A perfect combination of waist-deep powder, English-speaking ski instructors, irresistible cuisine, muscle soothing onsen and affordable ski packages has seen Japan become an increasingly popular winter destination for Australian skiers and snowboarders.
Feature-packed Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU in central Hokkaido, an island in the country’s north, offer visitors the quintessential Japanese-style resort experience along with some of the country’s best powder snow on 29 courses over 145 hectares of awesome skiing terrain that caters to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. There’s everything from an awesome beginner’s area and groomers for intermediates, to mogul runs and back country skiing for more experienced powder hounds. And we’re hooked the minute we step off our bus into the super soft powder.
The fully integrated resort boasts two separate ski in/ski out hotels, each uniquely styled and offering Hoshino Resorts’ superb signature service. We’re staying at the 5-star all-suite hotel Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu, located in a prime position on the hill and surrounded by a pretty snow-dusted pine forest. Our two-bedroom suite on the fifteenth floor offers us an enormous 120 square-metres of luxurious space, something that is almost unheard of in Japan, where rooms tend to be small. There’s also a large separate living room, a shower room, and a huge bathroom with a separate shower, a private sauna and an enormous jetbath overlooking the snow. It is without doubt the most luxurious on snow accommodation I’ve encountered and we spend a lot of time making the most of its delightful muscle melting features over the next few nights.
The twin towers of Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU The Tower are the centrepiece of the resort. One of the tallest alpine resort hotels in the world at 36-storeys, the high-rise towers wouldn’t be out of place in Tokyo, and offer extraordinary views of the resort and surrounding mountains. A 4-star hotel, The Tower offers a variety of Japanese and Western style rooms to suit every size group or family in comfort.
Of course, we’re here for powder and Tomamu more than delivers in that area, with huge dumps of the most impossibly fluffy snow every evening. A ride up the mountain on the Unkai Gondola delivers us to a surplus of great runs, including the massive Exhibition run, the longest groomed run in the resort. It also provides some incredible tree skiing courses, and the extraordinarily pretty Terrace of Frost Tree, surrounded by a sea of white and offering the most incredible views over the resort.
But there’s so much more than just skiing here. One of the highlights is its Ice Village, a magically illuminated wonderland built entirely from snow and ice. Designed for après ski fun, the village boasts a wedding chapel and an ice hotel which you can stay overnight on a slab of ice and bathe in an outdoor Arctic Bath facing the white birch forest. There’s also an ice bar serving up flaming beverages in carved ice glasses, the perfect thing to warm up the insides on a -20-degree evening. There’s also an outdoor ice rink which we slide and tumble around with a complete lack of grace, though this says way more about our abysmal skating skills than the quality of the ice.
Another outstanding feature of Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU is hotalu street, a brand-new ski in/ski out shopping and eating precinct. The first of its kind in Japan, hotalu street offers a selection of excellent restaurants connected by a wooden deck promenade and serving up everything from steak and Italian cuisine to steaming bowls of ramen, rice bowls, Hokkaido-style soup curry and even Japanese sweets. Its location in the centre of the mountain makes it the perfect spot to refuel before heading straight back out on the slopes, something we do frequently on our mission to taste our way around hotalu street’s delectable offerings.
The restaurants at hotalu street make up just a few of the resort’s more than 20 eateries, and you’ll find everything from fast food to fine dining along with two excellent buffet-style restaurants. The more intimate of these is hal, which showcases regional crab and salmon amongst other Hokkaido specialties. The other is the cavernous glass walled Forest Restaurant Nininupuri, a must experience for the illuminated forest of snow-dusted pines that surround it much as the assortment of popular Japanese delights. Guests also have a choice of several breakfast venues offering everything from a Western buffet to Japanese style dishes.
One of the resort’s more unique après-ski activities is the fun Family Snow Picnic. After speeding across the powder in a snow raft towed by a charging snowmobile, we reach a pristine snowfield and don snowshoes to clomp our way across the untouched snow to a cute wooden hut. We take turns sliding down the mountain on sleds, build snowmen and stage an epic snow fight before warming ourselves with s’mores toasted over a fire in the hut and washed down with a mug of steaming sweet tea. It’s huge fun and I highly recommend it to visiting families.
Afterwards, we snowshoe our way to what appears to be a tee-pee surrounded for miles by nothing but snow to learn to make Baumkuchen, a ten-layered cake made over fire, one layer at a time. The results of which are nothing short of delectable.
Our favourite après-ski activity at Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU is a visit to the steaming hot Mina-Mina Beach, an 80-metre long heated indoor wave pool, one of the largest in Japan, that offers a slice of summer despite the freezing temps outside. There are piles of inflatables to borrow as well as stand-up paddleboards, making it feel for all the world like we’re holidaying in the tropics rather than a winter wonderland. For those seeking a taste of traditional Japan, an open-air bath, Kirin-no Yu, is located adjacent to Mina-Mina and offers onsen-style bathing overlooking the snow-dusted forests of Tomamu. The perfect way to relax tired muscles after a day of carving up the mountain. •
Photography by Aleney de Winter and HOSHINO Resorts. See below for more photos of this wonderful winter destination.
We enjoyed a very comfortable flight with ANA (All Nippon Airways) from Sydney to Tokyo, with a connecting 90-minute flight to Sapporo’s Chitose Airport. From there it’s just one and a half hours by direct shuttle. ana.co.jp