Atypical Japan — Sunny Volcano Skiing, Mt. Yotei


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 4, 2015      
Driving up to Yotei in the morning. It looked pretty good.

Driving up to Yotei in the morning. It looked pretty good. Click all images to enlarge.

In addition to incredible powder, Japan is a land of volcanoes. Magnificent Mt. Yotei sits above the Niseko area of Hokkaido like the lofting peaks in fantasy novel cover art. It’s often shrouded in clouds during the winter, but on rare occasions shows itself and even gives an opportunity to ski.

After seeing sun in the forecast, Jason and his crew decided to head up Yotei and invited me along. Although the weather still looked cloudy, I was psyched to give it a try. A bunch of Canadians in an RV picked me up at the hotel, and we headed off toward the trailhead. During the drive Yotei peeked out of the clouds, and the weather began to promise.

We arrived at the trailhead along with half of the skiers in Niseko, including some ancient looking Japanese guys who were motoring up the trail. Our group alone consisted of nine stoked skiers, but once we got hiking the crowds thinned. The sky was still mostly cloudy. Perhaps that influenced some people to turn around and call it a day. We raced the growing cloud bank on the way up, and managed to stay just above it the entire way, eventually gaining a healthy lead. The hike proved to be surprisingly quick, and we were up on top around noon.

Once we got out of the trees it was cool to be hiking above the farms far below.

Once we got out of the trees it was cool to be hiking above the farms far below.

Some people were having a major sufferfest on the way up. This guy was literally crawling. Kudos to him though; he made it to the top.

Some people were having a major sufferfest on the way up. This guy was literally crawling. Kudos to him though; he made it to the top.

Once we broke through the cloud layer, it was a classic sea-of-clouds volcano day, absolutely beautiful.

Once we broke through the cloud layer, it was a classic sea-of-clouds volcano day, absolutely beautiful.

The crew hanging out at the top.

The crew hanging out at the top.

Our goal for the day was of course to ski into the crater, something of a novelty among skiable volcanoes. There were already a few tracks heading into the crater, and the snow looked absolutely perfect. It seems the walls of the crater preserve the powder inside from any of the meddlesome wind that hammers the outside slopes. We took a quick break on top, and dropped in. The snow was just what it looked like from above; light, fast, boot-top pow.

After a quick lunch we split up, with one crew heading to the steeper lines on the eastern side of the rim, while I and a few others headed back to the run we had just skied on the western rim. We crested the rim in full sun, and waited around a bit to watch the guys on the other side ski their lines. Unfortunately while we waited the clouds rolled in, and we ended up skiing the run in the proverbial ping pong ball. At the bottom we waited for the clouds to clear, and with the help of an impromptu crater dance party, they finally did.

We decided on one last run up the eastern side. As we hiked up, the clouds moved in and out, boiling over the edge of the crater, then blowing off to reveal blue sky. Once at the top, we waited for a break in the clouds, and dropped into another marvelous run, this time in lovely evening light.

We crested the crater for the final time, and headed down into the thick clouds toward the car. After a brief stint of white-out skiing, we broke out below the cloud layer, and enjoyed powdery tree skiing to the car. Jason, Adam, Tim, and Jeff were heading back to the States the next day, so we saw them off in fine Japanese style, with ramen, suntory, and lots of karaoke. I think we all agreed that it had been an fantastic day full of powder, views, and great friends, both new and old.

Hiking along the crater rim.

Hiking along the crater rim.

The rime on the outside of the volcano didn't look like good skiing, but it made terrific photos. Surprisingly, on the way down we were able to find continuous powder all the way from the top to our car.

The rime on the outside of the volcano didn’t look like good skiing, but it made terrific photos. Surprisingly, on the way down we were able to find continuous powder all the way from the top to our car.

Although there were quite a few people on the climb up, few of them decided to ski into the crater (perhaps because of the rising clouds). We had the place almost to ourselves. Here's Jeff enjoying great pow on his way to the base of the crater.

Although there were quite a few people on the climb up, few of them decided to ski into the crater (perhaps because of the rising clouds). We had the place almost to ourselves. Here’s Jeff enjoying great pow on his way to the base of the crater.

The snow in the crater was superb, not mega-deep by any means, but nice, dry, fast pow. It seems the crater protects itself fairly well from the wind.

The snow in the crater was superb, not mega-deep by any means, but nice, dry, fast pow. It seems the crater protects itself fairly well from the wind.

We even got to ski sweet, steepish lines.

We even got to ski sweet, steepish lines.

Towards the end of the day the clouds were coming in and out. We filled the whited-out times with crater dance parties, and snapped photos when the clouds decided to go away for a bit.

Towards the end of the day the clouds were coming in and out. We filled the whited-out times with crater dance parties, and snapped photos when the clouds decided to go away for a bit.



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Comments

14 Responses to “Atypical Japan — Sunny Volcano Skiing, Mt. Yotei”

  1. Greg Louie February 4th, 2015 9:27 am

    Crater laps, too cool!

  2. Matt Kinney February 4th, 2015 9:30 am

    Nice one. Kudos to your recent bio article in Backcountry. It was smashed between two junior heliguides in the expose (which I laughed at). Your the real deal along with your pals.

  3. Lisa Dawson February 4th, 2015 11:43 am

    Beautiful photos! But, I’d like to see shots of the Karaoke send off too. 🙂

  4. David Brophy February 4th, 2015 2:46 pm

    Nice! When I did Yotei we took far too long to get to the top and didn’t manage a crater run. Shame. The ride down was good though.

  5. Coop February 4th, 2015 3:24 pm

    Awesome shots! Haha I love the sufferfest-er. Rhime covered bushes will do that to you. Looks like great snow in the crater! The international dance party must have been a blast.

  6. Paul Lietzan February 4th, 2015 3:42 pm

    Hey Louie,

    Thanks for the trip reports, keep them coming.

    My wife and I are still relatively new to the BC game, but we are heading up to Niseko at the end of the month for a 4 year late honeymoon. What is the trailhead called? Did you do the same route coop did last year? Any gotchas on getting to it? I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of a clear day for us.

    Cheers,
    Paul

  7. Louie III February 4th, 2015 3:50 pm

    Paul, we climbed up the south side, which is the standard route as far as I can tell. Not sure about the name of the trailhead, but it was fairly easy to find. I’ll try to get back with more info. The route to the top was easy, just skin toward the top, and the last part was a short booter.

  8. Grant Alexander Gary February 4th, 2015 7:26 pm

    Louie It’s great to see you talking about something new in Japan! I’ve never seen a trip report or article where someone skied a volcano over there. What are the avy conditions like right now?

  9. Paul Lietzan February 4th, 2015 7:48 pm

    Great, thanks!

  10. Louie III February 5th, 2015 3:40 am

    As far as I’ve seen, the avy conditions are pretty good. We have been further north, around asahikawa, and have been skiing fairly mellow stuff

  11. jim February 6th, 2015 11:22 am

    Louie how were conditions at Asahikawa?

  12. palic February 7th, 2015 6:56 am

    Great trip on great sunny day! We were on Yotei some days after you. There was extreme wind in the upper part, so we hhad decided not to ski to the crater, photos at http://www.tulenipasy.cz/skialpinismus/19440-v-silnem-vetru-na-skialpech-na-japonskou-sopku-yotei-1893-m/

    Paul, the route from the south starts at Makkari and it is easy to follow in a sunny day.

  13. Mark Worley February 10th, 2015 6:33 am

    Volcano beauty is hard to top.

  14. Dave December 23rd, 2017 11:43 pm

    What a great write-up! My son (17) really got stoked reading it! (as did I)
    We’re heading to Nesiko in January and would really like to ski Yotei. I am a very experienced backcountry skier and he’s done a lot of bc skiing in the past few years. My question is, how practical is it to do this without a guide? I’m not as concerned with the actually climb and ski, as much as the figuring out which trailhead to go to. (I’m not sure I’m bold enough to try hitching a ride from one trailhead to the other.).

    Any recommendations and information would be appreciated.

    If anyone reading this wants to get together to form a group for a tour, I’d be interested in that as well. Looking at between January 8 – 13.





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