Hokkaido Hotel Review: Club Med Sahoro

[Updated Feb 2015!] All-inclusive concept so you don’t have to worry about organizing lift passes, lessons, food, accommodation separately.

It is not the cheapest option but you can think of the cost premium as a convenience fee. Once you arrive you can totally switch off and relax.

Very Important #1: What is NOT included is ski gear rental (from JPY5,300 or USD45 extra PER DAY) so make sure you factor this into your budget.

Very Important #2: Since this is a SKI resort, all NON-SKI activities are at extra cost (hello, did you really expect “all-inclusive” to include trips to the moon?)

Recommended for:  Families with younger kids, large groups, those who want to ski and take lessons every day, peeps who drink a LOT of house pours, internationalized Japanese food, ski in ski out, hassle-free

Not Recommended for: Nightlife, grumpy girlfriends / wives who think skiing every day is kinda nuts, angsty teenagers who think they are too cool for Club Med, Japanese culture, snobbish purist foodies (me), people with no interest in skiing (please note that CM is isolated with no nearby village to “walk walk”)

IMO there are better options out there for singles/couples/small groups who are more adventurous and independent travellers, such as Niseko (see my post on Budgeting for 6D5N ski trip: DIY Niseko and CM Sahoro). Après-ski is poor as the resort is isolated (no nearby towns that you can walk to). The very talented GOs do their best to put up some nice entertainment every evening (but of course it’s very family-oriented). Feels a bit like school camp or cruise ship with the fixed mealtimes and super enthusiastic hyper GOs. If you really would like to stay at a ski in ski out resort, I think that Rusutsu is a better option for those not wanting to take lessons every day (see my Rusutsu hotel and ski resort review or my thoughts about Club Med Sahoro vs. Rusutsu).

Open bar at the bar

Note that if you just want to see snow / play snow, you DO NOT need to go all the way to Club Med (at least 2.5h by bus from Sapporo city). There are many ski resorts much closer to Sapporo (1h drive or less, can even do a day trip) such as Sapporo Teine which has a tubing park for kids and wallet-friendly day trip packages, or  Sapporo Kokusai which you can combine with onsen-hunting at Jozankei Onsen resort town (shuttle buses running hourly – see timetable here).

Location/Getting here from Singapore:

  • Fly into Obihiro airport (JAL/ANA only), OR Sapporo Chitose airport (by Air China, Cathay, JAL, ANA, Korean Air, Thai Airways, SQ+JAL/ANA)
  • Obihiro is the closest airport to Club Med Sahoro (1.5h bus ride). Obihiro is a very small airport with only one terminal so it’s easy to find the Club Med counter (just off to the left after you collect baggage and pass customs). The CM bus is a 44-seater coach, which costs about USD80/adult return and needs to be booked in advance with your local CM office or travel agent (somehow you cannot book it online).
  • Sapporo is the main airport in Hokkaido and 2.5h by bus to Club Med. The transfer fee is about double (USD160/adult return), but Sapporo may be a more convenient airport to fly into if you plan to extend your stay in Japan, as there are more connections from Sapporo.

Airports around CM Sahoro (Source: Sahoro Resort website)

Room/Amenities
Superior rooms (the cheapest room type) are with western style beds. Comfortable enough and quite spacious by Japanese standards (2 closets, wow). Rooms are cleaned daily. There are also deluxe rooms (newer and more fancy) and family suites for you non-cheapos out there, but seriously who spends time in their rooms?

Superior room

Superior room

Ensuite bathroom and ensuite toilet are separate (per efficient Japanese configuration). Shower pressure considered medium, and cycles wildly between scalding and lukewarm. Makes strange spluttering noises too. Towels / shower gel / shampoo / conditioner / hairdryer provided. Nowhere to hang wet swimwear would be my only criticism…

Superior room- ensuite toilet

Superior room- ensuite bathroom

Resort/Facilities
The whole resort is enclosed/heated so you can get by with just a tee shirt or light sweater while inside. The accommodation blocks and main building are all connected so there is no need to walk outside in the snow to get from your room to the restaurant or bar.

Bring your swimwear if you want to use the outdoor Canadian tub / indoor Jacuzzi / pool (all open til 11pm). 25m indoor pool is not heated (brrrr) but I still saw people swimming. Both the tub and Jacuzzi are quite small (can take only about 8 adults shoulder to shoulder, or less with bratty splashing kids).

Indoor pool

Outdoor canadian tub (swimwear required)

Ofuro (Japanese indoor bath- separate gender) is open 24 hours – PLEASE RESPECT THE LOCAL CULTURE AND READ THE INSTRUCTIONS (Read about onsen etiquette here). The ofuro is a place of relaxation and not a playground. I have seen kids running amok, spraying other people with showers, dipping the bath towels in the water and whatnot (actually some adults do this too). On the other hand, I have also seen parents who explain to their kids the proper ofuro behaviour, and kids who appreciate and follow the rules. Being an international resort, Club Med is a very comfortable environment for lazy tourists and this unfortunately tends to attract those who do not want to learn anything about local language or culture. [From my observation in Feb 2015, the most badly-behaved guests in the ofuro were from HK, which is sad because Asian culture is supposed to be about respect for others.]

Separate gender ofuro- changing room (separate gender)

Separate gender ofuro- shower area (all clothes off)

Separate gender ofuro- bath area (all clothes off)

Free wifi- while not fast enough to buffer videos, coverage seems to have improved and you can now get a proper connection even in the rooms. Still no connection at the restaurant (pretty dumb) and you still get logged out after maybe 5 min of non-activity (super annoying).

There is a small ice skating rink used mainly by kids but not open every day. There is a spa for those 18 years and over (2014/2015 season: 30min foot reflex JPY5,400 / 60min massage from JPY13k). Manicures (JPY5,400) and pedicures (JPY8,640) too. For non-skiers, the resort does organise snow shoeing, onsen, etc. excursions at extra cost, but if you are going to spend a week doing non-ski activities at Club Med you are obviously better off elsewhere.

Ski / Snowboard – Runs and lift passes
Ski passes are issued as part of your package (but no one really checks), and the passes now seem to include both arrival and departure day. The ski area is shared by only 2 resorts i.e. Club Med Sahoro and Sahoro Resort, so most of the time it is almost empty + no queues at chairlifts. Snows a little every day, empty slopes, ski in ski out (i.e. you can ski right to the back entrance of the resort and roll into the bar). Sufficient runs for maybe 3 days (for the intermediate skier) after which you’d probably find it pretty repetitive. Advanced skiers can spend time in the trees for which there is almost no competition. Chairlifts open at 9am (845am for No. 6 lift). Gondola (to the peak) and the higher lifts close at 3.30pm, most lower lifts at 4pm, except the No. 6 lift which usually stays opens until 6pm.

Empty and WIDE beginner run

When the winds are too strong, the gondola and higher chairlifts are closed, so there is no easy way up to the red/black runs until they decide to open again. Seems like dumping is not as common here as in Niseko (only 1 out of the 5 days we were there for both trips).

Whiteout – Retreat to the bar, folks!

Trail map is in Japanese and the tiny trail that leads back to Club Med involves spotting tiny yellow signboards leading to an almost invisible trail through the trees.

Trail map

Sahoro has generally nicer weather and empty slopes as compared to Niseko (cloudy / constantly snowing, and more crowded slopes especially in Hirafu). So it depends what you want I guess.

Bluebird days

Ski / Snowboard – Lessons
Group lessons are also part of your package. There are morning and afternoon sessions (about 2.5hours each) every day. Adult snowboard divided into 4 levels and adult ski into 7 levels. From what I observed, size of ski classes was pretty big (>10 pax) especially lower levels. The Club Med website says max. class size is 12pax but Tripadvisor reviewers have mentioned that class sizes can be as big as 20pax. Size of snowboard classes are slightly smaller. There are descriptions of each ability level at the sign up area so you know which class is suitable for you. You are supposed to sign up for class the evening before, but it’s not really a formal registration, they just need to know the estimated numbers so that they can schedule the number of instructors. Please cooperate to avoid overcrowding.

Ability chart

Class schedules

I don’t know if the GOs still double-hat as ski instructors but the quality of the instruction on my 2015 trip was much improved compared to my 2012 trip. There were a lot more native English speakers and it seemed to me that most were experienced, licensed instructors, with at least a few seasons under their belt. Instructors rotate levels every couple of days so if you may be able to follow the same instructor to the next level depending on their schedule and your progress.

Ski rental is NOT included in the resort cost. Listed price for adult snowboard+boots is JPY5,900/day, adult skis+boots JPY5,300/day. Mainly Rossignol stuff. Crazy inflated prices as you are a captive audience. Suggest you start saving now or get your own equipment. You could buy some pretty sweet gear with the cost of renting for a week.

Ski rental shop (very busy in evenings)

Ski equipment rental prices 2014/2015 season

Ski wear rental prices 2014/2015 season

There is a spacious locker room inside the resort for storing/drying ski gear. Each room is assigned one slot on the rack (can store 2 snowboards or skis). This is lockable if you wish – bring your own lock (the type you use to lock your luggage will do). Leave boots on dedicated boot shelves.

Ski locker room

Individual racks

Food / Drinks
Free flow drinks include basic alcohol e.g. beer/wine/house pours/sake (yes there is even sake at lunchtime) and are part of your package.

Mealtimes are pretty regimental but there will be some snacks (read: leftover breakfast) at the bar between breakfast and lunch if you sleep in late. Also pre-dinner snacks. Not sure what happens if you miss dinner though… bring your own supplies if you get the midnight munchies.

Meals are international buffet style, served at the main restaurant. Not overly exciting for me (read: food snob) although the spread is decent. Good for people who like variety and are not too adventurous with food. Foodies will not be impressed, but again, this method makes sense as it is supposed to cater to the majority. If your group consists of 20 pax or you are with fussy kids then this would be great for you.

Breakfast and lunch selection doesn’t change much every day. Menu theme changes daily for dinner e.g. Friday is Hokkaido night (with the Hokkaido crab legs!). I quite liked Wednesday (Chef’s Dinner) and Thursday (Old Favourites) too. Monday (Red) was crap and Tuesday (Modern Classics) sounded dubious although we didn’t try (went to Mina Mina instead). Salad, cheese, pastry, and dessert selection always good. Every day there will be pasta / nuggets / fries / soft serve ice cream which seems to keep the kids pretty happy.

Main restaurant (int’l buffet)

Tapas night, Feb 2012

GOs will come and sit at your table and chat with you during meals. This may be a good/bad thing depending on whether you are feeling sociable or not. But most people seem to like the interaction.

You can also have dinner at the specialty restaurant (hotpot/steamboat) Mina Mina, which makes a nice change from the main restaurant buffet. The basic hotpot is included in your package and comprises a selection of seafood, mushrooms, veggies and noodles. You can also top up for more fancy seafood such as Hokkaido crab legs and ikura (salmon roe), or shabu shabu beef. Requires same day advanced booking (at the main restaurant) and it is often fully booked on days when the main restaurant has a crap dinner theme. Closed Sun.

Mina Mina seafood selection (no top up)

Mina Mina mushroom and veg selection (no top up)

Steamer+hotpot

Shabu shabu beef (extra cost JPY5,800/portion) at Mina Mina

seafood platter (extra cost JPY5,800/portion) at Mina Mina

Conclusion:
Second trip here but still not really a fan. If you don’t fancy kids running around the restaurant, screaming up and down the corridors and splashing wildly in the what-could-have-been-romantic outdoor tub, go to Niseko. Cheaper, way better food, way more runs.

Additional tips for Club Med Sahoro:
– Bring whatever you need (sunblock, swim wear, flip flops, medication) as the resort shop is ridiculously expensive except for occasional sale items. There is no other shopping option nearby as the resort is isolated.
– As mentioned ski rental is very expensive so try to buy or beg/borrow/steal before arriving.
– Make sure your trip covers Hokkdaido theme night if you are a fan of Hokkaido crab legs (for 2014/2015 season this was scheduled on Friday)
– If you are not a Japanese speaker, and deciding between 2 ability levels, I would say go for the level that is being taught by a native English speaker. You will be able to get much more out of it.
– You are not allowed to wear ski / snowboard boots within the resort (other than in the locker room) so bring a pair of slip on shoes or flip flops (maybe crocs or similar to air your smelly socks?) for walking between the restaurant and locker room.

See also:

Date of activity: Feb 2012, Feb 2015
Location: Hokkaido, Japan
Operator: Club Med
Rate: From USD1,600/adult for a 5-night stay (There are usually early bird offers for confirmed bookings by July)
Booking: Direct on website (or via your local travel agent)

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13 responses to “Hokkaido Hotel Review: Club Med Sahoro

  1. Great blog. Super informative and helpful. Just wondering in your experience is 2nd week December safe for some snow at least at Sahoro Hokkaido? Any chance of totally no snow in your experience? Of course weather is uncertain but we didn’t want to be going on a ski trip but end up not skiing at all. We’re a family of beginners anyway.

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    • Thanks! Welllll I would say third week December is safer… It’s not so much that there is no snow, but the snow base may not be thick enough to ski in early December if the snow starts late. Snow base generally needs to be at least 50cm or more to cover grass twigs small rocks etc. Fingers crossed if you’ve already booked your trip!

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