A month in Japan Part 3 – Mt. Asahidake
To get to our next destination, Mt. Asahidake, we had a longer journey ahead of us than we had previously done. So, to break it up we booked a two night stay in the city of Asahikawa. To get here it was a three hour coach from Sapporo, which left us an hour and a quarter bus to get to the mountain on our next day of travel. This stop off, by some stroke of luck, meant that we avoided a two day spell of heavy rain after a warm weather front hit virtually every ski resort in Hokkaido.
We headed to Mt. Asahidake after our weekend of relaxation in Asahikawa. The bus ride there was pleasant with plenty of scenic views to keep you occupied. Once you cross cross into the Daisetsuzan National Park you quickly realise that you are heading out into the middle of nowhere. The mountain ranges within this park are the highest in the whole of Hokkaido, with the peak of Mt. Asahidake standing at 2291 m. During our bus journey, the snow returned, creating incredibly low visibility. Unfortunately for us, as we approached our destination we were unable to catch even a small glimpse of the mountain that we were going to ride for the next six days.
We arrived at the Hotel Bear Monte in the afternoon, conveniently located right next to the ropeway, which takes you to the top of the mountain. Our room was spacious and the facilities the hotel offered were of a high standard, especially the onsen. The food here was definitely the best we had experienced at any of the hotels we had been to so far, with the special dishes they bring you each night being a particular highlight.
Asahidake is not a ski resort as such, or at least not in the conventional sense. There is a fair few hotels here, but not a lot else and there is only one lift which is a ropeway used all year round for sightseeing. There are only four ‘courses’ called A, B, C and D. These only amount to small ski roads and could not be called a pisted run. So what is left is huge expanse of lift accessed backcountry terrain with the top being alpine conditions (the first we had seen in Hokkaido). The Ainu people of Hokkaido used to worship this mountain as Kamuimintara (A god’s playground) and for us this seemed like a very fitting way to describe the terrain here. With loads of small cliffs and pillows there is an endless amount of fun to be had.
During our stay, we got a real sense of being out in the wilderness, and the weather only reinforced this. It was really unforgiving, with winds often blowing up to 40km/h and visibility in the alpine regularly being a white out, making skiing and snowboarding extremely tough at times. However, for the more determined skier and snowboarder, there are plenty of rewards to be had! The ropeway surprisingly will operate in winds up to around the 50km/h mark so you will still be able to get up the mountain most days. I would strongly advise getting a guide in Asahidake. More so here than anywhere else we have been to, simply because trying to navigate this mountain with the weather, is extremely difficult and can be daunting on your first day.
We met a brilliant guy called Toshi who is based in the Hotel Bear Monte who has been guiding there for twelve years. Once you have got a feel for the mountain there are some amazing lines to be had. Yes, you won’t be getting in tons of runs a day and there are some flat spots which may mean a bit of hiking is involved. But given the variety of terrain, and the quality and quantity of snow on offer here, these runs will almost certainly be some of the best you ever do.
I have no doubts that this place is not for everyone. Many boarders and skiers have, and will come away from this mountain not having had the best time. However, for those that have the right mindset, and like a bit of adventure and a challenge, this place will be special (especially if the weather is on your side). However, if you don’t want to take a risk with the weather I would advise staying in Asahikawa, where you have access to several ski resorts unlike Asahidake, where you can assess the weather on the day and head out to the right place accordingly.