Kurodake

Hokkaido, Japan

Kurodake is a steep, backcountry-style ski mountain in central Hokkaido that’s best suited to advanced and expert skiers. With many hidden dangers, it’s only recommended with a guide.

Scout Loves

  • Practically no other skiers there.
  • Steeps and deeps that will thrill the most advanced skier.
  • A hike to the top of Mt Kurodake will reward you with one of the longest top-to-bottom runs in Hokkaido.
  • Great food at the restaurant at the top of the ropeway (try the pancakes!)
  • The fun ice festival at Sounkyo.

Scout Tips

  • Bring a guide and your avalanche safety equipment.
  • There’s a chairlift servicing a short run at the top of the ropeway. Suitable for beginners or intermediates wanting to try their hand at powder or lap groomed runs.
  • Kurodake is doable as a day trip from Furano, but it’s a long day.

Scout Review

Kurodake is not for the faint-hearted! With cliffs and high avalanche danger it’s one of Japan’s steepest and gnarliest ski areas, though calling it a ski area would be a stretch. Like nearby Asahidake and Hakkoda on the main island, Kurodake has a ropeway originally designed for summer tourists who come for hiking and wildflowers. However, unlike Asahidake and Hakkoda it is less geared to skiers who have since discovered the areas. Apart from the short chairlift and tiny groomed run at the top of the ropeway there are no services to support skiers or boarders, and the fact that skiers go anywhere other than the short run at the top is hardly even acknowledged (apart from some serious warning messages). You are completely on your own in the way of route finding, evaluating safety hazards and, god-forbid, rescue. We saw evidence of two fresh avalanches on the lower part of the mountain, including one that was most definitely triggered by a skier or boarder. In other words, do NOT come here without a guide, even if you’re an expert skier.

Kurodake is located in an onsen town called Sounkyo, about one hour east of Asahikawa. It’s a small town that heaves with tourists at night during winter due to the popular and fun ice festival. Using water from the river, a variety of ice caves with spectacular stalactites and other ice carvings are illuminated. There are also performances, fireworks and sake tastings. The ice festival runs from January to mid-March.

Kurodake Skiing

With our public safety announcements out of the way, we’ll now focus on why you should come here. Kurodake has some of Japan’s best steeps, amazing dry powder and awesome tree skiing. It’s a backcountry paradise, accessed by a seven-minute tram ride rising 630m/2066ft. If you’re prepared to work for it and the conditions are right you can hike right to the peak of Mt Kurodake (1984m/6509ft) and ski all the way back down to the ropeway base (670m/2198ft).  There’s also access to some fabulous open bowls above the treeline to the side of Kurodake mountain.

Kurodake rarely gets crowded with skiers. The day we visited there were seven people skiing the ropeway part of the mountain (including Scout and our guide). What that means is that the likelihood of getting fresh tracks days after a storm is high. It’s worth taking along skins or snowshoes because sometimes a very short hike will allow you to get some great runs, or are required to exit others.

A one-day pass will set you back about ¥3800.

Guides can be hard to come by, however Scout can make recommendations.

Kurodake For Families

Unless you have older kids who are highly experienced in backcountry skiing we would not recommend families skiing Kurodake. On the other hand, if they’re beginners they may enjoy lapping the short chair at the top (220m/721ft). There’s some (fairly average looking) equipment for rent at the top, but no lessons. The main reason a family would visit Kurodake and Sounkyo is to see the ice festival.

Kurodake Accommodation

There are a variety of hotels in the town of Sounkyo and they can get heavily booked on weekends during the ice festival but in contrast feel deserted during the week. There is the huge Sounkaku Grand Hotel, however our pick would be Hotel Taisetsu, which is located quite close to the ropeway. There aren’t a huge amount of restaurants – the Sounkyo Kanko Hotel has a nice Japanese restaurant, while the Beer Grill Canyon on the main street is also popular.

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The ice festival is the biggest drawcard to Sounkyo and it’s definitely fun to visit. Other than that the onsen and snowshoeing are about the only other activities for visitors during winter.

Getting There and Around

Sounkyo is located just over an hour’s drive from Asahikawa, or two hours from Furano. There are buses from Asahikawa, however the easiest way to get here is with your own vehicle (or guide’s).

When To Go

The official small ski area at the top of the ropeway opens at Kurodake from late November until May. The rest of the mountain would be best skied from early January onwards when the base has sufficiently covered rocks, logs and other obstacles. However, the ropeway can be suspended for service from early to late January. It can also be very cold and foul weather during January and early February. March can be a great time to visit.

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