Read our writer's views on this property below
If only all ski holidays could be like this, writes Anna Anderson.
"Minus 8 and loving it!" Not being a fan of subzero sojourns, that's a text message I never expected to send. A cruel week of fear and bruises back in the '80s put paid to my ski-bunny aspirations and I swore never to return to the icy slopes of Thredbo. My mistake was to ignore other ski destinations.
Now, standing puffed and exhilarated at the bottom of Club Med Sahoro's beginners' course, I realise with alarm that I've missed 30 years of skiing. Worse still, I'd put the kybosh on family holidays in the snow. "Too cold, too expensive, too dangerous." If only my initiation to snow sports had been on par with this experience, who knows what mountains I'd have conquered.
Revamped for the 2011 season and with 177 rooms, Club Med Sahoro is a two-hour coach ride from the New Chitose international airport near Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido.
We took an overnight flight from Sydney to Hong Kong, connecting with a five-hour flight to Sapporo. Our four-hour layover gave us time, as business-class passengers with Cathay Pacific, to swan around its uber-cool Wings Lounge. That, combined with the extreme comfort and cosseted service of its new business class, had us arriving in Sapporo in good form.
I plonk myself into the powder and vow to return.
There are other ski destinations in Japan, but if you're a beginner or toting kids, you'd be hard-pressed to find an easier option than Club Med. Its ski-in, ski-out set-up, the all-inclusive packaging and low ski traffic means your time on the slopes is maximised. If, however, you're hankering to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, this is not the place. Club Med Sahoro is unashamedly international. Guests (gentil membres or GMs) and staff (gentil organisateurs or GOs) slip in and out of English, French and Japanese when appropriate.
We arrive at 7pm to the exuberant welcome that's a hallmark of Club Med. It's our first taste of the energy that throbs through the youthful staff. Nimble GOs process our registrations, tie ribbons to our wrists and that's it - we're initiated. That ribbon is our pass to all things Club Med and one of the reasons why everyone here appears so relaxed and happy. Money is forgotten.
Those tense moments at the top of the mountain when the plea for yet another hot chocolate or chips is met with a parental scowl are simply not part of the Club Med experience. In fact, the kids, all miraculously well behaved, enjoy the liberty of ordering their own milkshakes and piling their plates high with whatever delectable offerings take their fancy. It's all pre-paid, so party on. Same goes for the adults. Cocktails are dispensed in record time because no one's converting yen or signing chits.
Despite my covert plan to skip the ski school and instead while away my time at the Pirka Spa (one of the few activities incurring extra costs), we head straight for the ski room and book our classes for the next day. My apprehension starts to fade when I see the beaming smile of Budi, a Balinese GO. He fits me with boots, skis and poles and in five minutes flat I've made a new friend.
I can't believe the absence of long queues and slushy floors and there's no musty, damp smell or gruff, overworked staff. The whole area is warm and exceptionally clean.
Then it's into the restaurant, where the energy level is on high amp. This is one big, happy gang - tables of every configuration, many including a GO, are dining from the buffet. With a fine mix of Japanese and Western foods, fruit, salads and cheeses and plenty of good French wine, the choice is mind-boggling.
Our rooms are supremely comfortable. Not six-star but big, warm and with all mod cons including ... heated toilet seats. The next morning, still reluctant to hit the slopes, I dawdle over coffee but have no excuse to miss my class's 10-minute warm-up session. The line-up is right outside the restaurant, about 20 steps from my coffee cup. Never mind, Canadian Keith, my instructor, guides us through the baby steps and soon I'm smiling. If I wasn't having so much fun, I might have been embarrassed to be sharing the magic carpet with super-cute four-year-olds.
The morning whizzes by amid drills (no spills!) and more snowfalls topping up the magical powder while we wolf down lunch. By the end of the day, I've graduated to Club 1 and head in celebration to swim some laps and soak in the outdoor hot tub. Could there be anything lovelier than snow flakes landing on your nose while soaking in a maple tub? Yes. You could leap out, roll in the snow and jump back in. Try it - it's a blast! A yoga class follows and succeeds in teasing out my snow-ploughed muscles.
Skipping the buffet, we head to Club Med's Mina Mina hotpot restaurant. Feasting on excellent crab, fresh fish and mushrooms steamed at our table, we finish off with cocktails in the Wakka bar.
With all that luscious powder snow, it's hard to do anything but ski. That would be a mistake. Find time to go horse riding through the snowy forest (an extra cost at $54), ice skate (it's magic by night) and have a go at airboarding ($42). Or take a trip to the onsen (hot springs) at Lake Kuttari for $34. If you've had enough outdoor fun, you could join a cardio class, play a round of squash or ping-pong, or watch a movie in the theatre.
There's a Club Med show on most nights, with those Energiser bunny-type GOs letting loose their thespian selves on stage. And once a week, doting parents are treated to a concert starring their own little snow bunnies.
By the time I swoosh to the end of my third (and sadly final) lesson with what feels like Olympian speed and agility, I've mastered the poma, dangled my ski-clad feet on the chairlifts and taken the gondola to the top of the mountain. There, I gasp in awe as teams of Club Med kids launch themselves down the vertiginous slope in a game of follow-the-leader, singing behind their revved-up instructor. Not ready for that challenge, I plonk myself into the powder and vow to return, en famille.
The writer was a guest of Cathay Pacific and Club Med Sahoro.
No kids? Half your luck
Club Med Sahoro isn't just for families. There's plenty of space to wind down and warm up with a hot toddy or cold Asahi beer and make friends with other couples or singles from the international guest list. You won't find kids in the yoga classes or at the gym or in your ski class — they stick together with their instructors. They're nowhere to be seen at the Pirka spa or after dinner in the Wakka Bar either. Honeymooners could be in trouble, though: there's nothing cuter than mini-ski-bunnies.
Cathay Pacific flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Sapporo via Hong Kong. Club Med Sahoro is a two-hour coach ride from the airport. cathaypacific.com/au.
Five nights at Club Med Sahoro between March 2 and March 23 next year costs $1220 for adults and $696 for children. Includes airport transfers, accommodation, food and beverage, group ski lessons, lift passes and activities (excluding ski hire and spa treatments). For sale between September 10 and October 21. 1300 855 052, clubmed.com.au.
At altitudes from 1100 metres to 400 metres and with low humidity, it offers excellent snow during winter (November-March). Sahoro has eight ski lifts, six red runs, five blue and six green as well as cross-country trails.