I’m enamored with Japan, and it seems I’m not alone in my admiration. In 2023, readers of Condé Nast Traveler crowned it the “World’s No. 1 Destination.” Adding to the appeal, TripAdvisor predicts that Tokyo will claim the spot as the number-one trending destination this year. And in these challenging times, Japanese hospitality coupled with the culture’s focus on harmony and beauty in every aspect of life, is bound to bring a genuine smile to your face.

Naturally, a split second was all it took for me to respond “Arigato, yes!” to the offer of a Japanese-style, all-inclusive ski experience at the recently inaugurated Club Med Kiroro Grand in Akaigawa, nestled on the snowy island of Hokkaido.

An exterior view of Club Med Kiroro Grand

An exterior view of Club Med Kiroro GrandCarolyne Parent

Renowned for its harsh winters and copious snowfall, Hokkaido, the second-largest island in the Japanese archipelago, is a winter wonderland. The combination of Siberian winds, exceptionally low temperatures and humidity results in the creation of Japow, the legendary powder snow that defines the region—a snow so light and feathery that it has become a symbol of Kiroro’s winter season.

Located just a 90-minute drive from New Chitose Sapporo airport, the ski resort is easily accessible. A luxury coach picked me up (it really is all-inclusive) and I caught glimpses of quaint towns, typical Japanese low-rise buildings, and the rural landscape dotted with horse and cattle farms.

Straight ahead, I could see the mountains of the Kiroro ski area, Asari and Nagamine, and Club Med Kiroro Grand. It’s snowing like crazy. I’m at the end of the world in a virtually untouched natural environment. The excitement is palpable in the coach, with my fellow guests just as excited as I am to be settling in for the next four days.

The Grand Entrance

The Grand EntranceCarolyne Parent

Right from the start, the hotel lobby emanates an impressive ambiance. Catering to families, the hotel features a total of 266 rooms and suites, with some offering the traditional Japanese touch of tatami mats. During the orientation tour, I learned that Mr. Yamaha was the visionary behind the hotel’s construction in the early 1990s. His decision was based on an aerial view of the region, where he observed that these mountains had a more abundant snowfall compared to other areas. Despite changing ownership over the years, the hotel still proudly retains its unique touch—including six Yamaha pianos, available for the enjoyment of guests.

Drawing inspiration from the natural elements and motifs of the native Ainu islanders, the interior exudes a vibrant energy. The clever use of partitions in expansive areas has transformed them into intimate lounges and dining spaces.

The Lounge Space

The Lounge SpaceCarolyne Parent

Japanese-Style Sleeping Quarters

Japanese-Style Sleeping QuartersCarolyne Parent

The culinary offerings cater to the diverse origins of the clientele, including Japanese, Singaporean, Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kongese influences, along with classic Italian and French cuisine. Some specialties I particularly enjoyed included raclette with local cheese; fresh sashimi and grilled fish along with delectable sweets like green tea mochi.

One of Yoichi's dining areas

 One of Yoichi's dining areasCarolyne Parent

While the decor and food was lovely, I was eager to hit the slopes. My skiing gear was ready and waiting for me in a heated locker (perfect for warm boots!), which was assigned to my room. (By the way, renting equipment is a good idea, especially if your skis aren’t suitable for powder.) My colleagues and I are guided by our friendly Serbian instructor, Dejan Milovanović, who proudly shows off his Ferrari skis—promising indeed.

Riding the gondolas in style

Riding the gondolas in styleCarolyne Parent

A few minutes later, we found ourselves at the base of the mountains. Since it was early in the season, only three out of the 23 trails were open. During my first descent, I heard the distinctive sound of untouched snow beneath my skis, so light that it almost didn’t seem real. The powder is at its best from February to mid-March, according to Milovanović. “It feels like skiing on clouds,” he says.

On top of Asari Mountain

On top of Asari MountainCarolyne Parent

After a day on the slopes, you have the option to relax in a rotenburo, an outdoor thermal bath. You can also explore traditional sake breweries, like the one in Otaru, a charming coastal town just 35 km from Club Med.

In the evenings, the culinary adventures take centre stage with unique experiences. One such delight is yakiniku at Kaen restaurant, where you grill your food Japanese barbecue-style. At Ogon, I had a hands-on experience cooking vegetables, meat and fish in a flavourful Szechuan broth for a Chinese fondue. Meanwhile, at Ebisu, I noshed on 12 courses of sushi and local delicacies like crab tempura, perfectly paired with sake and shochu. Following these sumptuous meals, the night unfolded with themed shows and dancing that extended into the late hours.

Dining at Club Med Kiroro Grand

Dining at Club Med Kiroro GrandCarolyne Parent

As expected, the four days zipped by like cherry blossoms in spring–way too quickly. From morning yoga to ski outings to après-ski with mulled wine, dips in the rotenburo and nights of lively entertainment, it was a whirlwind of adventure. And before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye.