Friday, July 2, 2010

Club Med Sahoro trip in December 2009

crispy - the air
light - the skis
thick - the snow and our joy

John was at Sahoro Club Med last December to experience snowland in the heart of Hokkaido. He was thrilled by the beauty of the thick snow on the mountains as well as the fun it gave.

Heart-warming moments in Sahoro
Storiy and pictures by JOHN TIONG

The freezing temperatures are worth putting up with as JOHN TIONG warms up to the festive launch of Club Med Sahoro in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido

THE snow falls continuously the night we arrive at Club Med Sahoro in Japan. Though the cold bites our skin, we don’t mind. In fact, we’re happy to be here in this quiet mountain resort in the centre of Hokkaido.

Our group, comprising journalists from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia, is here to witness the festive launch of the winter season.

Fireworks light up the sky and a long row of oil flames on metallic frames is set ablaze to add to the celebratory mood as we dine on the spread of food and wine at the bar terrace near the club lobby.

A large lighted ice carving of a flying horse charges the atmosphere at the venue where we watch a fire dance performance. It is amazing to see how a young woman, dressed only in a light outfit, manages to withstand the freezing temperatures for half an hour just to watch the show.

Deluxe Rooms

My deluxe twin room on the fifth floor has a stunning view of the hills and forests beyond and I can see pines and polar trees.

The room dècor is a blend of modern comfort with essential Japanese elements such as separate tatami flooring and wooden doors to the bathroom and toilet. Humidity is controlled by a humidifier and the toilet seat is kept warm electronically throughout the day.

In the reception lobby and elsewhere, antique skis and ski poles made of bamboo and wood adorn the walls. An element of Hokkaido is seen in the tapestry of the indigenous Ainu people, as well as their farm instruments and containers, which decorate the lobby walls as well as the corridors leading to the various parts of the resort.

Let It Snow...

Outside, snow falls in abundance in winter and every morning, tractors can be seen mowing away excess snow. Winter in Sahoro is synonymous with powdery snow and skiing.

A couple from Hong Kong, speaking in their distinct Cantonese dialect, are playing in snow up to their waist, enthusiastically taking pictures while a pair of young parents are spotted happily pulling their child along on a sled.

I hear a familiar English accent and turn to see a group of children, aged between six and eight, walking through the snow with skis in their hands. When I learn that they are Singaporeans, I feel a little jealous that they’re having fun skiing at such a young age while I can’t even ski.

Their instructor, a Caucasian woman, is teaching them to roll down a slope. The first few lessons sound simple enough, like walking on skis and keeping the skis away from each other but this is easier said than done.

Food All Day Long

Away from the ski grounds, my favourite pastime is to sit in the bar terrace, where I can admire the white landscape outside while sipping hot coffee and nibbling on the noonday snack of pancake with honey. The bar terrace serves wine, beer and a range of snacks till midnight.

The service staff at the restaurant and bar terrace come from different nationalities. There are Koreans, Taiwanese, Indonesians, Malaysians and Indians as well as people from other countries. I chat heartily with a Malaysian woman, Saleen Chan from Old Klang Road, Kuala Lumpur, who makes great pancakes and coffee for us every afternoon.

One thing about staying at Club Med — you never go hungry (even if you don’t carry cash) as food is almost an all-day affair and ranges from Japanese cuisine to Korean, Chinese and Western selections.

If you like Japanese, there’s sushi, rice, tsukemono (pickled white carrot, cucumber and cabbage), umehoshi (red sour plum), fish tempura, Hokkaido tofu, oysters, miso soup, nori (seaweed) and potato — all downed with sake and sho chu (hot liquor).

One corner is dedicated to dairy products from Hokkaido with blocks of cheese and butter while another features the rich catch from the sea surrounding this northernmost island of Japan.

Many in our group just can’t get enough of succulent oysters, best eaten with a squeeze of lime juice. What is surprising, however, is the absence of the famous tarabagani (Red Sea King Crab) that Hokkaido is famous for.

In one counter, a Japanese chef is slicing the deep red katsuo (skipjack tuna) and salmon for sashimi.

Korean staples like hot, spicy kimchi and bibimpab (rice dish) are available too, as there are a large number of Korean tourists here.

Eating in the main restaurant is a pleasant experience with lots of ice cream, fresh tropical fruit, apples and orange juice as well as aromatic coffee.

Apart from offering Hokkaido chocolates, biscuits and cookies, the hotel souvenir outlets stock Hokkaido specialties like horse oil soap which is said to be good for the complexion as well as horse oil hair shampoo and conditioners, sought after by tourists, especially the Japanese themselves.

Hotspring Experience

One thing you should not miss in Sahoro is a trip to the hotsprings or onsen bathhouses. The resort management can arrange such a trip and the hotsprings are about 15-20 minutes drive away. Some onsen have pools right outside the bathhouse. Imagine soaking in warm water while snow is falling down on you. We spend a pleasant afternoon admiring the snowfall and scenery while the warm water keeps us from freezing.

Skiing Holiday Offer

IF you love skiing or have always wanted to learn this exciting winter sport, Club Med Sahoro has a great offer that’s not to be missed. For the winter season that’s on till the first week of April, you only pay RM800 per adult per night and you’ll have fun learning to ski, stay in a twin-share room with free flow of coffee, beer, wine and three meals taken care of as well as live entertainment. The rate for child aged 4-11 is RM480 per night.

With return flight and coach transfers at RM2,800 per adult before sur charge and taxes (which can be arranged through the Club Med Kuala Lumpur office, Tel: 03-2161 4599), you can have a thrilling winter sports experience without needing to spend more.

A 6D/5N tour, including food, accommodation and ski lessons, costs RM4,000 per adult. Ski equipment like skis, poles and boots is RM217 per day (adult) and RM175 (child). Adult pants and jackets ski wear is RM130 per day while a child’s is RM93. If you rent them for three days, you get the next two days for free. So for about RM8,000 per adult in all, you can have a really beautiful holiday in Hokkaido with lots of sweet memories to bring home.

Fast Facts

Like all Club Med properties, the location of Club Med Sahoro in the centre of Hokkaido, 140kms from Sapporo, has been chosen for many reasons. According to skiing instructor Mathieu Desbiens from Montreal, Canada, the powdery snow here makes it ideal for skiing. It’s also great for other winter sports, including snowboarding and snow trekking, and offers great views. The vast expanse of mountain terrain outside my room window is one of the most stunning I have ever seen.

The snow-covered acicular trees, pines and poplars with their sparse foliage bring to life the pages in Snow Country, written by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.

During the winter season that begins in the first week of December, Club Med Sahoro has 25 slopes of snow (420-1,030 metres) for both new and experienced skiers, who are taken up the slopes via cable chairs.

You can actually ski in and out of the resort without having to spend time travelling to ski slopes and paying entrance fees. Ski lessons are conducted right outside the resort in full view of the main restaurant. Those tired of skiing can take a dip in the heated swimming pool.

During the summer months from June to September, Club Med Sahoro’s cool climate of 15º-20º Centigrade, attracts Japanese clients seeking to escape the sweltering heat of overcrowded Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama where temperatures can soar up to 40º Centigrade.

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