Checking into Club Med anywhere for a ski holiday you expect what comes with the territory – great food, included alcohol, meeting people, having fun, and generally the best all round value in skiing. But the last thing we expected at Club Med Sahoro was tree skiing to rival anywhere in j-land, with zero competition for fresh lines. Plus with a little encouragement, instructors & clients were into it too.
Along with the included wine and beer (never mind it’s free, just nice to find somewhere in remoter Japan they don’t keep reds in the fridge!), morning and afternoon lessons are part of the all inclusive package, so after a morning exploring alone, and big lunch, I was back in school after a long absence.
The top group had been together for a couple of days, sorting themselves out in relaxed fashion as wives dropped off slow husbands into cruiser levels etc, so everyone was happy and not fazed by instructor Jeff’s suggestion of testing the off-trail offerings.
It had snowed the day before, and as my lonely morning had shown, virtually no-one was skiing the powder at all, so anything north facing was still perfect. In fact my human contact for the morning session was limited to a brief exchange with the liftie when I mistakenly popped out of the trees right by the lift and the got the warning. I took it on board and popped out more discreetly after.
So I was intrigued to find out how Club Med instructors dealt with the vagaries of the off limits controls. Ours, laid back American Jeff Fox, was looking keen to get his charges into something more exciting.
“Well it’s kind of funny, you’re not supposed to go out of bounds, and we don’t, unless we do” he explains cryptically. “If you’re not obvious they won’t chase you. But for the Club we can’t get caught, so it’s just one of those opaque things here.”
Asking if anyone minded a hike out he took us under a rope and into the north face out of bounds, a big untouched area of untracked fresh forest. It was just a little crusty where the sun got the top bit, then perfect all the way down, over pretty much the whole resort vertical of 600m.
Not far in I spotted the tree feature, which on a normal day with some talent on hand would usually turn into a photo shoot. So without thinking I yelled out “Stop!” and got everyone to give it their best shot off the tree. A couple of the Japanese clients even stepped back up the hill in the pow for their turn.
All praise to Jeff’s relaxed attitude, he let them do it, probably thinking, hey, another one of those Aussies who knows it all or something. As we skied further into the trees ahead of the group I explained my purpose.
“Mate, sorry for interrupting your lesson like that, I’m actually here for my ski magazine from Australia, and I wanted to check out the lesson incognito without making a big deal. Like, if I thought it was lame why bother telling you? But this is great, I’m loving where you are taking us and your attitude rocks. These guys are having a ball.”
He wasn’t fazed. Catering for a mix of Asian and ex-pat European clients he did a great job of going with the flow, giving pointers as needed and getting the group almost sub-consciously to raise their level, yet always staying in tune with how they were feeling. That’s real ski instruction for you – not the kind of blah, blah, blah idiots who will stop in the most exposed place in a howling gale to lecture away, instead of dropping to a sheltered spot and making sure their client/s are comfortable before starting the lesson. Personality counts more than supposed technical skill level, and Club Med instructors have to have it, not least for their dual role as hosts mingling with guests for apres, dinner and activities.
The run got steeper, but it was the get out that was the killer, a long run-out track ducking and weaving through tight and low pine trees in icy ruts, followed by a hike down a road back to the base.
For the class it turned out to be one of the biggest ski days most of them had ever had. For me it was another day of legendary tree skiing in Hokkaido, and now I knew the way I wanted to get back and hit it non-stop next day.
Cosmopolitan is another Club Med trait, where else do you meet a Balinese snowboard instructor?
Or Brazilean Aussies, one of whom, Felipe Fragoso, had also been a board insructor, including here at Sahoro up till 3 years ago, so he knew almost everyone and after we bumped into him over cocktails things got blurrier. Dinner, drinks, party, breakfast, powder in the trees – Felipe also knew the best powder lines – lunch, powder in the trees, cocktails, dinner, party and repeat. Groundhog day indeed.
Can’t say we had much better skiing at the larger more well known areas elsewhere in Hokkaido, though if you only ski groomed then you will ski it out in a couple of days, and there’s no town or anything.
But for self-contained value there’s no comparison. That equation snowballs if you have kids, the day and evening activities and attention for them is pretty much non-stop, and included, so parents get a complete holiday too.
– Carmen & Owain Price
[the ticket] sahoro
snowfall 8m summit 1030m base 420m vert 610m
terrain • 30% adv/exp • 40% int • 30% beg
lifts 8 incl gondola top to bottom & 2 express quads