Skiing from The Kiroro, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido

A facility celebrating its 25th anniversary in the midst of some of the world's best snow

Following an extensive six-month-long top-to-bottom renovation, The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido turns 25 this year. The 282-room facility, with a laundry list of amenities, rests on a sprawling compound along with the Kiroro Snow World ski center and a Sheraton (with which it shares a GM). And while The Kiroro might not be the first place that comes to mind when considering a destination ski holiday—it should be. Hokkaido—Japan’s northernmost island—has received much acclaim for its vast supply of powdery snow, occasionally considered the best in the world. One will find no snow machines anywhere near The Kiroro resort during its long season; nature itself decorates the area with frequency. We were there to experience all of it, on the eve of its 25th anniversary.

A few quirks punctuate the hotel’s history. Yamaha originally built the resort a quarter century ago, and operated it for decades. The only remnants of such a past exist in remaining design details: musical notes adorn the elevator doors. In the not-so distant past, a Thai romantic comedy was filmed on site—including at a bell atop the mountain which purportedly grants romance-based wishes to the ringer. That, coupled with a Thai owner, means The Kiroro plays host to many visitors from southeast Asia. There are very few Europeans and even fewer Americans (beyond ourselves, we noticed only one other group). These are just two elements that make The Kiroro charmingly distinct, especially from other resorts in the area.

There isn’t much to be found in the hotel’s general vicinity, save for undisturbed evergreens and low-lying bamboo landscapes. Thus, The Kiroro features just about everything on location. One will find six restaurants—including one dedicated to traditional sushi, another featuring the finest Japanese beef, a European-style brasserie and a buffet known as Pop that offers a superb Japanese breakfast buffet (but runs all day). A traditional onsen, or Japanese spa, with indoor and outdoor mineral pools, operates within. There’s a forthcoming Olympic-sized swimming pool, a convenience store, ski shop and more. Highly attentive and helpful staff is a common attribute at every single place.

Despite the many attractions at the resort, the primary allure is—of course—the snow. Roughly every 10 minutes, a bus departs from The Kiroro on a one-minute journey to the ski center (it’s also walkable, depending on the weather). Within, a seamless key card process allows guests to grab skis, boards, boots, pants and jackets—literally everything you’ll need for the slopes. It’s an incredibly efficient system and one not employed at other facilities around the world. For many, it’s at this point it sets in that one is about to go skiing in Japan.

Taking the lift up into the mountains, one finds 21 pristine trails for varying levels of skiing. While this is on the smaller end, between the lack of crowding and the snowfall, there’s room for exceptional experiences. Further, the resort does license off-piste adventures for those capable. And lessons are on offer through their ski academy. Additionally, there’s a children’s snow park and mogul courses. One can snow-shoe or hop on a snow-cat. There’s enough to keep guests of varying skill occupied for a multi-day visit.

The Kiroro is independently owned, but as with all Tribute Portfolio members, it’s a part of Marriott International (since its merger with Starwood). Beyond the bright, geometric stylings of the massive lobby, the palette of the hotel pulls inspiration from the surrounding area. It’s muted and relaxing, with whites, grays and tans everywhere—including the spacious rooms. Japanese minimalism plays its role, extending forth from the stone and wood. The beds in each room are the same used by guests of the British Royal Family—unsurprisingly, they’re comfortable. The smallest rooms start at 30 square meters. The mountain suite measures at 149 square meters.

The Kiroro works best for a serene traveler; there isn’t an après–ski scene. The Sheraton, which is affixed to the ski center, does offer cocktails by a fireplace, but quietly. That hotel provides for further entertainment if one needs something beyond The Kiroro. The ski center itself has a charming cafe and a family-friendly restaurant. In true resort fashion, there’s plenty to do, but it never escalates to raucous behavior. A free shuttle brings guests to the nearest city, the port town of Otaru—known for its seafood and glass craftsmen. Sapporo, and its beer distillery, are a good hour away, but still make for an ideal day trip. And the acclaimed Nikka whisky distillery (and its magical tasting room) makes for another excursion. But The Kiroro doesn’t just feel remote—it is. And ultimately that makes it special, as well.

Book a room at The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido online, with rates starting at JPY 16,650 per night (roughly $150 USD). Ski season commences at the end of November and continues all the way through the first of May, though the facility stays open all year. It’s located at 128-1 Aza-Tokiwa, Akaigawa-mura Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido.

Images by David Graver