

Distance

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.https://hokkaidowilds.org/mt-yotei-backcountry-ski-routes

The Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) Makkari Route (真狩コース), situated within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, is arguably the most popular backcountry skiing route on this iconic Hokkaido volcano. The route starts climbing in earnest very early, meaning altitude is gained quickly, unlike other routes on the mountain requiring longer flat-land approaches. This comes at the expense, however, of less terrain real-estate for the downhill. That said, the relatively compact valley makes navigation easy up to the prominent small plateau at 1000m, referred to locally as the Terrace (テラス). So long as skiers keep within the main valley below the Terrace, it would be relatively difficult to end up anywhere other than the trailhead on the way down. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, the best skiing is to be had from below around 1300m, just above the treeline. See all popular backcountry skiing routes on Yotei-zan on our Yotei-zan overview post here.

We visited this route on Dec 30, 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 Yotei Nature Park (location) on the southern side of the mountain.

General notes

As mentioned above, this route is easily the most popular route on Yotei-zan. There’s a huge snow-cleared parking area at the Yotei Nature Park road-end, and altitude is gained quickly, without any of the longer flat-land approaches. This makes this route a perfect one for some quick hot laps. Compared with other routes on the mountain, however, skiers may find less easy-access terrain to enjoy. Of course, the main wide gully and bowl up to the Terrace is fantastic skiing, adding to its popularity. This will get tracked out quickly however, particularly on the weekends. Like all routes on Yotei-zan, start early in the day to get first pick of the juicy lines. Beyond the main Makkari Route gully and bowl, there is the option to ski ridgelines and gullies to the left or right, but skiers should take care not to drop down too far off the main bowl/gully. Doing so comes at the cost of traversing back to the trailhead across densely wooded high spurs and deep gullies.

Hut

None

Route markers

Starting from the Yotei Nature Park parking lot, it’s a short 600m skin to the summer Makkari Route trailhead proper. From there, the route heads straight up the mountain through thick trees. Once at the 600m altitude mark, things finally open up a bit, revealing much more attractive skiing potential. Soon, Konbu-dake (昆布岳, 1045m) comes into view through the trees, and the small knob Minami-kobu (南コブ, 650m) will appear on the left. At around 700m, a ridge will come into view to the right; the Jinna-no-sawa Route lies on the far side of this ridge. The Makkari summer route heads off towards this ridge to the right, but the winter Makkari ski touring route heads straight up the gully, as the ridge is often heavily corniced and wind affected.

At around 1000m, a gently sloping terrace-like plateau will appear. This is known locally as The 1000m Terrace (1000mテラス). The terrace is still below tree-line and home to some large old growth trees. Climbing further the vegetation will continue to thin and, if the weather is clear, skiers will have views of the Nature Park campground and Lake Toya (洞爺湖) and Shimamaki Town’s Kariba-yama (狩場山) in the distance. Above The Terrace is a very steep avalanche prone slope unsuitable for skiing, so the route heads to the right to join up with the Jinja-no-sawa Route. Doing so requires traversing across a large spur at around the 1050m point where the slope angle is the shallowest. This ridge develops large cornices between 1100m and 1200m, so skiers should take care while traversing.

Once joined up with the Jinja-no-sawa route, it’s a straight shot for another 200m or so to the 1300m point. If descending from 1300m, it’s important to have a good idea where you’ll cut back across to the Makkari Route. As we found, it’s a long, tough slog to cross back to the Makkari Route after dropping below the 1050m mark on the Jinja-no-sawa Route side, due to deep gullies, tall spurs and dense bush. The best skiing on the Makkari Route is to be had from the 1000m Terrace. Even beginners will enjoy some excellent tree skiing.

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 15 minute walk from the bus stop to the trailhead at the Yotei Nature Park and you should be able to manage this on skis and skins rather than boot packing. To return to JR Kutchan train station, there are buses at 12:40pm3:34pm, 5:35pm, 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: 

There is ample parking in the Yotei Shizen Koen Park car parking area, around here. This parking area is regularly cleared of snow. Park as far up as the snow clearing will allow.

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). About 5 minutes by car from Yotei Nature Park, the trailhead to the Makkari route. 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

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.

Our friends at Niseko Photography and Guiding also offer tours up Yotei-zan. Their tours include a professional photographer. Whiteroom Tours, based in Niseko, have a huge team of qualified guides. For

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.

“*^#@!@#@!#$##!!!!”

One of the useful things about making it all the way to the secluded car park at 6am before you realize that you’ve forgotten your climbing skins is that no one can hear you scream. We piled back into Rob’s [much more sensible to get a hybrid this time around Rob!] Nissan Note and started the 45 minute round trip back to my cabin to collect them.

I’d landed from the UK into Hokkaido a couple of days after Christmas to find what Lizzie Windsor might call a December horribilis. Very little snow had fallen over the season to date, there was sasa-grass sticking out everywhere and so it was clearly going to be a bush bash wherever we went. But, we’re stoic Kiwis and we were keen to get out for a tour on the second of the four Yotei-zan routes that we’d try and hit on this trip. 

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

With skins collected, dawn now well broken and our head-torches relegated back into the car we started the climb.

The Makkari route starts from the main summer trailhead for the park about ¾ of the way between Niseko town and Makkari town on Route 66. Park as high up the road as the state of the snow clearing will allow and then skin straight up the road to the obvious trail head signage. We’d had reasonable overnight snowfall and it kept lightly snowing throughout the tour; the Japan Powder Tap had at last been turned on.

As with our other tours this week we weren’t targeting the summit, rather, our objective for the morning was a nice walk up to the prominent terrace at about 1000m. The tour starts with a short sharp pitch to gain the ridge on skiers right and then proceeds pretty well straight up the hill. There was already a skin track formed and this made progress nice and quick; maybe those forgotten skins weren’t so &^&%$ after all? But, being a Japanese skin track, it was stupidly steep in many places and I was down to operational layering* mode 1 (an icebreaker tech T-shirt) in no time. All of the primary Yotei ski touring routes we’ve written up here on Hokkaido Wilds are somewhat sheltered from cold NW winds that predominate the winter weather of Japan.

* I really like this recent post on ski touring layering from the folks over at WildSnow. Despite out proximity to the ocean, when we ski in Hokkaido it’s important to dress for a continental  snow climate as our snow systems are much more like that of say Utah; we have cold Siberian air picking up moisture from the sea of Japan as opposed to frontal weather systems of New Zealand or the Pacific North West. Prefer softshell to Gore-Tex, more layers to fewer and keep in mind that with ambient temperatures sitting pretty consistently in -5 to -15 degrees centigrade you’ll need to focus on controlling heating and sweating when working hard.

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

We made the 750m climb to the terrace in about 1hr 45min which is about in line with the 4 to 5 hours rule of thumb for the climb to the Yotei summit. The terrace itself is longer than it is wide and, while not completely flat, looks like a fantastic place for a winter camp sometime with plenty of large old growth trees.

We had a pretty good idea where the thick vegetation was and decided that we’d try and ski down the skiers left hand side of our ascent route. This actually turned out to land us into the edge of the ‘Delta Slope’ that’s the primary ski terrain on the Jinja no Sawa route (a.k.a. the Cemetery Route).

The surface conditions were surprisingly good and, apart from my binding DINs a little light thanks to a long forgotten last season ski loaner, we got some great turns in on the upper section. Rob and I took pitch-about weaving our way down the left-hand-side of the ridge….

 

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

… when we really needed to be making our way down the right-hand-side of the ridge. 

The map showed that it would be a challenging task to get back across to the car. Ample undergrowth only served to further complicate the system and at times I was skis-off and clambering over large logs. Proper safari-skiing!

With more snow this hard-traverse route would probably work quite well, you might even consider dropping lower down the Delta Slope and finishing with a quick skin back up to the ridge. It’s probably similar from a time point of view to the longer skin-in and pole-out of the Jinja no Sawa route.

With wives (and kids) awaiting patiently at the cabin we were on borrowed time and so skipped out on an onsen post trip.

We can highly recommend the Makkari Onsen [website dead at time of writing] (真狩温泉)  for a soak looking back over your day’s objective. There’s a basic onsen restaurant in the building or, if you really want to splurge, we can vouch for the Maccarina fine dining restaurant a short walk away (lunch ¥3,500 to ¥8,00. dinner ¥8,800 to ¥12,000). We do note that sweaty-ski-touring clothing is unlikely to be appropriate attire for a swish meal though.

Yotei-zan Makkari Route Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
“I think that grass-skiing is actually a thing in England isn’t it?”

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!

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