Summiting Asahidake – Skiing and Splitboarding the highest peak in Hokkaido


Whether it’s summit fever, deeper powder, great views or just enjoying being out in the mountains, the team at Whiteroom Tours all love a good backcountry adventure. The peak of Asahidake does a great job of drawing you in, with stunning views from the top of the ropeway. The impressive steam vents in the centre of a huge horseshoe shaped bowl make for a unique landscape, and give a clear indication you are standing on an active volcano.

Anyone who has skied or snowboarded here has no doubt looked up and imagined gliding down through the steam vents (or ‘fumaroles’, which emit a mixture of steam and gas). After spending many days riding and guiding Asahidake myself, I was very pumped when conditions came together for a summit day.

 

Asahidake Touring

Getting from the ropeway to the main fumaroles is fairly easy going.

 

During the peak winter months it can be tricky to get a clear view of the upper mountain here, let alone a full day of sunshine – although it does happen.  I do have great memories of riding a clean metre of perfect, dry powder under blue skies here on the 1st of January one year… but that’s another story. You can read more about the rest of Asahidake in our previous blog article here or better still join us on our Central Hokkaido Tour and see for yourself!  As it was late March, we’d been gifted with a perfect day for touring, with clear skies and spring snow.

 

Asahidake View

 Joel is always very happy to be walking uphill.

Asahidake vents

Stunning views make it hard to focus on moving!

 

Starting from the top of the ropeway at 1600m, making our way to the first fumaroles was fairly straightforward across rolling, mellow terrain. Our plan was to follow the looker’s right ridgeline all the way to the peak, at 2291m, and the highest point in Hokkaido. My touring buddy Joel had been to the peak previously and knew the variety of terrain we could expect on the ascent – always great info to have.

 

Asahidake splitboarding

Warm spring weather makes for a great touring day – 1/3 the way up.

 

As we approached the half way mark snow conditions on the ridgeline changed from soft to hard, wind packed powder, as expected at higher elevations. Time to pull out the ski crampons to up the grip factor, and combined with the mellow gradient we continued a very enjoyable walk, with great views in all directions.

 

Asahidake views

Views back down to the fumaroles.

Asahidake midway point

Joel at the halfway point to the peak of Asahidake.

 

The next section of the climb was a good reminder regarding which tools are best for certain conditions. As we approached the top 1/3 of the mountain, it became necessary to skirt down and around the ridgeline, across a bumpy and slippery crust layer, before climbing back up to the ridge.  One big difference between touring on a splitboard vs skis was now apparent: hard boots. Sidehilling on a splitboard setup in soft snowboard boots can make it somewhat tricky to keep uphill edge(s) engaged into the snow – especially on a bumpy crust layer which breaks easily underfoot.

 

Asahidake under the ridge

A firm section of of the climb just under the ridge, very crusty and wind affected.

 

After 20 minutes of slow progress and a couple of very exciting kick turns it was time to take the split off and hike the remaining section around and up to the ridge.  Even this proved tricky given the crusty surface: thanks Joel for the whippet! Boot crampons and an axe are always worth having on hand, even on very warm spring days when you think you won’t need them! Many Japanese snowboarders prefer snowshoes when heading uphill, and these would also have been a good option, making it easier to tackle the steeper gradient and rough, variable surface.

 

Asahidake top bowl

Heavy riming and wind exposure evident in the top of the bowl.

 

Once back up on the ridgeline it was smooth sailing again, with snow conditions improving greatly as we made our way up the leeward side towards the peak in soft snow.  After spending many days at Asahidake enjoying the views and great powder, it was great to finally look down from the top and get a new perspective on a place I knew well.

 

Asahidake peak view

The view from Asahidake peak back down towards the top of the ropeway.

Asahidake peak south

Very stoked to be at the summit, views to the south in the background.

Asahidake Peak sign

Welcome to the peak!

 

Now that we’d made the summit it was time to decide on our line back down towards the fumaroles.  After considering which areas of the bowl were most wind affected we decided to head further around to a southerly aspect, which also offered some great terrain features to ride around.

 

Asahidake Joel's line

Joel enjoying the spring snow conditions.

Asahidake snowboard line

Spring snow, blue skies and great terrain!

Asahidake lines

It’s always worth taking a moment to look back and appreciate your line.

 

After some great turns we were still in for a treat, as below us were various big fumaroles, spewing huge plumes of smoke and gas into the sky.  Not as much sulphur content as I’d expected up close with very little smell, unlike many of the other volcanic areas in Hokkaido.

 

Asahidake above fumaroles

Joel approaching the fumaroles in the lower section of the bowl.

Asahidake ride through fumaroles

It’s not everyday you get to ride through a landscape like this!

 

Riding amongst the fumaroles definitely goes down as one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had in the mountains, and something I’ll definitely be doing again as soon as possible. I really can’t think of anything I enjoy more than getting out and exploring new terrain and riding new lines, especially with good friends.  The great part is, you can quite easily ride or ski through the fumaroles without needing to reach the peak.  The team at Whiteroom are more than happy to take you on a guided day at Asahidake so you can experience it for yourself!

 

Asahidake Touring

Joel enjoying his last turns before we head back towards the ropeway.

 

If you’d like to experience some of the great powder and locations Hokkaido has to offer, get in touch with us at Whiteroom Tours!  We have a great range of ski and snowboard tours across Japan, and also offer guided backcountry days with highly qualified guides.

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Greg Young