We’ll begin and end this expedition visiting some lesser known sidecountry areas of Hokkaido. Expect to bookend the Rishiri mission with secret tours around Furano (and group dependent) a crack at Tokachidake. Our team’s main focus will be the remote and elusive Rishiri volcano. Working with my local partners at Stealth Backcountry allows us to hit the goods from the moment we land!
Floating the Volcano
Rishiri Island is a backcountry skiing haven with a huge variety of ski and snowboard terrain for those willing to earn their turns. Mount Rishiri is a dormant cone-shaped volcano at the center of the remote Rishiri Island. In the native Ainu language, “Rishiri” means “island with a high peak”, which pretty much sums it up! Others call Rishiri the “floating island”, possibly because you’ll gain a lot of pleasure from floating in the deep powder!
Skiing Rishiri Island is on the bucket list for many Japan backcountry skiing aficionados. Powder on Hokkaido is world renowned because of the abundant, light, fluffy, amazing cold smoke that results from the weather systems that blow down from Siberia. Compared to most Hokkaido ski areas, Rishiri Island is much further north (and closer) to Siberia so the powder there is even better than amazing!
And if devouring all that Japanese powder isn’t enough for you, there’s also an abundance of local seafood to satisfy your appetite. A Rishiri ski trip provides a delightfully unadulterated Japanese experience.
Where is Rishiri Island?
Rishiri Island (Rishiritō) is a small island in the Sea of Japan, about 20 kilometers off the northwest coast of Hokkaido. The Oshidomari Port on Rishiri Island can be accessed via ferry from Otaru or Wakkanai (Hokkaido’s northernmost town). Wakkanai is a 5.5 hour train trip from Sapporo.
Mount Rishiri has an elevation of 1,721 metres. Depending on weather conditions, the backcountry terrain we’ll access will include a combination of ATL alpine zones and NTL/BTL tree skiing. Mt Rishiri has many ridges, gullies, and bowls- some of which are super steep, and there are several peaks to tackle. BUT, there is also a reasonable amount of mellow terrain below treeline for us to explore.
We will utilize a snowmobile to cover the long and flat distances at the base of the mountain before committing to human-power. No worries if you’re not a seasoned sled-neck!
Rishiri Ski Season
In late winter and early spring there’s a greater chance for clear days, although the main, year-round weather inhibitor to summiting Mt Rishiri is the wind. Rishiri is renowned for its oft-gusty conditions! Our expedition will run from 2/22/20 to 3/1/20.
No sooner was I back from AK than it was time for the next adventure. The journey lines crew had plans to finish this historic snow season in style with a next level fatpack snowboard mountaineering trip. The bike tour and intended climb/ski routes were obscure and remote. We'd travel to a seldom visited part of the San Juan Mountains and use fatbikes to access camps below our objectives. A SAG vehicle would shadow the team but couldn't drive the route. The truck would have t
Day Eight The alarm goes off at 1:30 and I lay there wondering if I really slept at all. It’s summit day and the suck of the now will all be forgotten if I can just rally and get this shit done. Although it’s the middle of the night, the Alaskan summer provides me with enough light to prep in the tent without a headlamp. Our goal is to be moving by 2am and our team spent a good deal of time prepping the prior evening so that dressing ourselves and brewing up would be the only
Day 5 (con't.) We rope up and head out to tackle the icefall proper. I take the lead, snowplowing back down icefall camp’s entry spine before taking a sharp left turn out to the ramp. Leaving the spine, I immediately have to navigate across three monster troughs that sport slumping snow bridges to gain the center of the low angled slope leading upwards. The moves are heady. I trust nothing. I'm ready to fall at any moment. There are cracks everywhere underneath me and there’s
Sometimes a mission takes longer to pull off than you originally think. Such was the case with Mt. Sanford, a 16k+ peak in Alaska’s Wrangell St Elias National Park. I had first learned about this mountain, while running backcountry snowboarding trips for Outward Bound in the late 2000s. A colleague of mine who calls AK home regaled me with visions of splitboarding off this massive peak. Ever since I first learned of Sanford, the dream of heading to the Wrangell Mountains and