The secret to skiing in Japan without the culture shock

Ski-in ski-out hotels offer comfort and convenience

“Where’s your other pole?” the lift operator asked as he retrieved my skis from the gondola for me. He explained that I had dropped one from a chairlift higher up the mountain, took my number and said, “Let me see what I can do.”

Sure enough, 30 minutes later the liftie had climbed up through waist-high powder to retrieve the lost pole on my behalf. An incredible service? In the Alps perhaps, but not in Japan. Nothing in this super-efficient country is too much trouble.

Efficiency aside, there are so many reasons why Japan is a bucket list destination for British skiers: incredible snow, high-quality infrastructure, endless ski areas (there are over 600) and culture. But I had stumbled a bit on a previous visit to Hokkaido, in 2018, when I struggled to navigate the food, cultural differences and constant freezing temperatures, while dealing with the inevitable jet lag that a nine-hour time difference entails.

Determined to try again, Club Med is offering another chance to crack Japow (Japanese powder snow) without the culture shock this winter with the opening of its newest property, the Kiroro Grand. In recent years the French-owned brand has dominated the ski holiday market with its all-inclusive formula and I was hoping that a Western breakfast, a good bed and a conversation in English might soften the blow and help me get the most out of a travel around the world. to ski.

Abundant snow on the doorstep

Skiers travel to this far east mainly for the mythical, cold, dry and impossibly light powder snow on which Japow’s reputation is built. This legendary powder is formed when cold air from Siberia blows over the Sea of ​​Japan, bringing up moisture that falls heavily on the mountains. This legendary powder falls heaviest in Kiroro on the northern island of Hokkaido.

The resort is now home to two of Club Med’s four mountain residences in Japan, and Hokkaido’s westernmost ski resort – 43 kilometers west of Sapporo – which has as much as 21 meters of snow each season.

Skiing in JapanSkiing in Japan

Japan is known for its light powder snow

To make the most of it, the Kiroro Grand, like all Club Med properties, is ski-in-ski-out. Not having to walk in the snow or catch a ski bus at the end of the day, this unparalleled convenience made all the difference to my jet-lagged body, as did the heated ski lockers and equipment room, which kept me immediately welcomed from the room. slopes.

A helping hand on the slopes

On the mountain, I happily zoomed along many of the 23 pistes (a mix of red, blue and black) and thoroughly enjoyed the orderly lift service. Queues do form here on powder days, but the staff are extremely polite, with attendants sweeping the snow off the chairs and carrying your skis in and out of the gondolas without any questions.

There’s nothing worse than not knowing where you are in a resort, especially when you’re sleep deprived. Club Med’s daily group lessons and guides, for all levels, provide welcome assistance and are included in the price of your holiday.

Abigail Butcher skiing in Hokkaido, JapanAbigail Butcher skiing in Hokkaido, Japan

Abigail Butcher put her skiing skills to the test on the slopes of Hokkaido – Abigail Butcher

Well-known cuisine

In 2018, I struggled with the near-constant diet of sushi and sashimi, especially when it was served for breakfast. Before heading up the hill in the cold, I need familiar foods: fruit, yogurt, and eggs, but not onsen eggs—a Japanese specialty of slow-cooking eggs in a hot spring with a unique (read: raw) texture .

While Japanese (and other Asian) dishes are available at Kiroro Grand, I instead enjoyed fried or scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, tomatoes, bread, croissants, pancakes, yogurt, granola, fruit… The meal buffets are a complete smorgasbord from different cuisines, all of surprising quality.

“We don’t like the word buffet,” corrected Marc Letourneau, Club Med’s general manager for Japan and Korea. “We prefer the term specialty corners because it is less about quantity and more about quality and live cooking shows with chefs from all over the world.”

Club Med Kiroro Peak, HokkaidoClub Med Kiroro Peak, Hokkaido

Club Med offers world-class dining

And it was world class: one night, oysters the size of soup plates were freshly shucked for the guests, and on another, a delicious Zuwai snow crab was cracked and served with freshly made mayonnaise. Another evening, feeling particularly jet-lagged, I opted for a comforting lasagna and gulped down energy-boosting veggies thanks to the huge fresh salad bar. With all meals included, you no longer have to worry about making restaurant reservations, which at smaller Japanese resorts are often fully booked weeks in advance.

English-speaking convenience

Like the majority of visiting Brits, I’m afraid my Japanese is limited to arigatou, sumimasen And zegonara (thank you, excuse me and goodbye). On my last visit I found the lack of English translations at the smaller ski resorts I visited difficult to decipher, especially when ordering food.

With an international reputation, Club Med’s Japanese resorts are popular with visitors from Korea, China, Australia, the US and Europe, meaning English is the main language – even when guests greet each other in the hotel lifts, onsens and during conversation at the bar. Maybe, being embarrassed, it made life a little easier.

User-friendly après-ski

The après ski scene in Japan is very different from that in the Alps or North America. It is understated and revolves around bathing in hot springs – or onsen. Club Med offers the best of both worlds.

hot spring in Hokkaidohot spring in Hokkaido

Traditional Janapese après-ski centers around hot spring baths – or onsen – Alamy

The Kiroro Grand has a huge stage in the old ballroom with post-ski snacks and nightly entertainment, from Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats to a great band flown in from France for the season. The hotel also has a natural hot springs to provide the full Japanese experience: you bathe naked except for a modest towel, showering beforehand and leaving your shoes at the door.

Creature comfort

There’s a reason why Club Med is starting to dominate the ski world – now with more than 20 winter resorts around the world. “We make it easy,” says Letourneau.

Before you arrive, you can view and change your reservation, book lessons and order materials via the guest hub. You will receive a wristband upon arrival, so you no longer have to look for your wallet during your stay. Most activities and extras are included – yoga, fitness and cooking classes and a fantastic kids’ club – alongside specialty restaurants, premium alcohol, spa treatments and private lessons.

Most importantly, each room has a good bed (no futons in sight), a kettle (for a morning cup of tea), iron and ironing board, charging points and bathroom products (handy for lightening your luggage).

Club Med Kiroro Peak, HokkaidoClub Med Kiroro Peak, Hokkaido

The bedrooms at Club Med are traditional yet modern

Granted, the purpose of traveling to Japan isn’t to erase the entire experience, but a Club Med vacation offers the perfect combination of convenience and exposure to Japanese culture and cuisine – giving you plenty of time to experience the world-famous snow you encounters to explore. Real occurred here.


Club Med (; 03453 676767) offers seven nights all-inclusive at Club Med Kiroro Peak, Hokkaido, from £4,186, including meals, lift passes, lessons, equipment hire, flights and transfers, on a shared room basis of two adults.

Abigail was a guest at Club Med.

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