Something's not right. I'm on a chairlift being whisked up the face of Mt Karamatsu in the Japanese Alps. Below me skiers and snowboarders are snaking down the slopes in the shadowy, late-afternoon light. I'm smothered from head to toe in winter clothing but I'm missing one vital element…a pair of skis.
It's a strange feeling, getting on a chairlift without skis. Despite knowing I won't need them when I reach the top, my lower half feels, well, naked.
The surrealness intensifies when we disembark to find an elegantly attired musical duo performing around an outdoor fire pit. While they run through a medley of easy-listening classics, wait staff ply us with mugs of steaming mulled wine. I cautiously take a seat, convinced that at any moment I'm going to wake up.
Of course, it's not all a dream, rather an intriguing introduction to Field Suite Hakuba, a new product in Happo One ski resort – one of the 10 resorts in Hakuba Valley on the main island of Honshu. In the summertime, Field Suite allows guests to camp on the 1200-metre-high Kitaone Plateau in a cluster of luxury glamping tents. During winter, they offer this on-slope fine-dining experience plus a cosy wooden cabin for those that wish to stay overnight.
We're here just for dinner, which raises the nagging question of how we'll get back down later in the dark. For now, we're ushered inside to a romantic, candlelit table in a cosy, fire-warmed restaurant. After a long delayering process, we swap our ski gloves for a refreshing glass of sparkling wine made with ryugan grapes from the Nagano region. It says a lot about my wine knowledge that a) I'd never heard of the ryugan grape before, and b) I had no idea Japan even produced wine.
Our five-course tasting menu kicks off with tender sauteed scallops garnished with flower petals and a tangy vinegar foam. It's paired with another Nagano drop, this time a delicate sauvignon blanc by Azumino Winery.
Next is a delicious sashimi-like trout confit with a crisp unoaked Nagano chardonnay, followed by a rich lobster spaghetti with a light Takayama sangiovese. An ice-cold, lemon-infused marshmallow cube is an innovative palate cleanser before the main event – local Shinsu beef in a rich red wine sauce paired with a full-bodied merlot.
It's rare to find cuisine this good halfway up a mountain, let alone in such a spectacular setting. As the sun slips behind the surrounding peaks, the sky cycles through a mesmerising palette of oranges and mauves.
The man responsible for tonight's feast is the freakishly young-looking Shingo Suzuki – a chef who honed his skills in the Michelin-starred Italian eateries of La Madia in Sicily and Agli Amici in Udine. Allegedly, he's 37 but he looks about 14 ½.
After a sigh-inducing tarte tatin with vanilla gelato, we reluctantly re-don our winter garb and plunge back outside into the sub-zero temperatures. By now, it's inky black and once again there's the question as to how we'll be getting down. The answer comes looming out of the darkness – a hulking great snowcat which will whisk us down in blanket-wrapped comfort. As we clamber onboard, the restaurant's smiling staff all gather outside to wave us off. Hard to imagine that happening anywhere else but Japan.
The Epic Australia Pass provides unlimited access to Perisher, Falls Creek and Hotham plus restricted use of another 16 resorts, including 10 days combined at Whistler, Vail and Beaver Creek and five consecutive days at Hakuba. See epicaustraliapass.com.au
The Field Suite Hakuba experience costs ¥35,000 per person and includes mountain transfers and a five-course meal with matching wines. See fieldsuite-hakuba.com/en
Rob McFarland was a guest of Vail Resorts.