Winter Wonder Lands

You don’t have to go to europe or america to experience a white winter holiday. There are plenty of places in asia that offer beginner and experienced skiers and snowboarders the chance to carve up the picturesque powder of snow-capped mountains.(All photos courtesy of niseko village and ysl hotels unless otherwise credited)

Those who live in cold countries dream of the tropics and sun-kissed beaches. On the other hand, people who live in tropical climates dream of – well we still dream of the beach a lot – but we also dream of the kind of exotic winter wonderlands we see on TV and in movies around this time of the year. But if you’re hoping to experience the white stuff for yourself, you don’t have to go all the way to the other side of the world. Here in Asia, there are plenty of world-class winter sport resorts where you can get your fill of skiing and snowboarding thrills.

Japan
When it comes to the Land of the Rising Sun, the best place to hit the slopes is the northernmost island in the country, Hokkaido. Its latitude ensures that every winter is frosty and full of powdery snow. Our pick for the top resort in Hokkaido is Niseko Village (niseko-village.com/en/; Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido; +81-136-44-2211). It is located about two and a half hours from Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo, at the base of Mount Niseko Annupuri.

Once dubbed the “Oriental Saint Moretz,” Niseko Village first opened it’s doors in 1982. It boasts over 900,000 square metres of skiable terrain, an international snow sports school, two international standard hotels and spas, a range of dining options, an outdoor nature park and two golf courses. Unlike some parts of Japan that can feel inaccessible to non-Japanese speakers, the large number of Australian tourists to the area ensures that English speakers will not get lost in translation here. Niseko Village was acquired by YTL Hotels in 2010 and the new owners quickly set to work with a multi-phased redevelopment plan including major renovations to the hotels.

Don’t worry if you’ve never strapped on a pair of skis or even set your eyes on a snowboard in your life. Even complete novices are welcome at the Niseko Village Snow School. Accredited by the Ski Association of Japan, the school includes instructors from all over the globe who teach, in six different languages, a range of classes for everybody from total beginners to advanced sliders. Group lessons can have up to eight students, or you can opt for private instruction. If you haven’t invested in your own skiing or snowboarding equipment, Niseko has got a wide array of gear for you to rent as well.

If you want to experience the wonders of snow without the risk of hurtling down a mountain, you can also try one of the many other winter activities Niseko has on offer. For example, you can tool around on a snowmobile tour of the resort’s expansive natural terrain, go on a cross country skiing expedition, tromp around on a snowshoe trek or even make like Santa Claus and take in the sights from a sled pulled by reindeer.

Where to stay: As mentioned before, Niseko Village has two high-class hotels for you to choose from. Renovated in 2010, The Green Leaf Niseko Village (thegreenleafhotel.com/en/; Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido; +81-136-44-3311) is a ski-in ski-out accommodation offering alpine enthusiasts 200 guestrooms including family-friendly king/twin combinations and corner suites. All guestrooms feature original artwork by celebrated Japanese artist Soichiro Tomioka and art installations by Hokkaido artist Emi Shiratori can be found throughout. The hotel also features Altitude, Niseko’s first rooftop bar. The Green Leaf’s redesign added the new Green Leaf Spa, which includes access to the hotel’s celebrated natural hot spring onsen. Guests can also take advantage of ski valet services and an in-house ski and snowboard rental counter.

Visitors to Niseko can also choose to stay at the Hilton Niseko Village (hilton.com; Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido; +81-136-44-1111), which offers 506 rooms along with numerous restaurants, spa and onsen facilities. The hotel is steps away from the Niseko Gondola, which whisks skiers straight to the top of Mount Annupuri. The spacious and modern guest rooms feature panoramic mountain views as well as high-speed internet access, luxurious Crabtree and Evelyn toiletries.  For some truly unique après-ski (after skiing socialising), the Hilton Niseko Village is presenting the dramatic Snow Lounge 2014, a bar slash art installation sculpted entirely from snow and ice that will serve up drinks in a surreal display of winter wonderment. The Snow Lounge will be open from late December to early March.

When to go: The ski season in Hokkaido runs from late November until early May but as with anywhere in the world, weather conditions vary from year to year. If you want to get off the main runs, you generally have to wait until the heavier snows around Christmas time. January and February offer the most consistent quality powder snowfalls.

South Korea
There are several nice winter resorts throughout South Korea, but most serious ski aficionados make their way to the north-eastern district of Pyeongchang, which contain the Taebaek Mountain range and many of the country’s best slopes. One of the newest spots for winter sporting is the Alpensia Ski Resort (alpensiaresort.co.kr), which has the honour of hosting many events during the 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as the Olympic Village. That alone should give you an idea of the size and quality of the facilities at this resort, which was opened in 2010. The name Alpensia is a portmanteau of the words “Alps,” “Asia” and “fantasia,” and the resort somehow manages to live up to the image conjured up by that combination.

The resort complex covers nearly 5 million square metres and, befitting a future Winter Olympics host, it features excellent ski jumps and biathlon facilities, a monorail, cross-country ski slopes and a large stadium. While it only has six runs, each is exceptionally well-maintained and some are as long as 1.4 kilometres. There is also a run exclusively for advanced snowboarders to practice their skills. One of the nicest things about this new resort is the high-speed lift system that can transport 2,400-3,000 skiers an hour, drastically cutting back on wait time.

Where to stay: The 238-room InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort Hotel offers winter revellers a retreat that combines modern amenities with classic European alpine design. Guests can enjoy spectacular countryside views within the heart of the Taebaek mountains from the resort. Extensive concierge services at the resort provide personalised recommendations on leisure activities. Another option is Holiday Inn and Suites Alpensia Pyeongchang. The spacious suites feature their own kitchenettes for cooking and balconies overlooking the nearby ski runs.

When to go: The snow season in this area generally lasts from the middle of November until early April.

China
Located in north-eastern China’s Heilongjiang province, Yabuli Ski Resort (yabuliski.com) is known for being one of the country’s top destinations for winter sports. The resort provides great runs with high mountains. Local skiers boast of the excellent snow, which is neither too hard nor too powdery.

The ski area consists of 18 runs and two distinct sections – the competitive section and the leisure skiing section. The alpine competitive skiing section reaches an altitude of 1,374 metres and is built according to international standards, providing an excellent challenge for advanced skiers. In the leisure skiing section, the highest altitude is only about 1,000 metres and offers comparatively safer thrills for novices. There is also a German-built slide which provides a safe, enclosed environment to slide down the mountain.

The resort is China’s biggest training centre for alpine skiers and it hosts many professional skiing competitions. The 1996 3rd Winter Asian Games and the 2009 Winter Universiade were held here, as well as numerous National Winter Games and other competitions.

There are five ski resorts open to the public at Yabuli: Yawangsi Ski Resort, New Sports Committee Ski Resort, Xinhao Ski Resort, Hero Ridge Ski Resort and Daqingshan Ski Resort. Each one offers different runs, prices and facilities, so be sure to research which one is best for your interests.

Where to stay: For an all inclusive luxury ski trip, Club Med Yabuli (clubmed.com.sg; 1-800-258-2633) is the place to stay. Opened in 2010, this ski-in ski-out 284-room resort has excellent facilities and 27 spacious 120 square metre wide suites. It is equipped with a Club Med Spa by L’Occitane, a swimming pool and a fitness centre. As with all Club Med resorts, every room comes as part of an all-inclusive package, which here includes ski and snowboarding lessons and rental equipment. It also includes all of the food and drink available at one of their many bars and restaurants. If you get tired of thrills on the slopes, you can also try your hand at their Flying Trapeze, where you can learn the secrets of this circus act from real trapeze artists. There are also plenty of kids activities and after dinner shows to keep the whole family entertained on and off the slopes.

When to go: The period from November to late March of the next year is the best time to find skiable snow at Yabuli. If you come in January, be sure to stop along the way there at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (icefestivalharbin.com) which takes place from Jan 5th to Feb 5th, where you can see some enormous, intricately carved ice sculptures.

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