There’s no denying Australian travellers are in the thrall of a love affair with Japan and its myriad attractions.
Just a few hours from most Australian capitals, Japan offers visitors a mix of ultra-cool shopping, historic landmarks and a healthy dose of culture shock.
But for an increasing number of Australians, it’s the Japanese ski fields and their fabled powder snow that is drawing them in.
As a skiing novice and father to two expensive children, I’m definitely not a snow resort regular, but nestled high on the slopes of Japan’s north island of Hokkaido could be the solution.
Not only does Club Med Sahoro Hokkado offer powder snow and plenty of it, in Club Med style the newly renovated resort is an all-inclusive experience with food, drinks, lift passes, lessons and entertainment thrown in.
The entire ski-in-ski-out resort is family friendly, with kids clubs and lessons for all ages, and an inclusive après ski experience.
Club Med Sahoro’s ever-present, ever-energetic Chef de Village Brendan van Zyl said while the resort’s main attraction was snow activities, its offering was steeped in a shared Club Med ethos.
“It’s like baking a cake. The main ingredients always stay the same in every Club Med, but the toppings in each resort differ,” he explained.
“For example, one might have better beaches, one might be better for a golfer, one might have more to offer in the way of excursions.”
At Sahoro, the drawcard is definitely the snow, and with a season lasting from December to April, there’s plenty of time to sample it.
According to figures from the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japanese ski resorts rose 30 per cent in 2017 to 860,000, of which around 95,000 were Australians.
“You can’t find better snow in the world. You can’t find better powder snow in the world,” van Zyl said.
“We have consistently produced good snow here. It comes early, it comes late, but it’s always consistently good,” he added.
“The off-piste alpine skiing is second to none.
“Every single level of snowboarder and skier has something to attract them, challenge them and entertain them throughout the day.”
Van Zyl said the resort’s main clientele came from Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, mainland China, and of course Japan, with a focus firmly on families.
“We’re looking to families, because we can cater to the kids and the parents and give them a holistic vacation with ski included,” he said.
“So the children can have a unique vacation and the parents have a chance to enjoy themselves as well.”
While most guests visit for the snow, the (almost too) warm facilities feature a glass-enclosed pool, day spa, fitness centre and various games for the kids.
The Canadian bath offers the rare opportunity to swelter in an outdoor hot tub while being snowed on, and for those looking for looking for a uniquely Japanese experience, there’s the Ofuro.
After entering their segregated, male or female Ofuro changing room, guests are invited to strip off before giving themselves a brief hand shower and easing into a steaming-hot communal bath, followed by a plunge into an icy bath for a heart-stoppingly ‘invigorating’ experience.
But just as the Japanese culture is ever-present throughout the resort, the Club Med culture is engrained in every facet of a Club Med Sahoro stay.
On check-in you’re fitted with a wristband that doubles as a room pass, and with all meals and drinks included, it takes a day or two to get used to the concept of leaving your room in the morning without the need to pat your pockets and check for keys and wallet.
The massive Daichi buffet features an almost endless array of western and local dishes, with meals and snacks seemingly available at any time of the day.
The slightly more upmarket Mina Mina restaurant allows diners to prepare their own traditional BBQ, soup or ramen at their table (advisable before hitting the bar for best results).
All drinks are included in the price, with Sapporo beer vending machines alongside soft drinks at the restaurants, and house wines, spirits and a variety of cocktails available at the Wakka bar from afternoon until midnight.
Since starting out as a low-priced summer colony of tents on the Spanish island of Majorca in 1950, Club Med has grown to become a vacation juggernaut operating more than 70 resorts across Europe, Africa and Middle East, North America, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the Indian Ocean and Pacific Oceans.
Staff at Club Med resorts are GO’s (gracious organisers) guests are GM’s (great members) and overseeing the entire operation is the resort manager or Chef de Village.
Along with the great skiiing, the secret to Club Med Sahoro’s success lies with its staff.
The international team of ever-cheerful GOs will teach you to ski in the morning, join you for a drink at the end of the day and often entertain you in the evening. Watching a brawny European ski instructor performing in a circus act after a glass of wine is a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
While a Club Med Sahoro holiday is not a budget escape, it compares favourably with many Australian resorts and the all-inclusive offering can make it good value for money.
A seven-nights, all-inclusive stay starts at from $2380 per person at the time of publication, with Club Med offering a 30 per cent off sale on any destination until April.
The author was a guest of Club Med