Lifts & Terrain
Asahidake Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Asahidake Japan is unpatrolled backcountry skiing and is heaven on sticks (or a board) for any powder hound due to the abundance of powder and minimal crowds. These mountains were called “kamui-mintara” by the Ainu people of Hokkaido, which means the playground of the gods. Perhaps they intended it to mean a playground for powder hounds?!
Asahidake Ropeway Terrain
The Asahidake ropeway (cable car) provides 500 vertical metres of lift accessed terrain that has four courses (as the Japanese like to call them!), however rather than “runs” they are really just cat tracks. Most of the ski area is an off-piste paradise that is suitable for advanced and expert riders and those that love tree skiing. Trail maps and signs have various warnings and a recommendation not to ride off the trails, and that any rescue required off-piste will be at your own cost. Of course, assess the risk for yourself but we can’t imagine anyone would ski at Asahidake and actually stay on the trails!
The off-piste areas should be treated as the backcountry considering that it is unpatrolled and not avalanche controlled, so carry your beacon, shovel and probe, and take the usual backcountry precautions. Be mindful that the huge volumes of snow sitting on a warm volcano can also increase the risk of avalanche.
The top part of the ropeway serviced area is reasonably open and has some short steep pitches. There are also some rocks in case you feel the need to huck. The slopes flow into some nicely spaced trees where you can pick any line that takes your fancy. After you’re 2/3s of the way down, route options diminish because there’s a creek that’s tricky to cross without wings. Common routes out are via one of the groomed trails, but this can become a little like Groundhog Day.
With short hikes up it’s possible to head across to the sidecountry where there are more short steep pitches. The terrain doesn’t always drop perfectly along the fall line and there are quite a few snowboarder traps on deep days. A little bit of walking or shuffling is required to return to the groomed trails.
There is a huge expanse of alpine terrain above the ropeway which can be accessed via snowshoeing or skinning (forget boot packing!). The terrain includes some nice steep bowls, particularly on the skiers’ left.
As to be expected, visibility up in the alpine is crap during inclement weather. In addition to the usual backcountry hazards, there may be some cracks and massive fumaroles in this area that are hard to see, although the stench and the noise may help in sussing out their impending arrival! We would definitely recommend the use of a guide in this area.
The mountain is serviced by the Asahidake Ropeway (cable car) which leaves every 20 minutes (sometimes every 10 minutes on busy days). You can only get in about 10 runs for the day (if you don’t do any skinning), so it makes for a relatively leisurely day of skiing. Waiting for the cable car can be a little tiresome depending on your timing (treat yourself to a pork bun from the shop while you’re waiting).
The cable car was installed with hikers in mind not skiers, so when you get out of the top station you have to walk up a little before you can start skiing or boarding.
Likelihood of Fresh Tracks
Asahidake receives an abundance of snowfall estimated at 14 metres per year on average, so the powder is topped up regularly.
Asahidake continues to become more discovered, but it’s still relatively uncrowded and the limited lift capacity of the mountain also controls the number of riders on the hill. The freshies disappear quickly in the areas near the top of the lift, but as you fan out further, there are still lots of obvious fresh tracks at lunch time. And if you’re prepared to go for more of a hike, there are freshies for days and days.
Asahidake doesn’t accept credit cards for lift ticket purchases. Cash is king! They have various lift ticket options which include a 4 hour pass, a full day ticket, single ride tickets (for those who want to earn their turns above the ropeway), and a 6 use ticket (which is more expensive than a full day ticket).
Asahidake Snow and Weather Conditions
The abundant white stuff is typically dry “Hokkaido powder” which is well maintained because Asahidake is at a higher elevation than other Hokkaido ski resorts. The relatively treeless area at the top can have wind affected snow, but once into the trees the powder generally becomes light and fluffy. The aspect isn’t necessarily favourable for pristine snow (unlike Kurodake which is over on the other side of the mountain), but during the height of the winter there may not be that much sun to affect the snow quality.
Temperatures can be very cold (we’ve had a couple of shivery days at about minus 27 degrees) but considering that the trip up is warm and most of the trip down is protected, it’s generally not a problem.
Asahidake can get really windy. Remarkably the cable car can still operate in fierce winds, but there are times when the ropeway has to close due to gale force winds.
For the Beginner / Intermediate
This is definitely not a mountain for beginners, and even though 50% of the runs are classified as intermediate, this is probably not an intermediates’ mountain either. The statistics for the terrain split refers to the trails, and whilst intermediate riders could stay on the narrow trails, this would not provide enough variety.
Asahidake Terrain Park
There is no terrain park or pipe at Asahi-dake, only some natural hits for a bit of excitement. If you like leaping off things, there are rocks, small cliffs and mushrooms, and there are logs for sliding down. The landings consist of beautiful deep powder, so forget the air bar for practising your moves!
Advanced Snowboarding & Skiing Asahidake
The advanced Asahidake ski and board terrain is anywhere in the off-piste areas between the trails. There are some expert zones in here, but any tricky lines are very obvious (unless the visibility is really poor!!). If you take the very short hike up the hill to the right from the cable car, all runs on the skiers’ left are a case of all runs lead down. There are lots of fun lines on the skiers’ right too, but try to avoid the various lines that either flatten out or end in a closed-in valley where you’ll be hiking in deep snow for a while.
Asahidake Skiing - Experts
There are some drop-offs and decent steeps at Asahidake but these tend to be reasonably short lived. Most expert riders are very happy just playing in the powder.
Guiding is provided as part of multi-resort tours (see the bottom of the Asahidake overview
page). Asahidake guiding is also available out of Furano - see the Furano ski activities
Asahidake Ski Season
The official Asahidake ski season goes from approximately mid-December through to early May, thanks to abundant snowfall and high elevation. The Asahidake Ropeway may close for a week during April for maintenance.
The powder is at its best during the winter months, but not surprisingly this is also the time when blizzard conditions can exist and the ropeway sometimes gets shut down. March tends to bring more fine days and is ideal for backcountry touring, particularly if you want to tour across the Daisetsuzan region.