In a Japanese mountain town laden with more than 11 metres of snow every year, Kate Allman finds the coolest place to stay.
When Australians picture luxury ski destinations, Asia is not usually a place that springs to mind.
And why would it? For years, Japan has positioned itself as the affordable option for Australian families looking offshore for more reliable snow than our “flaky” home slopes. Wealthier travellers look further afield to splash out on snow – beguiled by the old-West cowboy charm of Vail or Deer Valley in the US, or the European glamour of resorts like Chamonix and Mirabél in France.
But what if I told you that an ultra-indulgent mountain retreat is possible, in a similar time zone to Sydney, and just a 10-hour flight away? Enter: One Chalets in Japan’s Hakuba Valley.
These two glass-encased villas look like they’ve been lifted straight off the set of a James Bond film. And they’ve got the gizmos to match. We’re talking infrared saunas, industrial-sized kitchens, hot tubs, cinema rooms, and Japan’s first glass-topped pool table (the first ever imported to the country).
Floor-to-ceiling windows ensure panoramic views of the snow conditions at all hours. Hakuba logs an average 11 metres of Japan’s famously light powder snow, known as yuki, every season. It’s a dream to ski because it literally feels like you’re floating on clouds. You’ll have ample opportunity to test the depth as snow falls every few days in January and February. But if you’re staying in One Chalets, the most common report from anyone surveying the scene will likely be, “It looks icy, best stay in the sauna for now”.
If you can be torn from your luxury snow dome long enough to go skiing, the Happo One (pronounced oh-nay) slopes are just a 100-metre slide downhill from your front door. In fact, the One Chalets look directly at the same section of vertical that downhill racer Zali Steggall (the barrister now competing with Tony Abbott for a seat in Federal Parliament) claimed a bronze medal on in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Follow the ski tracks of Steggall or carve new lines at one of eight other ski areas included on the multi-resort Hakuba Valley pass. A five-day pass costs 26,600 yen (about AU$340) but, in a huge boon for Australian skiers, Hakuba has just begun offering up to five days of free lift tickets for anyone holding an Epic Pass (a season pass to Australia’s Perisher resort). The pass can cost as low as AU$850 if you buy it in October – the end of Australia’s season – and allows you to ski year-round in both Australia and Japan, as well as numerous US and European resorts.
The One Chalets are the most exclusive accommodation in a larger family of chalets and hotel rooms all operating under the umbrella of Phoenix Hotel and Chalets in Hakuba. The chalets range from two to five bedrooms and start from about AU$1,200 per night. But if you stay at the five-star hotel – which is equally indulgent but more affordable at about AU$300 per night – you can fuel your skiing with daily hot breakfast and recover at the in-house bar and onsen (Japanese hot spring bath) afterwards. The hotel restaurant, Mimi’s, is the top-rated Hakuba restaurant on TripAdvisor, and a standout pick for date night. Start with a cocktail shaken by charismatic bartender Josh and move on to the melt-in-mouth Wagyu sirloin. All guests, including those in the chalets, can take advantage of the free shuttle service that the hotel uses to ferry skiers to and from the slopes each day.
Like any family, there is a favourite among the Phoenix siblings. The pride of the group – and possibly the entire town – is called One Happo. It’s a three-storey, 1,400-square-foot monolith that even has an in-house gym with enough equipment to rival your favourite Fitness First. This modern colossus officially sleeps up to 10 people in five bedrooms and five and a half bathrooms. Unofficially, Manager Peter Williams hints at hosting a few more guests at raucous end-of-season parties on the leather lounges in the enormous living room.
Based on the size of Airbnbs I have shared with friends on previous ski holidays, I figure this place could sleep at least 20 Australian ski bums. But Williams reminds me that his team is extremely careful to minimise wear and tear on the beautiful red Cedar floors, glass tables and marble cocktail bar. A small army of cleaners is employed to ensure every surface is kept in immaculate condition. The chalet looks barely a week old, despite having been erected by renowned Australian builder Mike Baker in 2011.
“Every element has been selected from the top shelf with absolutely no expense spared,” says Williams. “Is this the most impressive ski chalet in Asia? Undoubtedly. One of the best in the world? For its size, most probably.”
LSJ READER DISCOUNT
Phoenix Hotel and Chalets are offering LSJ readers an exclusive 20 per cent discount for early-bird bookings in the 2019-20 ski season. Claim the discount by quoting LSJ Discount in your email enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org ATTN: Peter Williams. Full payment due by 1 July 2019.
Qantas and Jetstar fly to Tokyo daily with sale prices starting at around AU$400 one-way. The Nagano Snow Shuttle can transfer you directly from the airport to Hakuba accommodation for AU$150.
Rooms at Phoenix Hotel start at AU$300 during high season. Two-bedroom chalets start from AU$1,200 per night.