Hokkaido, Japan boasts one of the world’s best snows in the world! Skiers come from all over the world to experience the pristine ‘Jap Pow – Japanese powder snow every winter. Families too, are drawn to Hokkaido for its amazing scenery and gourmet food. However, not many know that Hokkaido has more to offer than just snow sports. Our recent 4D3N stay at Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU – a popular family resort shows how diverse and memorable a winter vacation in Hokkaido can be. From learning skiing to star-gazing, there’s something fun awaiting families at every turn!
Background: About Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU
The resort is an all season integrated resort located at the center of Hokkaido (It is only an hour train ride away from the New Chitose International Airport). It is a Ski-in/Ski-out resort offering 25 ski courses and a plethora of winter activities for guests of all ages including snow banana boat rides, snow sledding (down the 4000m winding course from the mountain’s peak!), Mina-Mina Beach (indoor wave pool), the Ice Village (where everything is made of ice), the Sea of Clouds (Unkai) and much more. Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU caters really well to families, as you will see in our review. Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU comprises of 2 main hotels:
Most facilities are closer to Tomamu The Tower Hotel. This includes eateries, ski rental and convenience mart. Guests staying at RISONARE Tomamu Hotel will have to take a short, but frequent, internal complimentary shuttle bus to access these facilities. Within the vicinity of Tomamu The Tower Hotel is Hotalu Street- a newly opened food and shopping street with a diverse range of F&B and winter-wear shopping options. It was our very time time at the Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU but it certainly won’t be our last. In fact, we reckon we will need at least a week to properly enjoy all that the resort offers! For a start, here’s our pick of 10 ways to enjoy your winter vacay at Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU.
10 Ways to Enjoy Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU, Hokkaido
1. Go for the Slopes!
This is without doubt one of the main reasons people come to Hokkaido. At Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU, the ski slopes are just right outside The Tower Hotel. The ski slopes are suitable for all levels of competencies (from beginners to advanced) and it would be a great place for families to LEARN skiing together. We love the fact that the ski-rental includes complete head to toe ski-wear and ski-gear (goggles included!) for kids as young as Buddy (3!). Plus we can rent proper snow boots to to walk firmly in the snow. This means we don’t need to purchase special snow boots from Singapore and lug them around. Simple rent them for the whole family and you can safely stride across the thick powdery snow.
With the ski slopes so near, the kids just don their ski gear, snap on their skis and off they go! After skiing, we put away the ski boots and helmets in the lockers before we return to the hotel room or head off to play somewhere, easy peasy!
We engaged the ski instructors from the Snow Academy in the resort. The ski instructors were very patient and able to communicate with our kids in English.
The ski school was very kind to offer a lady ski coach for our 3 year old son. He took to her immediately as she was warm and friendly. Most importantly, she was extremely patient. When she saw Buddy struggling to master his ‘brakes’, she went to loan some ski accessories to aid him in his learning. Even though the snow fall was unrelenting and the temperature had dipped to -8C, she gave Buddy the encouragement to try again and again without giving up on him or losing her patience at him. That is the hallmark of a good coach.
We were impressed that within the first day, Buddy was able to balance and ski a short distance without poles. An achievement from a toddler from a tropical country!
From Beginner to Intermediate:
For Dana, we briefed her coach on what she learnt last winter at GoSnow, Niseko. Before I knew it, the coach came to inform us that Dana was ready to hit the intermediate ski runs. On the 2nd day, he even offered to bring Dana to try the advanced slope but we had ran out of time. From a novice to a confident skier, handling poles and enjoying the thrills of skiing, it was so heartening to see her potential unleashed here at Tomamu!
Ω2. Drive a Snow Mobile…with the kids!
Apart from skiing, we got to drive, yes DRIVE snow mobile around the vicinity of the resort. This was unforgettable! The snow mobile drive which starts from the Gao Outdoor Sports Center, a short walk from The Tower Hotel, was about 20 minutes long but it offered us an eternity of memories!
There was a guide to conduct a safety briefing and demo the relevant safety checks. Kids were safety strapped to us and off we went with the guide leading the way. Mid way, we stopped to take lots of photos and the guide even gave our daughter – the adrenaline junkie, a fast-speed ride on his own snow mobile! It was seriously very fun!
3. Swim in wintry Hokkaido at Mina-Mina beach
“Swimming? In Hokkaido? In Winter?” Yes, and I’m not referring to soaking in an onsen. Mina-Mina Beach is the largest indoor swimming pool in the world and it’s located right in Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU (accessible via the internal shuttle). The water is heated to 30C in this huge indoor swimming complex. In fact, it feels even more comfortable than most pools we’ve swam in Singapore!
Safety: The pool is very safe as there are watchful lifeguards walking around who would blow a whistle at you at the slightest hint of danger! (This is after all Japan). There is no children’s lap pool but there are strap-floats to be loaned free for the kids.
Fun: Apart from just floating around, here are other factors that would ‘up’ the fun quotient in Mina-Mina Beach.
Waves: What’s an indoor pool without some indoor waves? Occasionally, ‘waves’ would be generated and you will truly have a fun time feeling like you’re in the ocean!
Water Wheel: This is free and happens at certain timing throughout the day. Get into a water wheel in Mina Mina Beach and run around like a little ‘hamster’. The daughter loves it!
Fun Floats: Available for rent at a small fee, you and your family can rent these funky fun floats to float around the pool together. Bring some Japanese coins along to rent these floats.
Pool-side Activities: You can climb a ‘rock’ wall made of floats and attempt other fun challenges and activities next to the pool for a small fee.
Tips: Do strap the floats onto the kids as the waves may be quite strong. Particularly nearer to the beach. When the waves come, be IN the water and close to your kids. It’s actually quite fun to be bobbing up and down! Check out the timing of some free activities like the water wheel and try it! Upon entering the indoor pool area, your family will be separated to the different changing areas by gender. Arrange to meet at the beach. Lockers are free but you need your registration card to enable its usage. Keep the card!
4. Have a soak in the outdoor Onsen!
While you are at Mina-Mina Beach, don’t leave the place without trying their Outdoor Onsen. The onsen facilities here are perhaps the only onsen in the resort area. The Outdoor Onsen is smaller than the indoor one and can get filled up fast. It’s quite a unique experience having your head feeling the raw wintry chill of Hokkaido (-8c when I was there) while your body is soaked in nearly 40C of thermal water!
5. Take the Gondola up Unkai Terrace
You really must make time for this as this is as close to a winter wonderland as you can get. Take the 30 minute Gondola (cable car) ride up to Unkai Terrace and marvel at the surreal all-white scenery. Unbelievable! Reaching the top of Terrace of Frost Tree is like stepping into Narnia. Here you should take as many photos as you can as it is really too magical a landscape.
Tip: The Gondola up Unkai Terrace may stop operation if the condition is too windy so the moment the weather is clear, please Go. For. It! Do be patient with fellow tourists as everyone wants a piece of the scenery. Wait for them to clear and you’ll have a perfectly white snowscape for your family portraits. There is a small cafe up serving hot drinks and marshmallows. Nothing like savouring hot crusty melty marshmallows in the wintry chill!
6. Pop by the Ice Village
Skate on a frozen lake. Stay in an ice hotel. Enjoy drinks in an ice bar. This self-contained TOMAMU Ice Village apparently is an experience like no other. Even during our short visit, stepping into the souvenir shop and the ice bar was surreal enough to see virtually everything IN ICE. Yes, seats, tables and even flowers were all made of ice. The kids loved the novelty of it all.
Tip: The Ice Village is only fully completed towards the end of December. When we visited in mid Dec, the place was still partially in construction. To experience the Ice Village fully, it’s best to visit around January. Night time would be best as the lights can be mesmerising! To get to the Ice Village, be prepared for a 15 minute walk in ice and snow from the shuttle bus stop. It’s best to go after a good warm evening meal.
7. Visit Chapel on the Water
The Chapel on the Water is another popular tourist spot about 10 minutes’ walk en-route to the Ice Village. We’ve seen many spectacular photos of it on social media and have been looking forward to see it in person. Unfortunately we didn’t check the opening times (7:30pm) and by then, the kids were too hungry and cold so we couldn’t stay any longer to wait for it to open. We stood outside, with a group of other fellow Singaporeans who missed the opening time, and even then we could appreciate the surreal beauty of this place.
Tip: Do check the opening times of this attraction and go after dinner. You’d need to walk in the snow and ice to reach the place. We would definitely visit this place again if we return.
8. Çafe’ Hop at Hotalu Street
The recently opened Hotalu Street (mid-Dec, 2017) is a unique ski-in, ski-out shopping and eatery street in the resort. Situated next to The Tower Hotel, the eateries offer some really excellent food which Hokkaido is renowned for!
Here are some which we tried during our short stay:
- Soup Curry Garaku: This was the very first place we ate when we arrived and it swept us off our feet! The curry is not too spicy but it was chock-full of flavor! The roasted veggies and fried kale had a smoky tone to it and went really well with their well-cooked meats. Ingredients are all sourced from Hokkaido! This is a must! Be prepared for an exquisite explosion of flavours! We loved this place so much, we went back again for lunch the very next day. No question asked!
- Camaro Steak Diner: The beef here is so well-seared; the outer crust gives a light texture while inside is tender and moist. No way to describe it well except…try it for yourself! Comes with generous servings of salad and potatoes at the side. A must for meat lovers.
- Yukino: We stopped here for desserts and we were glad we did! Hokkaido is well-known for its milk and pastries. Here, you find them all combined into some exquisite and delectable desserts. Pretty even. Well worth a stop to tantalise your taste-buds!
Eateries in Japan are commonly small and intimate. So, expect queues and some crowd. With some careful planning like going early or getting the spouse to go ahead early to ‘chope’ a table, you can avoid waiting for too long. You can try making reservations but we didn’t have any luck as some were reserved a week or so ago before we arrived. This applies to both lunch and dinner.
2. Other eateries: Apart from Hotalu Street, there are other unique and wonderful eateries in the resort. Two notable ones are:
- Tsubaki Salon (The Risonare Hotel, South Tower 32F):
This restaurant offers unique and delicious Japanese fusion cuisine. Situated on the 32 floor of The Risonare Hotel, visit the restaurant during the day and you’ll be rewarded also with a stunning view of the resort grounds.
- Yuku Yuku
Technically, this place situated in The Tower Hotel, is not quite an eatery but more like a lounge of sorts or ‘reading room’ for parents as they watch their kids frolic in the snow outside. Complimentary drinks such as hot chocolate, tea, coffee, fruit punch and hot wine are served at different times of the day, along with some ice-flavoured lolly sticks for kids. How very thoughtful!
9. Bake Cookies in an old Japanese Barn
When you are in Tomamu, fun is not confined to just within the resort grounds. There is a whole range of unique and diverse activities for families to experience which can be arranged with the hotel’s concierge or through their website.
One such activity we did was a half-day excursion to an old Japanese barn where we baked Christmas cookies with the kids and later savored them with hot chocolate. En-route, we met some outback Huskies and had fun learning how to make a real snowman from our Japanese guide. Nothing like wide open spaces for kids to expend their energy, play and laugh. Simply priceless! This was ONE of our family’s favourite memories of the trip!
10. Go star-gazing in the wilderness
Another memorable activity as part of our excursion to rural Hokkaido would be star-gazing. Yes, we literally gawk at the millions of stars littered across the wintry Hokkaido sky. It was awesome to say the least! The wife even spotted a shooting star. No words could describe how magical we felt…we almost wish time could stand still.
There are simple so many fun things we can do in Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU, even for non-skiers. Most Winter activities start proper in Dec but one thing’s for sure, you wouldn’t lack fun things to do!
Our Hotel: RISONARE Tomamu
We decided to put up at RISONARE Tomamu as online reviews mentioned it’s less congested and we kinda like the idea of soaking in our own family-sized jacuzzi at the end of a tiring day of winter fun.The RISONARE Tomamu is indeed far more serene, spacious and exudes an air of quiet Japanese sophistication, away from the buzz of all the activities. Our family suite was very well-kept and very huge – 100 square meters in all (like a 5-room flat!). All suites come with its own Sauna and Jacuzzi.The view from the jacuzzi, overlooking the Alpine forests, took our breaths away.
The living room is separate and there was also a separate twin bedroom for the kids. The extra space came in handy as we needed to sort our luggage, air our winter wear and basically for the kids and us to just unwind. Clean, comfy and un-intrusive – the trademark Japanese hotel for the discerning family travellers. Going to the main breakfast restaurant and other activities near the main Tower Hotel require us to hop on the internal shuttle which comes regularly (every 10 mins) so we did factored in extra travel time into our itinerary. We did so much during our short 4 day’s stay at Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU but yet we have barely touched the surface. A return trip is certainly on the cards!
HOSHINO RESORTS TOMAMU
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How to get there:
- Via JR Train:
- Via Airport Busliner (most-fuss free method in our opinion):
- Via Self-Drive From New Chitose Airport: 90 minute drive.
Stay tuned as we bring you more information on more dining options in and around Hoshino Tomamu RESORTS!