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.
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.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.