Climbing and powder skiing on Japanese volcanoes: a travelogue

A two-handed travelogue by Anna and Ludo climbing and powder skiing on Japanese volcanoes in Hokkaido Island 


Saturday, February 4: Arrival and meeting day   

Ludo writes... 

Here we are: it's 4 February, off to Japan. Tomorrow we are skiing on the long-awaited powder snow in Hokkaido. Departing from Italy, Germany, the UK and Switzerland, and after a 24+ hours flight, we meet up and get to know each other at Sapporo airport, the main city on the island where we will spend the next 8 days. We leave Sapporo heading for Niseko, an hour and a half drive to our accommodation.    

The centimetres of snow on the roadsides increase as we approach our destination. Reaching our village in the moonlight, it feels like an enchanted place. Our house is a gem, in pure essential Japanese style and with a large common room on the upper floor with full-length windows from which we will be able to enjoy the view of Mount Yotei weather permitting. We unload skis and suitcases from the van, sort ourselves into the four bedrooms and say goodnight with appointment for 8.30am the next morning.

Our house in Niseko

Sunday, February 5: Niseko Yotei Skiresort

Anna writes... 

Our first day in Hokkaido was simply awesome! We kicked things off with a hearty breakfast of eggs and cereal at home, and we were all set to go by the time we hit the rental shop at 8.30. We were super stoked but also a bit nervous about what was in store for us. We were all set with our gear and ready to hit the slopes in Niseko Yotei Skiresort, but we weren't sure how tough it would be. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about. We started with some chill runs, taking the lifts up and skiing down the pistes or off-piste areas where the snow was deep and untouched. It was pure bliss! We even did a short backcountry tour to explore some fresh powder without any marked trails. Our two guides were super cool and made sure everyone was comfortable and having fun. By the end of the day, we were all pumped up and excited about what the rest of our trip at Hokkaido had in store for us.  


Anna, Katrin and Ludo, ready to ski


Trees full of Japow: the famous powder snow of Japan

Climbing up...

Ready to descend!

Ludo writes... 

Dinner at home with Japanese version of pasta al ragu’, a nutritious frittata with potatoes and vegetables and a salad. Great teamwork for both the cooking and clean-up part! 

Our table in our apartment


Italian pasta for dinner

And a great frittata

Monday, February 6: Rankoshi  

Ludo writes...  

After breakfast, we set off towards Rankoshi, a 20-minute drive from our base. Anna got slightly injured yesterday, so she is resting in Niseko for the day.  

Once we reached the area where we were to leave the van, we could not resist taking a few pictures of the walls of snow around us. 

Snow walls in Niseko

Ready to start...


We put on our skis and set off along what in summer and spring is a wheeled road for a few kilometres. 

Natural hotsprings

We arrive at the foot of the modest summit, which allows us to repeat it a couple of times and have twice the fun of the powder snow descent.  



For the return journey, we take an alternative route that passes between the much infamous onsen.  

Fatmap link


Back home and the more daring are ready for an evening ski trip to the Nisieko resort.   

Niseko resort


Early to bed because tomorrow, Mount Yotei awaits us. 

Tuesday, February 7: Mount Yōtei (羊蹄山, Yōtei-zan, literally "sheep-hoof mountain"), 1898 m 

Anna writes...  

Day three was easily one of the sickest days for all of us. We decide to climb up Yōtei volcano, which looks like a mini-Fuji. The ascension was 1300 mt and we started our backcountry tour from the bottom of the volcano. We took breaks every hour for food and water since it was a long journey, but we had loads of patience and endurance. It was windy as hell up there! At first, the trees offered some protection, but as we got higher, the wind and the snow got icier.  

Ludo writes...  

Much motivated by Lorenzo, some of us set out to reach the crater of Mount Yotei, and what can I say... the effort was 100% worth it: a crater 700 m in diameter filled with snow opens up in front of us. We take a few photographs and start to descend. We reach the point where we had left our skis 20 metres below the crater to summit and begin one of the most beautiful ski runs of my life: a magical experience that is hard to put into words. From the alpine landscape of the peak, we soon enter the birch wood to arrive at the foot of the volcano and walk the last stretch that takes us to a village that seems untouched by the passing of time. We return home in the van with magic in our eyes and I admit, a sense of having done something epic. 

Anna writes...

To top the epic day off, I decided to go for a little night skiing sesh at Niseko Yotei Skiresort all alone for an hour and a half before dinner. It was just me, the moonlight, and some lights. So freaking cool!  

Dinner at Kougetsu Izakaya, where we tried almost everything the house had to offer. Delicious!

Wednesday, February 8: Mount Mekunnai (目国内岳, Mekunnai-dake), 1000 m elevation

Ludo writes...

After the feat of climbing Mount Yotei on the third day, we opt for a less demanding trip on the fourth. We choose the summit of Mekunnai, which is a 1000m climb from the top of the chairlift of the ski resort nearby. The ascent is excellent for practicing inversions and the scenery is, as always, breathtaking, with plants bent by the wind and covered in snow that makes them look like sculptures. 

When we reach the top, we remove the skins from our skis and start to descend through various groves. It begins to snow heavily. I have never seen a snowfall like this, and in a matter of seconds, snow piles up on our heads, shoulders, and backpacks. We lose the trail, and what was supposed to be an easy walk turns into another adventure, but once again, it was worth it. How often do you find yourself in the middle of a Japanese wood with meters of snow falling in front of you?   

Once we find the trail, we reach the van and drive home. Dinner at Kimura, a very cosy place in the village of Kutchan.   


Dinner at Kimura


Thursday, February 9: Rusutsu Resort

Anna writes...

The 5th day was rad! We went to Rusutsu resort for a backcountry tour with 1000 meters of ascent. We started off in the trees and it was chill, but it got steeper as we went up. The weather was sunny at first, but it started getting colder and foggy as we climbed, which was kind of freaky since we didn't know where we were going. Luckily, Lorenzo, our guide, had a GPS and helped us out. When we finally reached the peak, we took a sick photo to show off our achievement. The name of the mountain was in Japanese, which was super cool and exciting for a tourist like me! We made our way down carefully through the fog and the last part of skiing through the trees and the animal tracks on the snow was like something out of a Snow White movie. We ended the day at a sushi bar in Niseko where we had some of the freshest fish ever! 

Fatmap link

Friday, February 10: Kokusai Ski Resort and Sapporo Snow Festival 

Ludo writes...

The penultimate day... We decide to take it easy on the lifts and head to nearby Sapporo to spend the evening in town. We park at the Kokusai Ski Resort and after a couple of runs down the slope, we put on our skins and leave the resort. 

A group of people on snow skis

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A group of people in ski gear

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It really only takes 20 minutes with the skins on and you end up with snow at your knees that is still almost untouched. We enjoy our last rides and experience the hut at the bottom of the slope with proper Japanese dishes.   


A group of people skiing on a snowy mountain

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After skiing, we drive to Sapporo where we visit the Sapporo Snow Festival: ice sculptures with projections, live music and pop-up shops from the festival's sponsors. 

Sapporo Snow Festival

For dinner, we look for a sushi bar and find one on one of the main streets in the centre, which, with its neon lights and maxi-screens on the facades of the tall buildings, brings us back to the technological reality of Japan, so different from the more rural parts of Hokkaido of the previous days.

Saturday, February 11: Last ski tour and Onsen Motomiya  

Ludo writes...

For the last ski day we decide to go on a ski tour and peak Mount Mekunnai.  

Visibility is not the best and we struggle a bit finding the way. It starts to snow quite heavily but we proceed determined.  


My wrists hurt like hell, already from the second day of skiing I have started to feel pain which has increased until I can't even hold the poles properly. So I decide to attach them to my rucksack and ascend without them, I will only take them back for the descent. Of course, it's more effort because I don't have the strength in my arms to help me.  

After 1210 metres of ascent, we take off our skis to do the last 10 metres and reach the summit. Enormous satisfaction and desire to soak up as much of the environment as possible because tomorrow we leave to go home. 



On the way back to the resort we stop at Onsen Motomiya Yakushi Shrine where we get well-deserved hot and cold baths. A real panacea! 

We are the only westerners inside the thermal water baths. We are therefore also completely immersed in the local culture. 

For dinner, we return to our beloved Kuchan and eat at a delicious inn called >うたり. We order a mix of dishes to share and head to bed well-nourished ready for tomorrow's departure.

Sunday, February 12: Departure day    

Anna writes...

The 7th day was the last day of our epic adventure. We all got up at an ungodly hour, 4.30 am, and piled into our van with Diego, our guide, behind the wheel. He drove us for a solid 2 hours back to the airport. My buddy Davide and I said goodbye to the gang and ventured off to explore Sapporo. First stop was the Nijo Market, where we tried some amazing seafood. Then we went on a shopping spree and boy did I go wild for all the cheap and cool cosmetics products. I spent all my yen there, but it was worth it. To cap off the trip, Davide and I hit up a sushi joint, which allowed people to smoke inside, which was pretty wild. Eventually, it was time to head to the airport, and we took a taxi for an hour to get there. We said our goodbyes, and even though the trip was over, the memories of that amazing adventure will always be with me.