On my first day of Christmas skiing, Kiroro gave to me: two chairlifts spinning and a parched ridge of spindly birch trees.
I’ve arrived in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido early in the season, in time for the opening of Club Med’s newest ski resort. And Kiroro’s twin mountains of Asari and Nagamine have only just started pulling on their winter coats.
But a hint of what’s to come is revealed in a trail map hoisted to an unreadable height many meters above the snow at the top of the Yoichi Express chairlift. As if on cue, snow starts falling – fat flakes floating down and accumulating into the famous Hokkaido powder. As I soon find out, once it starts, it doesn’t stop.
Four days later all 10 chairlifts are open, and the ambitiously lofty sign is noticeably closer to eye-level. Give it four months and the resort will likely still be open, although the sign might be buried.
Kiroro Ski Resort has been known to rack up a staggering 21 meters of snowfall, making it one of the snowiest resorts in the world, with the ski season stretching into May. Book a week’s skiing and you’re virtually guaranteed powder days.
Bankable snow is a key reason so many skiers and snowboarders are drawn to these magic mountains. And another key reason is waiting for me down in the valley.
Opened in December 2023, Kiroro Grand is Club Med’s fourth Hokkaido ski resort, joining more than 20 around the world and solidifying the French company’s awakened focus on family-friendly luxury for winter holidays.
It’s easy to see why the concept has taken off. A ski holiday by nature normally means a myriad of messy logistics: organizing equipment, fittings, lift tickets, lessons and meals, not to mention wrangling kids who might decide they’re cold or bored after 10 minutes. So the all-inclusive model is a godsend for families seeking the highest quality ski experience with minimal hassle.
Located approximately two hours’ drive from Sapporo’s New Chitose International Airport, Kiroro Grand is linked by gondola to its smaller sister resort Kiroro Peak, which opened a year earlier to guests aged 12 and over. Both resorts are takeovers of former hotels, and the transformations are stunning.
Sculptures of shima-enaga, a bird native to Hokkaido, are suspended in a soaring atrium lobby, among glittering chandeliers that could almost be their nests, setting the tone for an enchanted forest theme that flows throughout the 266-room resort.
Color palettes take their cues from the ethereal landscape outside, with carpet patterns morphing from summer-green to autumnal tones to the cool blues of winter as you move through the resort, reflecting a journey through the seasons.
Contemporary-styled family suites sleep four and are the top-tier rooms, but I envy guests staying in one of the five deluxe tatami rooms, which resemble a luxe ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse) with straw matting and a shoji – sliding rice paper window frame – that opens to a balcony. Concessions to modern comforts include a plush mattress on an elevated platform in lieu of a futon bed, and a gleaming en suite with a deep bathtub.
I save my soaking for the authentic Japanese onsen, a steamy haven of hot, natural mineral water baths, including an outdoor tub and a cedarwood sauna. Segregated by sexes, you’ll be bathing in your birthday suit, but after a bit of practice it becomes second nature.
A more private pampering experience is provided in the calming confines of the Mandara Spa, which offers a range of beauty treatments, blending Asian, European and Balinese techniques.
The central restaurant, Yoichi, unveils a dazzlingly diverse buffet three times a day, whipped up by a team of international chefs, and there are three specialty restaurants showcasing traditional Japanese dining – the pick of them being Kaen. Here, we spend a memorable evening sizzling succulent Hokkaido Wagyu beef and fresh vegetables on a yakiniku grill as a storm rolls in and snow piles up outside the windows.
As for the promised convenience, my skis and boots are waiting in my heated ski locker when I arrive (forget waiting in line for the tiresome rigmarole of boot and ski fitting). A pro shop is on hand to handle any adjustments, and my lift ticket is issued on check-in. Full-day group lessons for all abilities run every day; just put your name down and turn up.
Post-breakfast sees a flurry of activity as the day kicks off in the various kids clubs. Childcare is provided for ages 2–17, with kids aged four and above receiving expert tutelage from ski and snowboard instructors.
I talk to one parent who can’t believe the progress her nine-year-old daughter has made in the week they’ve been here.
“She was a solid snow-plowing beginner when we arrived, but now she’s doing parallel turns and can’t stop talking about powder,” she says. “And she’s made a bunch of new friends.”
Family activities are also a huge part of Club Med Grand, and I hear hilarious tales of a recent choreographed “daddy-daughter” dance show performed on the main stage, with dads dressed in tutus. Priceless memories.
The theater is the centerpiece of the resort, and hosts different entertainment each night. A traditional taiko drumming act performed by local school children takes the stage one night, and the next night we’re dancing past midnight to an international covers band playing a never-ending medley of hits – everything from Michael Jackson to Queen to the Spice Girls.
Another highlight is an acrobatic aerial silk performance from the resort’s Entertainment Manager Shelly Hollinger, who spins down from the rafters above a spellbound crowd.
Post-performance she tells me of the reward she gets curating something new for guests each day. “It’s about giving surprises and keeping it fresh, so that every day is better than the last,” she enthuses.
Speaking of last days, none is better than mine. Snow is piling up around the silver birch trees and fresh tracks await everywhere I look.
I ride the Kiroro gondola 15 minutes to the top of Asari Peak and begin plunging back down through knee-deep powder, joining a gentle, groomed green run halfway down, where children and first-timers are honing their turns in a winter wonderland. From beginners to experts, Club Med’s all-inclusive concept has found a way to extend to the slopes, and it’s beautiful to see.