For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to ski. Just the idea of gracefully swishing down a beautiful snow-covered mountain while breathing in crisp cool air makes skiing sounds like the coolest sport – imagine the confidence, the adrenaline rush and sensation that you would feel as you jump, turn and flip like an acrobat in the air. Well, that’s what I thought before finding out that “bend your ankles, turn your toes and push your heels” are not as easy as they sound…
My Hokkaido winter odyssey began as I touched down at the New Chitose Airport on a direct AirAsia X night flight from KLIA2, which took roughly around eight hours to reach this northernmost island in Japan, where its winter lasts a good six months (November to April) and brings postcard-perfect powdery snow landscape. Since I had a couple of hours to spare before my Sahoro Express Ski Shuttle Bus ride to Club Med Sahoro, I quickly toured the airport that seemed like a specialty haven overflowing with local seafood products, confections and crafts – truthfully, you could easily lose half a day and your yen just by shopping here. At 10.30am, I made way to the bus meeting point where I finally saw a big, big crowd of skiers – young and old – waiting in line with skis in tow and an excited grin on their face. “This is it,” I said to myself, couldn’t believe for a minute that for the next few days, I’d be doing the one sport that I’ve been wishing to experience for so long.
Located two hours and 10 minutes from the airport and near to the site where Sapporo Olympic Games was staged back in 1972, Club Med Sahoro nestles a little way up the almost deserted Mount Sahoro, fashioned in the style of a massive complex comprising both modern and traditional Japanese rooms with tatami mats, an indoor swimming pool, an indoor ofuro bath and sauna, an outdoor Canadian tub, a gym, a spa and three food and beverage outlets all under one roof – in other words, you don’t even need to leave the resort except for some outdoor activities in the snow. On top of that, feel free to leave behind your wallet (in your room, stored in the safe that is) when you are here; Club Med’s trademark all-inclusive packages will get you covered from three gourmet meals daily, open bar and snacking service, ski lift tickets, ski lessons to kids club. The only things that guests need to pay extra are the ski-hire, ski wear, spa service and additional excursions.
My room had a mountain lodge feel to it, well-styled but not excessively decorated and thoroughly comfortable, totally suitable for families with small children. Even the bathroom and the toilet (with heated toilet seat) are separated as per common Japanese configuration for guests’ convenience. It’s worth noting, moreover, that Club Med Sahoro is a Green Globe-certified property, hence it implements sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices, including limiting bottled drinking water in the rooms. Once guests have finished drinking them, they are urged to refill their bottles at various refill stations throughout the resort.
To Ski or Not To Ski
The long tiresome journey and drastic climate change must have exhausted my body so bad. After settling in, I thought of hitting the slopes right away but the body just resisted against my will. Perhaps a good long massage at Club Med Spa Pirka would help. And boy, I was right. I particularly enjoyed the 60-minute Body Aromatherapy massage (JPY12,960), which successfully reduced my fatigue because my lovely soft-spoken masseuse focussed on the areas I requested with their best-selling soothing oil – no first-night effect on me that night, for sure.
Afterwards, I went to the resort’s Ski Service Centre to get fitted for ski boots, skis and poles. The whole fitting process was a breeze with the ever helpful G.O.s (Gentil Organisateur) assisting me in finding the right pairs according to my height, weight (gasp!) and ability. It is highly recommended that guests find the equipment and gear that fit them the best to reduce the risk of unnecessary pains. For example, in finding the right fit for your ski boots, your toes should meet the end of the boot, but leaves enough space for you to wiggle them. Ignore this tip and you might end up with painful black toenails on your feet after skiing. Guests need to take note that renting out the equipment and gear is not inclusive in the Club Med Sahoro package, so be prepared to fork out around JPY4,320 to JPY6,650 per day per set, depending on your preferences. Once all the equipment and gear are sorted out, guests can store them at the locker according to their room number. Additionally, guests of Club Med Sahoro can rent ski clothes (jacket and waterproof pants by Rosignol) as well at JPY3,500 per day from the boutique if they do not possess any.
When it comes to food, Club Med Sahoro shines beyond expectations. This can be seen at Daichi, the resort’s main restaurant, where a vast feast is laid out in buffet style three times each day, ranging from Hokkaido specialties like crab and dairy products (especially my favourite, which is the soft ice cream) to international fare like western, Italian, Chinese and even Indonesian on some lucky days, cooked and prepared fresh in front of the guests. The resort brings in fresh seafood and produce every day, and sources local products whenever possible. But for those who like to try something different, guests should make reservation and head to Mina Mina (which means “happy smile” in indigenous Ainu language) to try out the outlet’s nabe (hot pot meals).
The Judgement Day
Sahoro’s gentle pistes and many intermediate slopes fit in with Club Med’s long-standing emphasis on ski education amidst family-friendly atmosphere without compromising advanced skiers’ and snowboarders’ expectations. Club Med Sahoro’s guests can access the 21 ski runs, nine of them for beginners, five for intermediate skiers and seven for advanced ski junkies. But I learned that the more advanced skiers and snowboarders actually prefer to go off-piste since it is more exciting, especially when having to ski between trees. One more advantage of skiing/snowboarding here, besides the ski-in ski-out access, is the low ski traffic, meaning guests’ time on the slopes is maximised. A group lesson, moreover, is complimentary for all ages. Should guests prefer one-on-one session, extra charge is applied. Club Med Sahoro has a group of talented instructors including a former Olympic ski athlete, Matjaz Kladnik.
Our instructor, Oki, was a patient and accommodating man. He instructed us beginners on the basics such as attaching skis to our feet, walking forwards and backwards like a penguin, walking sideward like a crab, braking our skiing using the ‘snow plough’ or ‘pizza’ technique, and shifting our own weight to turn. But at this point, I realised I must have born with two left feet. The giddying tingle of excitement was slowly evaporating as I struggled with having to adjust my speed and mastering the snow plough technique. For some reason, I couldn’t spread my legs as I was going down the slope and instead I fell over, time and again. Trust me, if not for that soft powdery snow, I think my bum would have been terribly hurt. At the same time, my confidence was shattered and before I knew it, our two-hour session in the morning ended.
During the lunch that followed, I was feeling frustrated with myself until I ran into Oki again in the food hall, when he kindly said “Don’t worry. No one did great on their first day. Keep practicing!” Somehow, that became a mantra for me to hit the slopes again and perhaps with just a few more lessons, I think I might be able to finally conquer the slopes. Unfortunately, that would have to be on my next visit.
So even though you might face such a hard time during the ski lessons like I did, you’re still most likely end up having fun here at Club Med Sahoro. There are so many things you can do besides skiing such as the après ski (social activities after ski), great for guests to unwind and mingle with fellow patrons. You can also grab a hot chocolate in the afternoon from the Wakka Bar after a day of skiing and perhaps a pancake or two along with it. At night time, go to the theatre and witness the spectacular themed shows performed by the talented G.O.s. During my visit, the G.O. who prepared our pancakes in the bar happened to be a phenomenal acrobat; his stunts on the stage were simply incredible! There are also excursions that guests can join at an additional cost such as horse-riding, air-boarding, tree-climbing, ice-fishing, Kasumi Waterfall trekking and Tomuraushi hot spring.
A New Kid on the Block
It is interesting to note that Club Med is also introducing another property also in Hokkaido called Club Med Tomamu that is currently under intensive construction, set to officially open in December 2017. Located only 30 minutes away from Club Med Sahoro, this new village promises a more refined Trident Luxury Space that offers dedicated concierge and personalised services. “We are also collaborating with Hoshino Resorts Tomamu to jointly enhance the attractiveness of Tomamu as a premium resort destination,” shared Vincent Ong, Vice President for Marketing, Club Med East and South Asia & Pacific.
Both Club Med Sahoro and Club Med Tomamu are ideal for those who want a taste of skiing in Japan with no hassle, all-inclusive resort style environment. The one in Sahoro fits best for families, particularly those with younger children and/or first-timers, while the one in Tomamu is where the millennials would prefer. One thing is for sure: I wouldn’t hesitate to give skiing in Club Med Sahoro another shot.
Club Med Sahoro Occupancy: 95% occupancy and top in the region – Decembers seem to always full with holidays-makers and beginners, while January till March are when the experts from Japan and Europe arrive.
Tips for beginners:
- Wear good waterproof trousers, jacket, and gloves.
- Wear warm thermals underneath.
- Wear sunglasses or skiing goggles to avoid bright light.
- Take lip balm and sun cream with you to avoid chapped lips and sunburn.
*Download the Club Med app to remain updated with latest information about your stay, including the theme nights so that you can pack accordingly.
Gaya Travel Magazine team members extend our heartfelt gratitude to Club Med, Vibes Communications and AirAsia for making the writer’s trip to Hokkaido an unforgettable experience.