You might think that with six lifts and scores of runs, including off-piste and backcountry areas, that Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU is all about shredding the slopes, but there are endless other indoor and outdoor activities for little snow bunnies and powder pups, whether they’re strapped into skis or not.
We certainly love the pow, and spend as much of our time as possible carving it up.
But Raffles and I are equally enamoured with the Ice Village, a magically illuminated wonderland built entirely of ice, which we visit on several occasions.
Slipping into the village with ungainly abandon down a steep ice slide, hooting and hollering all the way, we explore the shops, a fairytale wedding chapel and a hotel room where you can sleep overnight on a slab of ice.
There’s also a bar serving up flaming beverages in carved ice glasses, which of course I have to test drive! Spoiler alert: the drinks are not only utterly delish, but they prove effective as anti-freeze for warming my frosty insides on a -23 degree night.
The hit of our visit is the ice rink, the centrepiece of the Ice Village, although with piles of powder falling during the day we find it more like snow skating and are in fits of frozen giggles as we slide and tumble around the rink in spectacularly uncoordinated style.
The blazing fire back at our accommodation, Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu, proves just the spot to defrost post-skate.
Another great place for defrosting après- ski is the steaming hot Mina-Mina Beach, an 80-metre long heated indoor wave pool, Japan’s largest, that offers a slice of tropical summer despite the freezing temps outside.
Raffles grabs an inflatable pizza slice from amongst a pile of plastic flamingos, crocodiles and random sea creatures, and dives straight into the water. By the time I call him in, my little action man has moved on from pizza slices to riding the waves on a stand-up paddle board, acting for all the world like he’s holidaying in Hawaii rather than in a subzero wintery wonderland.
There’s also an open-air bath facing the forests of Tomamu which has me tempted, but Raffles decides that he’s not in the mood for an onsen this time around, which is surprising given how hard we struggle to keep him clothed at the best of times.
On another occasion, we find ourselves in a giant yellow inflatable boat on our way to a Family Snow Picnic, Tomamu style.
Raffles and I hold on for dear life as we speed across the powder into side country, towed by a supercharged snowmobile.
The family picnic and snow rafting, along with snow banana boating, snowmobiling and snowshoe walks are just a few of the offerings of the GAO Outdoor Center.
When we slide to a stop, we don snowshoes to clomp our way inelegantly across the untouched snow.
Eventually we reach a little hut, where we stop for an hour to play in the snow.
We’re given sleds and take turns sliding down the mountain with all the grace of drunken hippos.
Eventually, Raffles gives up and builds himself an arsenal of snowballs. Chaos ensues as he and our gorgeous host, Yuki, wage an all-out snow war, chucking snowballs in every direction and using the mini-sleds to bash the snowballs about in some kind of hybrid ice tennis.
They boys stop their shenanigans only for gorging on the melting, magical s’mores we toast over a fire in the hut, and a mug of steaming sweet tea.
Tummies still rumbling, we gobble down a bubbling Hokkaido style cheese fondue at Green Kitchen, Raffles finding time to sword fight imaginary snow dragons with some of the epic icicles hanging off the roof.
Then it’s time to snowshoe our way to what appears to be a random tee-pee surrounded as far as the eye can see with nothing but soft, untouched snow.
As we slip through under the canvas, Raffles discovers, to his absolute delight, that he’s not only allowed, but being actively encouraged, to play with sticks and fire. Booyah!
We’ve come to make Baumkuchen, a ten-layered cake popular in Japan. The process is painstaking, with the cake cooked over the open fire, one fine layer at a time.
It’s a hungry nine-year old pyromaniacs dream come true, especially when he gets to eat the results of his endeavours.
Speaking of eating, Raffles finds it easy to appease his hefty appetite, chomping his way through the resort’s more than 20 on-site restaurants. He makes it a mission to dine on Hokkaido’s best local delights, stuffing his copious gob with fresh sashimi and sublime sushi, platters of fresh crab and salmon, Hokkaido scallops, steaming rice bowls, spicy soup curry, chargrilled local meats, hot pots and enormous bowls of ramen cooked every way imaginable. Often in a single sitting.
We’re especially partial to dining in the new hotalu street, Japan’s first ski-in/ski-out shopping precinct where some of the resort’s best restaurants can be found, along with sweet stores and shopping.
Enchantingly surrounded by fire pits that blaze away even when the snow is falling, which it does, constantly, it has a great atmosphere (and some rocking ramen) that brings us back time and again.
Of course Hokkaido has so much more to offer visiting families than just skiing. For those who are more in to sunshine than snow, here some of the best all season things to do in Hokkaido with kids.
Disclosure: Raffles and I were kindly hosted by Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU but, like our opinions, all skating, snow fights and scoffing are our own.