What is it? Encouraged by the popularity of the first Club Med property in Hokkaido, northern Japan, the French hospitality brand (now a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Fosun International) has opened a larger one, 35km away, at the bottom of some of the numerous ski runs that snake down Mount Tomamu.
The hype ahead of the opening last December of this 341-room resort, complete with “ice hotel”, was such that New Zealand website Stuff posed the question, “Could this be the world’s coolest ski resort?”
That’s all very well, but we’re intending to visit in summer. You’ll not be disappointed; there’s still plenty of outdoor adventure to be found.
I have never been to one; how does Club Med work, exactly? You and I may call them all-inclusive resorts, but the staff will tell you each is a village, and guests are temporarily members of the family. This means the GOs (gentil organisateurs; the multinational “kind organisers”) become extremely pally with the GMs (gentil membres; that’s you, the paying customer) and will even plonk themselves down to have lunch or dinner with guests.
There is clapping and cheering when newcomers check in, and much more of the same at the evening buffet if it happens to be a GM’s birthday. Go with the flow and the relentless bonhomie doesn’t seem especially forced. Club Meds are family affairs in so much as many visitors find appealing the option of placing their children into the care of well-structured mini clubs while taking full advantage of yet another all-you-can-eat buffet.
Ah, yes, tell us about the meals. There are few times during the day at which you cannot find something being served buffet-style somewhere in the resort. An alternative to the evening buffet can be found in the Haku yakiniku restaurant, where diners cook their meat on table grills. Adults only are allowed into The Nest, a snug surrounded by forest in which quality whiskies and sake are sold (these are not included in the package price).
Once we’re fully fuelled, what is there to do? Activities begin as early as 4am, with guests taking a chairlift up the mountain to look down upon the unkai, the sea of clouds that descends as the sun rises. Later in the day come GO-led hikes and mountain-bike excursions – if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of deer, foxes or the bear that calls one of the chairlift supports home – and lessons in archery and the trapeze.
Then there’s Mina-Mina Beach: an indoor pool large enough to accommodate paddle boards, and Hot Spa Kirin: an outdoor onsen albeit without geothermally heated water. Evenings bring shows designed and performed by the same GOs who look after the guests during the day, including the chef de village herself, Merlin Chelliah, and the resort’s only current Hong Kong employee, Haily Leung.
What else is there to do in the area? Not a great deal if you don’t rent your own car. This resort is remote – a two-hour drive from New Chitose Airport (shuttle buses provided) and an hour from the nearest settlement of any size, Obihiro. But day excursions to the pretty towns of Biei and Furano, and the flower gardens central Hokkaido is famous for, can be arranged, as can river-rafting trips and a visit to the Bear Mountains bear research centre.
Anything else worth knowing? Coming from around the world, the staff communicate mostly in English, although the mahjong tables alongside the ping pong and table football in the games room hint at the origin of a large proportion of the clientele.
And is it, as Stuff suggested, the world’s coolest ski resort? You’re asking the wrong person, I’m afraid. My skiing experience extends to a childhood trip to Aviemore, Scotland, and bad memories of falling, more than once, into an icy stream. However, GO Nicole (a ski instructor in the winter months) says the snow here is much softer than in Europe, so the slopes of Hokkaido are kinder to the novice. Tomamu i s a pretty cool summer spot, though.
What’s the Bottom line? The price for a 42 square metre Club Triple, the second smallest of five room types, starts at HK$5,382 (US$686) per adult for four nights (without transport). The resort will be closed between October 4 and December 7, as preparations are made for the ski season.