Powder paradise in Japan’s snowy frozen north
If you’re bored of Kyoto and Kamakura and have had your fill of the city, savvy Tokyoites should look north for a memorable break this winter.
For a quality vacation this time of year, it really doesn’t get much better than Hokkaido. While Nagano and Niigata can claim the most accessible and cheapest routes to the slopes from Tokyo, the resorts of Japan’s northern island are a cut above when it comes to skiing and snowboarding.
Weekender traveled to Hoshino Resort Tomamu to explore one of Hokkaido’s best hotels.
For experienced skiers and boarders the quality of powder in Tomamu cannot be beaten.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the mountains in this part of Hokkaido offer some of the best snow in the world.
In the year 2000 temperatures in parts of the island reached a record breaking low of -30°C, (so pack warm clothes!) though the average temperatures this winter have hovered around -10°C. Nowhere in Japan, or anywhere in Asia for that matter, gets better powder coverage than Hokkaido.
It’s little wonder so many tourists travel to the region each year.
Traveling to Japan’s northern island from Tokyo is a cinch, especially with the opening of Haneda airport’s runway D and improved rail links. With a little bit of forward planning you can be on the piste in just a couple of hours.
Flying to Hokkaido couldn’t be simpler; no passports are required—even for foreigners (although it is wise to carry some sort of photo ID).
The brisk check-in is a strange feeling for those used to the hassle of jetting long haul and the only downside is the lack of duty free shops—but that is more than made up for by the sheer efficiency of the service.
Japan’s largest airline, ANA, fly from Haneda to New Chitose Airport, several times a day, taking just 90 minutes and if you book in advance there are numerous cheap deals available.
On landing in Hokkaido, you instantly see why so many skiers and snowboarders make the annual pilgrimage.
The refreshing frozen air is a welcome break from life in the city and the mounds of snow covering every flat surface further hint at the fresh powder awaiting in the resorts.
The snow covered countryside could easily pass for a different continent, though with the trademark politeness from the locals, you are still clearly in Japan.
TRAVEL IN HOKKAIDO
Trains in Hokkaido don’t run as frequently as in Tokyo, so it is essential to plan in advance.
Station staff can assist in buying tickets and route-planning—and it is advised to check before you board a train as one slip-up on the confusing rail network can set you back several hours, translating to lost time on the slopes (as our man discovered).
Hoshino Resort Tomamu runs buses straight to the airport, which although slower than the train, gets you to your destination without worrying about schedules or missing your stop.
TOMAMU, A LANDMARK LOCATION
Of Hokkaido’s many resorts, one of the most striking is Hoshino Resort Tomamu.
The vast complex of hotel towers, spas, ski lifts and golf courses (open during summer) is one of the most luxurious ways to enjoy Hokkaido.
The Hoshino Resort is a hotel complex so large, it could almost be its own city.
Divided between four hotels, guests can literally ski-in and ski-out from the hotel door.
Food at the complex is top notch and the all-you-can-eat HAL buffet restaurant is an indulgent way to pack on the post-ski calories and protein.
The hotel lobby also offers free tea and coffee which is a simple gesture that is much welcomed after spending time in the near-arctic conditions outside.
Après ski activities at Hoshino Resort Tomamu include the incredibly fun ice-shoeing (recommended!), banana boat riding and motor-heads will love the snowmobiling.
Families will appreciate the bath house at Tomamu, a steel and glass cathedral-like structure, that houses, according to staff, the ‘largest wave pool in Japan’, perfect for the kids.
The steaming water of the pool and surrounding onsen and Jacuzzis is impossible to turn away. We dread to think of the heating bills but it is far too much fun to turn down.
For those wanting to splash out a little more, the suites of the Hoshino Resort include a full size Jacuzzi and sauna in the room.
A perfect addition to the hotel and very welcome, after a long day exploring the numerous slopes and off-piste areas.
MORE THAN SKIING
Surprisingly summer is the busiest season in this part of Hokkaido, guests wanting to escape the sweltering heat of Kanto will find serene green golf courses and an unusual attraction dubbed the ‘cloud sea’, a natural cloud phenomenon that, when viewed from the mountain tops resembles the ocean.
Weddings are another reason this resort is popular and Tadao Ando, one of Japan’s most esteemed architects, even designed the hotel’s wedding chapel, a striking minimalist concrete and glass structure (called ‘Chapel on the water’) with vast picture windows looking out on a shallow lake, which although frozen looks incredible this time of year.
Despite the bruises and muscle ache, the journey to Tomamu is a unique adventure and offered views of a side of Japan most expats miss.
I for one can’t wait to return to Japan’s powder heaven and with snow season lasting another few months, there are still plenty of chances.
HOSHINO RESORT TOMAMU
ANA flys to Hokkaido daily. For more information visit the ANA website:
The snow lasts until the end of April, for up to date snow reports and general information on Tomamu visit the official website: www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en/
Check out this video from nearby Niseko – courtesy of Eye On Asia.