Yotei-zan Hirafu Route Ski Touring

羊蹄山(比羅夫コース) | Makkari-nupuri

Posted on Nov 10, 2022
0
WNWE
Posted on Nov 10, 2022
0 0
WNWE
12km

Distance

9 hours

Time

1550m

Ascent

1823m

Highest point

8.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Dec-Apr

Best season

The Yotei-zan Hirafu Route 羊蹄山比羅夫コース is a relatively popular route up the western side of Yotei-zan 羊蹄山 (1898m), the unavoidable perfectly-conical volcano just east of the bustling Niseko ski resort area. This western side of the mountain is the side visible when viewed from Hirafu village. The route offers relatively direct access to the rime-caked Yotei-zan Emergency Shelter hut, as well as good access to excellent crater skiing. Regularly buffetted by the northwest storms, this side of the mountain requires more care in planning, and surface conditions can be less reliable than the eastern and southern aspects.

We visited this route on Apr 02, 2022

Last updated Nov 25, 2022

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Yotei-zan sits at the east of the bustling international ski resort of Niseko, in the southwest of Hokkaido. This route starts at the Lake Hangetsu parking area on the western side of the mountain.

General notes

If you’ve ever gazed towards the great towering volcanic peak of Yotei-zan from anywhere in Hirafu (the main hub settlement of the Niseko ski resort), you’ll have gazed upon this western aspect of the mountain. It looks gnarly, and on the ground, those looks are not deceiving. It’s one of the steeper routes to the summit. Despite bearing the brunt of the northwesterly storms, however, surface conditions can be quite good if you visit on the right day. It’s also arguably the most direct route to the quaint little unmanned hut on the mountain – the Yotei Emergency Hut 羊蹄山避難小屋 – making for a fine mid-winter hut trip.

  • Yotei-zan Emergency Hut winter use: The hut is available for overnight stays in winter – access to the hut is via the second-story door. Hut fees (2000yen cash per person) should be deposited in the deposit box provided. There’s a small coke-burning stove on the first floor, but don’t rely on this to work for you. Coke stoves are notoriously difficult to get running, and equally difficult to keep running. If you do need to use the stove, use fuel very sparingly (there is a limited supply). Rime may need to be cleared from the exterior of the flue before lighting. Clean the stove out thoroughly before leaving, salvaging any unspent coke.
Hut
Yotei-zan Refuge Hut (full details here)

The Yotei-zan Refuge Hut (羊蹄山避難小屋) is a new, well kept hut high up on the western edge of the Yotei-zan crater rim. Situated at close to 1700m, it can be a prime location for setting oneself up for viewing the sun rise or sunset from the Yotei-zan summit. The hut has a hut keeper present in the summer months. The hut is also available for stays in deep winter, for those with good mountaineering experience in cold, high altitude environments.

Route details

Park up at the cleared Lake Hangetsu parking area and head south-southeast for just over 1km, climbing slightly across a small saddle with the 365m point on your right. There’s a large shoulder to the left; you’ll round this and keep this on your left as you head on an easterly bearing across a broad, gently rising plateau. There are a lot of dead, standing trees in this area, allowing for a good view of the main slope ahead of you that you’ll eventually be climbing.

At around 600m mark, the climb starts in earnest. With the 933m knob and the municipal boundary on the map as your guide, zig-zag your way up the broad, steep slope for around 900m vertical meters. In favourable surface conditions, this is a long but relatively straightforward climb. If you encounter icy conditions, switch to ski- or boot-crampons early, as the slope angle doesn’t let up. For the entire climb, you’ll have stellar views of the entire Niseko resort area and Hirafu village.

At 1600m, there’s a prominent bench-like sloping plateau. The hut is situated near the southern end of this. The hut will likely be caked in a very thick layer of rime, camouflaging it against anything but a bright blue sky. It’s not easy to find in low visibility.

From the hut, it’s a short 100m vertical climb on a moderately steep slope to the crater rim. The crater is only about 150m deep, so its’ worth hiking a little to the higher prominence to the northeast of the hut, to squeeze a couple more turns out on the descent. The east and south sides of the crater are rimmed with cliffs. Generally, most skiers ski any of the southwest, west or northern sides of the crater.

Skin back out of the crater and return to the hut the way you came. For the descent from the hut back to the parking area, simply follow the same route you came up, for some excellently consistent-angle skiing. The lower areas (900m and below) offer a lot of very interesting half-pipe-like gully features.

Route Timing
Up | 8hrs
Down | 2hrs

In the timing above, we assume skiers are carrying overnight gear, are committed to attaining the crater rim, and are seeking to ski into the crater. If making this a daytrip, fit and experienced parties could make the return trip in around 8hrs total.

Transport

Public transport:

This is one of only two Yotei-zan winter routes accessible by public transport. If travelling from central Kutchan, it’s an easy one-shot bus ride on Route 5 to the Yotei-tozanguchi bus stop 羊蹄登山口バス停 (location) – about 12 minutes on the local bus from Kutchan JR Train Station. From the bus stop, it’s a 1km walk/skin to the trailhead. If travelling from Hirafu village (the main Niseko resort area), you’ll have to first take a bus to central Kutchan (see an example route here), for a total travel time of 40 minutes. Realistically, if travelling from Hirafu village, it would be much faster and less hassle to take a taxi (expect about 2oooyen one way – 10 minutes, 7km). Either way, Google Maps has good bus timetabling information.

By car:

The Lake Hangetsu parking lot is very large, and is kept cleared of snow in the winter. Easy access from Hirafu village (10 mins) and central Kutchan (10 mins).

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).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is West. Other aspects that may also be encountered while following the route outlined on this page include: Northwest, East. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Shiribeshi area, consider looking at the Japan Avalanche Network avalanche bulletins (updated Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8am) or the daily Niseko Avalanche Information website. These may give extra insight into avalanche conditions in the greater area around the route.

Snow and
route safety

Yotei-zan is an exposed, free-standing volcano. While ski tours to the treeline are relatively straightforward, forays into the alpine on Yotei-zan require a solid skillset and experience with a variety of surface conditions. Deep winter ski tours to the crater rim will take longer than you think – very deep snow, steep kickturns, switching to boot crampons, limits of fitness…all these things add up to a long day in the alpine, where daylight is already short. Before-dawn alpine starts are a norm for crater rim attempts on Yotei-zan.

Yotei-zan Hirafu Route Ski Touring Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

A

10

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

C

6

Totals

86/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Yotei-zan (Hirafu Route)
Onsen nearby

Unlike the south and easterly aspects of Yotei-zan, onsen options close to this west side of the mountain are limited. Arguably the closest (and nicest) onsen to the Hirafu trailhead is the onsen opposite the Niseko JR train station – the Kiranoyu Onsen 綺羅乃湯 (location, 500yen). It’s a lovely public-run facility, with a very relaxed, local vibe. It has outdoor pools. If headed back to Hirafu village, there’s also the option of the large Niseko Prince Hotel Hirafutei ニセコプリンスホテルひれふ亭 (location, 1200yen).

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Niseko areas together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Jun Horie. He’s a Niseko-resident guide with seven years experience advanced-level ski instructing in Austria (he speaks German as well as English and Japanese). He has also guided in New Zealand and has previously led guiding operations in Hokkaido before going independent. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

The idea was simple.

“Let’s build an igloo in the crater and stay overnight,” beamed Timbah.

Tim, Ben, and myself agreed in principle to the proposal. If we ascended via the Hirafu Route, then we’d have the hut en route to bail out to if anything prevented us building the igloo.

The forecast for the weekend was favourable. Not perfect, but favourable. Almost no wind. We might have to contend with some lower visibility for the morning of the descent, but this was forecast to clear by 10am.

Considering we had to commit around 2 hours to building the igloo, we arrived early at the trailhead, at just after 7am. We would have arrived earlier, but we were also juggling concerns over surface conditions. I knew from previous days in the Niseko Range that morning surface conditions were like concrete. Warming during the day, with clear skies overnight was adding up to inevitable bullet-proof conditions up high on Yotei-zan. While we wanted to allow ourselves plenty of time for igloo construction in the crater, we also wanted to give the mountain some time to warm up a bit.

This is the reality of ski touring in Hokkaido in spring time.

By the time we’d fitted boot crampons, divvied up food and group equipment, and double-checked our overnight gear, it was after 8am before we set off.

“Even assuming it takes us 7 hours to get to the crater,” I calculated, “we should get there at around 3pm, so we should be fine.”

Still, holding expectations lightly, we set off at around 8:30am.

Predictably, conditions underfoot were concrete-like. A slight dusting of snow.

A clear view of what we were committing ourselves to, however – the western face of Yotei-zan – was right in front of us as we skinned across the gently sloping approach. Packs felt heavy on our shoulders.

It didn’t take long before we gained enough altitude to look down upon the now insignificant-looking Niseko resort area. The sun was out, and it was now a warm mid-morning climb.

Conditions remained largely favourable underfoot until around the 1200m mark, where we all added ski crampons. The incline was getting steeper, the air cooler, and surface conditions were allowing less purchase into the snow for our ski edges.

The broad, featureless face was consistent in its angle, and getting more consistently hard-packed in its surface.

It was at around 1300m that we had a major setback.

“Ben has just lost a ski,” radioed Tim.

Somehow, one of Ben’s skis had come loose from his boot, and was about 200m down the slope, mercifully slowed to a stop by the softer snow down that far.

“I’m going down to get it,” radioed Ben.

Tim, Timbah and I carried on to a less exposed spot on the ridge proper, and dug in for an extended wait. On the ridge, a frigid, strong wind was blowing. The sun came and went behind high clouds. It was cold, and not the ideal conditions for staying put for any length of time. We all donned our heavy layers.

And then came a more worrying radio call.

“OK, so I just fell about 300m,” radioed Ben. “And I’ve lost my other ski now. I can’t see where it is.”

We ascertained that Ben was OK, and he wasn’t injured.

“While I was sliding down the slope I did wonder if I was going to stop before hitting the treeline,” he explained. “But just as fast as I started gaining speed, I suddenly stopped because I hit the softer snow down lower.”

Timbah, Tim and I convened and discussed the options. It was pretty clear to us that we needed to call it a day and let go of the idea of getting to the hut, let alone the plans of building an igloo in the crater.

“Ben, we’re coming down to you, and calling it a day. Let’s go find an onsen,” we radioed.

Just as we were getting ready to rip skins and ski down to Ben, however, he radioed in again.

“I see my ski,” he said. “I can get to it, so we’re all good. I’ll put my boot crampons on and climb back up to you guys.”

Had it been anyone else, I doubt we could have taken them seriously. But Ben being the goat he is, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. We’d wait for him to climb back up to us.

Adding to our contentment with that decision was the fact that the weather was improving. While we’d previously been buffeted by strong winds, feeling chilled with patchy cloud cover, the sun was now out. We were feeling warm. The wind had died down.

Before long, we had eyes on Ben. He was making fast progress now he was on his boot crampons. He seemed to be breaking through every now and then, but was making good progress.

In about 30 minutes, he’d made up the ground he’d lost to the slide.

Once we’d re-grouped and Ben had taken a well-earned break, we pushed on. Now, with no intentions whatsoever to build any igloos in the crater. To the hut it was. Once there, we’d figure out our next move.

Timbah, Tim and I spent another hundred vertical meters or so on our skis, but soon switched to boot crampons. It was steep, cold, and solid underfoot.

Making it to the shelf below the crater rim proper was like heaven. Finally, we were on less steep terrain.

The going on crampons was slow in parts though, with all of us falling through in places.

And then, we crested the last small rise before the shelf proper, and there she was. The impressively rimed outcrop that is the hut.

“There’s the hut!” I yelled.

“What? Where?” replied Timbah.

He was looking straight at it but hadn’t registered it as a man-made structure.

Timbah, Tim and Ben arrived at the hut ahead of me, and were in the process of gaining entry when I arrived. The hut was basking in the late afternoon sun. A sight for sore eyes.

We only stopped at the hut long enough to drop our overnight gear. We knew the forecast for the next day would be cloud till mid-morning, so we wanted to grasp the opportunity to ski the crater while we could, with the last sliver of daylight we had left.

Shadows were growing longer. We had to move fast.

We hurried off in the direction of the crater rim, on our skis now, but still with ski crampons on. We were on a rimed, bullet-proof surface. At least it wasn’t the steepness of previously.

We arrived at the crater rim just as the sun was threatening to drop beneath the horizon. Mercifully, the sky was clear for as far as we could see, which promised a longer-than-most dusk.

We ripped skins and took turns to ski the average, slightly wind-loaded snow to the crater floor. A more cohesive thin layer of windpack covered less cohesive snow underneath, making the turns less care-free than they might have otherwise been.

But. Crater skiing. At dusk. With good mates. That’s hard to beat.

The climb out of the crater was relatively straightforward, apart from some loose-snow-over-bulletproof patches which made the going a bit slow. Ben, understandably, looked pooped. He’d climbed about 300m vertical more than the rest of us today.

At the crater rim, we were greeted with some of the most impressive twilight vistas I’ve ever experienced. Shades of blue, yellow, orange, red, magenta, and purple all melded into one glorious gradation of color.

Once back in the hut, we proceeded to settle in and cook the massive feast we’d brought with us – a nabe hotpot consisting of copious veges, tofu, udon noodles, and pork.

We slept in the ground floor room, and slept well. Timbah woke at 4am to check if we’d be getting any sunrise action, but informed us we were well and truly socked in. We proceeded to sleep until 9am – the ground floor is entirely buried in snow, so all the windows are completely shaded from any external light. It was an easy sleep-in slumber.

As we were preparing to leave at around 10am, another party of three skiers arrived at the hut for a break. They’d hiked up the Makkari side of the mountain.

“The snow was good,” they reported. 

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Yotei-zan (Hirafu Route), or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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Yotei-zan Hirafu Route Ski Touring Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

A

10

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

C

6

Totals

86/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.