The Niseko area is a fantastic winter destination, boasting multiple snow resorts, tons of back country opportunities, beautiful onsens or hot springs along with many restaurants and bars. One of the best back country options involves climbing up the tallest mountain in the area and is very similar in shape to Mount Fuji. The mountain is also very shy just like Mount Fuji and is more often than not covered in clouds.
Spring snowboarding in Niseko is great and spring snowboarding into the crater of Mont Yotei is awesome. Yotei is a 1,868 meter high inactive volcano near the world famous Niseko resort town. Snowboarding down Yotei requires strength, back country snowboarding experience and all the proper climbing and safety equipment. The weather on Yotei is often windy and snowy and not a good place to be caught unprepared.
Our hike up the volcano started at 9 am and finished around 5 pm. Hiking up Yotei in the snow is much different than hiking on a trail in the summer. The mountain is completely covered in snow and there are no trails or signs. The lower section of the mountain is covered in a beautiful birch forest. Shirakaba is the Japanese word for birch and you can see it everywhere in the Niseko area. Nothing beats carving through waist deep powder while winding through a silent birch grove.
Once you reach the upper section of the mountain the trees fade away and the snow conditions change to icy or powdery depending on the temperature and weather. The top can be quite challenging in the colder months. We climbed the mountain in mid April and there was very little ice on the top. The snow inside the crater was still a bit powdery even though I was climbing up the side of the mountain at one point with only a merino wool base layer.
The coolest part of climbing Yotei is the chance to snowboard into the crater. Once you drop into the crater you will find relief from the mountain winds and possibly many snowboarders and skiers from around the world congregating in the bottom. Once inside the crater the sun seems to set prematurely and it will get dark and cool earlier than on the top of the crater ridge.
There are multiple routes up the mountain. I suggest the Makkari route which starts from this point on Google Maps: Yashiro, Makkari, Abuta District, Hokkaido Prefecture 048-1605. After finishing the hike, one of the best onsen views in Japan along with delicious food can be enjoyed at Makkari Onsen.