Would you believe me if I told you there’s an undiscovered winter wonderland that’s not far from home?
Imagine freshly fallen snow that glitters when bathed in the morning light. Crisp mountain air expanding your lungs and awakening your senses, and clear skies above that appear a deep brilliant blue. Not a breath of wind, the earth seems frozen, locked in space and time.
Enchanting, like a story book fairytale. For a fleeting moment I thought I'd been trapped by a postcard.
If you’re going to follow the hoards of Australian snow hunters to Japan, you’ll probably be flying to the island of Hokkaido – and rightly so – as the ski resorts on Hokkaido boast some of the biggest and best snowfalls in Japan, rivalling Europe and North America.
But next time you touch down in Sapporo’s international airport (direct flights from Sydney in peak snow season), consider taking the road less travelled and head east two hours to a little known ski resort called Sahoro.
There are only two hotels in Sahoro, so tourists are scarce and I was hard pressed to spot an Aussie. While I shared the mountain with locals over the weekend, the weekdays I had ski runs to myself. With 1 gondola, 6 chair lifts and 17 groomed runs there were plenty of trails to keep an insatiable ski lover like myself going back for more.
Sahoro certainly satisfied my inner snow snob, receiving eight metres of Champagne powder each year. The fluffy flakes stay dry for days due to extremely low humidity, and since there were no crowds we still managed to find fresh tracks up to five days after a heavy dump.
If you’re like me and love skiing off piste, Sahoro is one of the only resorts in Japan where patrol will let you ride knee-deep through the snow sprinkled trees, so long as you're wearing a helmet.
Sahoro's highest peak stands at 1,060 metres,which means the altitude has little effect on your lungs. The coldest days were mild, around -10C, and with just a 2 hour time difference from Sydney I left any worries of jet lag behind in the snow.
Club Med sits at the base of a ski slope just 200m from the main gondola, making it the only accommodation in Sahoro that can boast a ski-in ski-out facility. That meant no lugging my skis around town, no waiting for shuttle buses, no driving anywhere and ultimately more time on the mountain.
Ski pass, ski hire, ski school and ski storage are all located inside the complex, so I didn't have to venture far from my hotel room to get ready for the slopes.
In terms of conveniences it's a big green tick but the real magic of Sahoro lies in the friendly faces of the foreigners and locals who return religiously each season to live and work in the resort.
Returning guests and staff alike illustrate the loyalty people feel towards this special place where everyone is welcomed like an old friends and treated like family.
Did someone say "all you can eat and drink"? In true Club Med style, an all-inclusive packaged price means I didn't even open my wallet once between arrival and departure. Meals are served three times a day in the dining hall where a buffet-style smorgasbord of first class food is prepared by chefs from around the world. The variety was exciting with new food selections every day.
As a seasoned European ski bunny I was surprised to find fresh seafood at the slopes, but unlike the Alps, Hokkaido is an island and its primary food source comes from the ocean. Seafood lovers should come prepared for freshly shucked oysters the size of lamb chops, tables mounted high with the famous Hokkaido giant crabs and deep fried crab claws. Giant platters of never ending smoked salmon, cooked scallops the size of tennis balls and prawns done three ways. Fish soup, fish curry, fried fish, grilled fish, raw fish, sushi, sashimi, sushi, and a then a little bit more sushi.
Try backing that up at the dessert table which its chocolate fountain fondue, or take a visit to the cheese bar hosting wheels of pungent delights.
Feeling like a change from the buffet, one night I wandered into the new specialty Japanese restaurant called ‘Mina Mina’ (for no extra cost) and enjoyed a cultural “nabe” experience. Nabe is a traditional hot pot into which various vegetables and meats are cooked on the table in front of you, which is a great way to enjoy a truly cultural Japanese experience.
Yes it’s all you can drink too. French Champagne and top shelf liquors are not included but I could have as much as I wanted of anything else from the bar in the lobby which stays open from 7am to midnight. Unlimited French wine and Japanese beer is also complementary at the restaurants, but my pick was the hot chocolate - best I've ever had, hands down.
A holiday with the kids is not really a holiday when you’re spending all your time feeding, organising, entertaining and cleaning up after your children. Club Med welcomes children of all ages and their Kids’ Club is famed as being one of the world's best, for good reason.
Various kids groups and professional caring services are available for children of different ages ranging from: 0-2yrs, 2-3yrs, 4-11yrs and 11-18yrs.
Parents were waving goodbye to their kids at 9am, and trying to drag them back to the hotel room as late as 10pm - the kids just didn't want to leave, begging to stay forever in Never Never Land. Managed by professional child care staff, ongoing activities and entertainment throughout the day are a hit. They include ski lessons, snow play, indoor and outdoor play equipment, toys, games rooms, computer games, table tennis, billiard table, indoor swimming pool, creative activities, a movie room and more.
Every evening after dinner there’s a show put on in the entertainment hall to enlighten and entertain all guests. The show differs each night of the week but ranged from circus acts, to a musical piece, comedy skits or plays.
More than just skiing
Of course you don’t have to ski every day. Fair weather skiers like myself can enjoy other activities within the resort on days when there’s no sign of blue skies.
I found myself putting in some laps in the impressive 25 metre indoor swimming pool, while other guests toned their muscles in the fully equipped gym. There are classes like yoga and aerobics, and and plenty of places to soak my tired ski legs such as the indoor jacuzzi, the outdoor hot tub and a traditional Japanese sauna and bath.
There’s also table tennis, a billiard room and a movie room to keep you occupied, otherwise you can always just sit at the bar beside the fireplace and watch the snow fall whilst getting stuck into a good book.
Outside the resort I was treated to some amazing sight seeing opportunities. Giving my ski legs a change of pace, I jumped on the back of a a beautiful horse and took a ride through the majestic snowy mountains, while on another day I enjoyed a waterfall trek before relaxing in the Tomuraushi and Kuttari 'onsen' (hot springs).
The resort's wellness centre is one not to miss, I opted for a massage, spa and beauty treatment indulging in ultimate off-piste bliss.
Discover Japan - Destination Guide