Discovered by Yamaha Corp in the 1980s during its search for the world’s finest powder snow, Kiroro is brimming with activities and entertainment for all generations and seasons.
SINGAPORE (March 11): Not all snow is created equal. There is “sugar” snow, whose large and faceted crystal structure is often blamed for causing avalanches. Not to mention “Sierra cement” snow, nicknamed for its heavy and wet texture, its drier “mashed potato” counterpart. Come springtime, there is “corn” snow, the result of a year-long freeze-thaw cycle and one that is especially prized by backcountry skiers for its velvety surface. But perhaps the most coveted of them all is “powder” snow: feather-light, fluffy, luxuriously soft to the touch and found in abundance across Hokkaido, the largest and northernmost prefecture of Japan.
I first witness the beauty of this natural phenomenon when we touch down at Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport on an overcast afternoon in January, and all throughout our 100-minute drive up to Kiroro, a hotel and ski resort nestled in a mountain valley in Hokkaido. Through the car windows, we are able to spot rows of bare trees and the occasional building in a sea of white — forming monochrome landscapes reminiscent of a shan shui (traditional Chinese ink) painting.
Days later, I learn that the very same environment undergoes a dramatic transformation under clear, sunny skies — which does not happen frequently during this time of the year, as it is almost always snowing in Kiroro. We are fortunate enough to behold this rare occurrence on one morning when the snowfall ceases for an hour or two as we trek through a nearby forest on snowshoes. Waist-deep in a thick, soft carpet of icy powder, an extended silence falls upon us as we fumble for our phones in unison, eager to capture the sheer beauty of our surroundings sparkling like diamonds against an azure backdrop.
Gem of Hokkaido
Benjamin Lam, president of Kiroro Resort Development, is confident that the snow in Kiroro is the best in all of Hokkaido, and the world. In fact, he maintains that the quality of the snow here surpasses that of its popular neighbour Niseko, a town widely regarded as the “holy grail” of powder snow.
“The quality of snow is measured by humidity; the drier, the better. In Whistler [Canada], that is usually around 10% to 14%. In Niseko, it ranges from 6% to 10%. But here in Kiroro, the snow has [one of the lowest humidity ranges of between] 5% to 8%,” says Lam. He explains that this is because Kiroro is exposed to some of the driest Siberian winds, due to its close proximity to the Russian province.
Founded, owned and operated by piano manufacturer Yamaha Corp since the early 1980s, the resort was sold in 2012 to Kiroro Resort Development’s parent company, Property Perfect. The Thai developer refurbished and rebranded Kiroro’s two existing hotels — Mountain Hotel and Piano Hotel — as The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel and Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort, respectively.
The 282-room, five-star The Kiroro is part of the Tribute Portfolio brand of hotel properties by Marriott Hotels. Its facilities include 12 restaurants, gender-segregated onsen (hot springs) and stone saunas. Its four-star Sheraton-branded neighbour has 140 rooms and is connected to Mountain Center, which is also open to the public to rent their snowboarding or ski equipment, register for outdoor tours and activities, and more.
“As a single developer, we are able to plan the development well because of the very fact that we own the entire site. We wanted to build this resort as an exclusive one; there is so much space here that people won’t have to queue for ski lifts and gondolas… Kiroro is also at the centre of activity in Hokkaido. We are located just a 100-minute drive from the New Chitose Airport. For those who want to ski at Niseko, too, the town is just 45 minutes away,” shares the resort director.
Lam and Lothar Pehl, chief operating officer (COO) of Kiroro Resort Holdings, are speaking at a media presentation held at the showroom of Yu Kiroro, Property Perfect’s upcoming residential development, on the second floor of The Kiroro. The ski-in, ski-out luxury condominium project was launched last May, with construction due for completion by December this year. It marks just the first of several phases to be developed over the next 10 to 15 years.
Different slopes for different folks
Skiing and snowboarding activities are undoubtedly the main draw for powder snow aficionados, as snowfall averages at about 21m per season here. Winters at Kiroro are usually lengthy, lasting from November to late April — and in some years, early May. From gentle “family slopes” suitable for first timers to off-piste and backcountry areas sought after by daredevils, the property offers 120ha of skiable terrain. There are 22 courses catering to the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. It is also home to about 100 ski and snowboarding instructors of various nationalities, as well as two ski schools — Kiroro Ski & Snowboard Academy and Annie Kids Ski Academy. The latter was founded by French former Alpine skier Annie Famose and enrolls students as young as three years old.
According to Lam, skiing and snowboarding lessons, day passes and gear rental here are priced 25% to 60% lower than most popular ski destinations in the US and Europe, making Kiroro a more cost-effective vacation option for families. “Kiroro’s concept is very family oriented, and is one that is designed to grow together with generations… If you think about what’s important to society today, it is clearly a balance between well-being and affordable luxury. Being a single developer, we are not racing to transform [Kiroro]; we see this as a long-term commitment,” says Lam.
We also learn that unlike its tourist-packed neighbours where overcrowding is common during certain months, Kiroro offers its holidaymakers the luxury of space at most of its facilities and slopes, even during peak seasons, due to the sheer vastness of area and meticulous land planning.
“The ‘Asian ski fever’ is just beginning,” states Lam. “In the next 10 to 15 years, I can foresee that as living standards rise, more and more people would like to introduce skiing as a hobby to their children; especially in Southeast Asia, where snow is rare.”
Skiing and snowboarding make up only a fraction of the winter activities available at the resort. A full range of tours and experiences is also available for families and large groups to make the most of their snow-blanketed environment. Guests looking for a more leisurely form of exercise may explore the forests of Kiroro via group or private snowshoe tours, or simply sit back and enjoy panoramic scenic views from the enclosed comforts of a snowcat vehicle. Aside from a dedicated Snow Park and Tubing Park built for ages four and up, children and families can indulge in snow activities involving snowmobiles, buggies, fat bikes, inflatable bubble balls and Segway transporters. For those looking to explore Hokkaido beyond the Kiroro resort complex, neighbouring attractions ranging from the charming port town of Otaru to Sapporo’s famed breweries are under an hour’s drive away.
To our surprise, Pehl says that the best time for a trip to Kiroro would be during the onset of spring in late March and early April. It is during this period that the development continues to receive a daily supply of fresh powder snow, allowing for the snow sports and activities to continue even as temperatures climb up to over 0°C.
“In the last week of April and first week of May, visitors can enjoy an explosion of colours in Kiroro. If you happen to visit in the second week of May, you can catch the Sapporo Lilac Festival, where you can see everything from crocus and tulips to cherry and apple blossoms in bloom. During autumn, it is common to spot foxes and other forms of wildlife while taking the gondolas up. That is why Kiroro’s tagline is Five Star by Nature. Nature is really phenomenal here; you’ll have to see it to believe it,” he declares.
Despite visiting the resort on a rather frequent basis for work, the COO has yet to tire of Kiroro’s spellbinding beauty. One evening as we are enjoying a magic show at Kiroro Town over tipples, he rushes out on a whim, returning only after scooping a handful of fresh powder snow into his whisky glass, his face full of admiration as he watches the powder crystals collapse and dissolve into the liquid on their own before finally taking a sip.
“Even as time passes, one thing that will not change here is the quality of snow. It will last forever — and [Kiroro will] remain a place where you can find the best snow in the world.”
This article appeared in Issue 872 (Mar 11) of The Edge Singapore.