Adventure Skiing in the Hidaka Mountains
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
The Hidaka Mountains are an impressive range in south eastern Hokkaido that run from Karikachi Pass to the ocean at Cape Erimo. There is great ski mountaineering potential here. Access to most of these wild, remote peaks is long, challenging and often there is little snow. However, there are passes that offer good access to backcountry skiing in the right conditions. One of the best days of my 2019 season was skiing extremely cold, dry and deep powder at Nissho Pass, although I would say we got very lucky with our timing, hitting it on the region's biggest powder day of the season.
The highest mountain in this range is Poroshiridake at 2053m and there are plently of others with large 1000m faces. There are no glaciers in Hokkaido but the Hidaka mountains show evidence of past glaciation with their steep cirques and moraine deposits.
These mountains are full of life such as wildflowers, bears, deer and birds that visit from faraway places. To be able to go from an ultramodern city to total wilderness like this in a few hours is one of the things I love about Japan.
Compared to the regions further to the west and north that are popular in the ski tourism industry, these mountains receive less snow. However, the climate is colder and the high elevation of these peaks means that they still catch and hold a respectable amount of snowfall in the spine of the range.
From March, most of the lower ski areas in Hokkaido are warming but the cold, high mountains of Hidaka are holding a full winters worth of accumulation, still in powder condition. For the ski mountaineer, this is a great time to consider some challenging, longer range adventures.
Kamuidake NW Couloir
After studying photographs in a sawanobori guidebook, I noticed that there were many impressive couloirs in this region. Sawanobori is the Japanese sport of climbing canyons. 'Sawa' means drainage and 'nobori' means to climb. Sawanobori enthusiasts epoxy felt onto the soles of wet-suit booties so they grip on wet rock. This is basically canyoning in reverse!
The NW couloir of Kamuidake was the most inspiring one in the book, so in early April, 2019, I set out to ski it with my friends Elliot Smith and Hiro Komatsu. It was to be a 3 day mission with one day for hiking in, one ski day and one day for hiking out.
Driving through Hidaka, there was no snow on the ground and the landscape was very green. Racing horses in their stables looked comfortable in the warm temperatures. It was a huge contrast coming from Furano where there was still snow covering the landscape. Driving over a small pass, we gained some hope when there was a dusting of fresh snow on the north side.
We stopped at Seikomart for fried chicken. From the carpark, we could see Kamuidake, standing proudly above the green foothills and looking very snowy! It had been a lean season in eastern Hokkaido but from what we could see, it looked promising enough.
We were able to drive in a fair distance on a snowy 4WD track in my truck before arriving at a locked gate. Beyond here, the road was too snowy and was washed out in places due to the typhoon a few years prior. The approach to the hut was 14km and took just under 5 hours with half walking and half touring.
I still have never met a bear in Hokkaido and I am happy about this. However, I have lost count of the amount of tracks I have seen. Before every blind corner I made sure to announce our arrival by shouting 'Heeey Bear', or simply letting Elliot out in front as a sacrifice.
The hut was very cosy.
Sadly, the cold killed the drone battery meaning it didn't have enough juice for take off but I still managed to get this handheld shot of Hiro. You can see that we absolutely nailed the conditions!
Our line on Kamuidake was one to remember, such a beautiful line and we were lucky to get it powder condition. Finishing off the whiskey back at the hut was great way to wrap up the day.
The way back was much faster as we were able to ski back down. We left early the following day while the isothermic snow on the forestry road was still firm, gliding several kilometers until it was back to hiking boots. Once again, we saw fresh bear tracks, but it seemed t have heard us coming and left before we arrived.
After this trip I fell in love with the Hidaka Mountains and I look forward to pursuing more lines like this one next spring. The process of researching and skiing a new line when there is no information available is exciting and rewarding.
I look forward to guiding these sorts of expedition-style trips in the future, if there is interest.