By Tracey Mehrtens
Question the web about the best powder snow in the world and you may be surprised by the answer. One of the best spots on the planet is in fact Japan – not usually the first spot that leaps to mind as a top ski destination.
For many New Zealanders, Japan’s imagery is that of trees laden with pink blossoms, delicate women in traditional kimonos, potent sake rice wine and rice paddy fields cascading down hillsides bent with harvesting workers. Put on your snow goggles and you’ll see a whole different picture.
Kiwis love their snow. They either ski at home, in often unpredictable and unreliable ski conditions, or they hit the slopes of Europe and Canada without giving Japan a passing thought. The reality is that Japan is closer than most international ski destinations and the snow and weather is reliable, day after day, after day, sating the appetite of the most veracious skier of any skill set.
Club Med Sahoro on the northern island of Hokkaido, 140km from Japan’s self-pronounced beer capital of Sapporo, offers Kiwis a ski-in-ski-out hotel setting that is hard to beat. The surrounding landscape resembles heartland New Zealand; the black and white dappled Friesian cows grazing the fresh green pastures a familiar homely sight. In winter the region is blanketed in a thick dust of snow, building the fluffiest and best powder snow on the globe.
For Kiwi skiers and snowboarders it’s a dream, with consistently perfect conditions, cloudless blue sky, no wind and a ski base to die for.
After winging into the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, the final leg of the journey to Club Med Sahoro is a scenic train ride. The lack of English signage initially presented a bit of a challenge, but thanks to the true preciseness of the Japanese culture, I coped. The woman at the ticket counter directed me to the platform with instructions to catch the train with the departure time on my ticket. So, I waited for the 10.34am to pull into the station and it did – at precisely that time, right to the last second. We eased out of the station exactly 30 seconds later, right on schedule. This speedy embarkation causing a bit of a rummage as I transferred my bags onboard, but mission accomplished.
Clacking through quaint villages blanketed in snow and past icy ponds, the backdrop of mountains cascading with snowy slopes heralded the end of the trip that not only delivered me to Club Med but also gave me a glimpse of Japanese life on Hokkaido. Very predictably, the train pulled into the station right on the dot of the expected arrival time, and then it was onto the Club Med bus and up the hill to the resort.
Club Med Sahoro is surrounded by 21km of ski slopes, literally on its doorstep, and is a ski resort unlike any in New Zealand – a hotel packed with facilities and where you don your skis inside and head straight out the door onto the slopes. Perfect! ??A ski holiday here is made even more attractive with the Club Med all-inclusive concept that not only includes all food, drinks, evening entertainment and Kids’ Club, but also group skiing and snowboarding classes within your prepaid package.
What better way to cap off a hard day on the slopes than with a soak in the outdoor hot tub as the snowflakes flutter down around you, or you could head to the spa for some relaxation and revitalisation.
Even after dark the snow fun continues, with Club Med staff crafting an ice skating rink outside in full view of the bar lounge. Funny how, after a few drinks, you think you can do anything … hence lots of bruises the next day!
The rink is a spectacle at night, lit up and filled with gliding skaters well into the night.
The resort is relaxed yet with a distinct Japanese Zen-like ambience. There is a choice of accommodation rooms including family, deluxe or the spacious suite boasting views of the ski slopes, with a traditional Japanese eating area and rice paper screens segmenting the room.
If skiing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of sightseeing activities in and around the resort to keep you entertained in both the winter and summer months. Try out the traditional ofuro or Japanese bath experience, or visit Sapporo, the home of the traditional Japanese beer.
As for me, I’ll be back in the winter months to polish up my ski expertise, amongst other things.