Lifestyle | CHILD'S PLAY

The smooth way to go skiing with kids

by Danielle Demetriou

Contributing Writer

‘Again, again, again!” shouts my 4-year-old daughter. “I don’t want to leave! Let’s stay forever!” her elder sister, aged 6, yells for good measure.

Maybe it’s the white powder snow, the brilliant blue skies and the picture-book perfect views of craggy mountains that surround us — or maybe it’s the thrill of skiing down a slope on their own for the first time. Whatever the reason, my daughters — eyes bright and cheeks flushed — are smitten.

Their enthusiasm was perhaps understandable, given how smoothly our ski trip unfolded during a recent weekend visit to Risonare Yatsugatake, a resort hidden among the mountains and forests of Yamanashi Prefecture.

Perhaps one of Japan’s most child-friendly hotels, it’s a mecca for young families. The guestrooms are spacious, staff are ever-patient and there are kids’ menus in the restaurants.

Not to forget the endless list of activities for smaller guests. Depending on the season, children can enjoy craft workshops, horse-riding, a forest athletics course, cookie-making, ice-skating, forest bathing, flower field picnics, night-sky gazing sessions and swimming.

Grown-ups are also permitted to have fun, with more adult activities ranging from wine-tasting classes and vineyard visits (tapping into the region’s wine-making heritage) to massages in the wine-themed spa.

During the winter months, though, there is one activity that steals the show for guests of all ages: skiing. The hotel offers a surprisingly relaxing and logistically smooth ski experience, thanks to free clothing and equipment rental for all guests, free children’s lift passes, quick connections to the slopes and its very own ski school for kids.

Our weekend starts with an easy two-hour limited express Chuo Line train journey from Shinjuku to Kobuchizawa Station, followed up a quick shuttle bus drive to the hotel — an impressive concrete expanse of angular and round lines designed the architect Mario Bellini.

It may have been built over 20 years ago, but the 172-room hotel — operated by Hoshino Resorts since 2001 — escapes feeling dated, thanks to impressive maintenance and contemporary renovations by Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture.

Our stay kicks off with a visit to the hotel’s on-site skiwear rental shop — where, feeling a little like children on Christmas morning, we rummage through rails of surprisingly stylish clothing and accessories, picking our ski outfits.

Ski fittings take place next, again a quick, easy process, with staff helping choose immaculately clean and shiny boots and skis, which are then stored for us, ready for our ski session the next morning.

After a warming winter buffet lunch in the hotel’s YYgrill restaurant, we wander along Piment Street — a walkway that cuts through the heart of the hotel complex, lined with shops and cafes — stopping for a quick sledding session on a kids’ mini ski slope, before the girls warm their toes around a fire while toasting marshmallows.

Next on the agenda is a wine tasting class with the hotel’s on-site Wine School in the Yatsugatake Wine House. Here, my husband and I learn all about the region’s viticulture heritage (plus sip a few local tipples) as the children lounge with picture books on grass-like seating in the adjacent Books & Cafe space.

The icing on the cake that day for the children is il Mare, a vast concrete-domed space housing a pool with tapered beach-like shores, a cornucopia of inflatables and regular waves.

Time flies as the children swim in the pool and explore the water play area, with its bold green slides, ball pools and winter snow show, complete with white smoke and bubbles.

The day comes to an end with dinner in the hotel’s stylish Otto Sette restaurant — a delicious, modern Italian menu for the grown-ups (plus, of course, wine from their 2,000-bottle cellar) and a happy mix of pasta, ice cream and coloring-in for the children.

The following morning, it’s finally time to ski. We rise early and, after breakfast, hop on a hotel shuttle bus to Fujimi Kougen Resort just minutes away. Although a larger ski area is slightly further by shuttle, Fujimi Kougen is a perfect fit for beginners — center stage is a long, wide and child-friendly slope, with stunning mountain views, plus several lifts to a steeper course.

Here, beneath blue skies and winter sunshine, the girls join Hoshino Resorts Junior Ski Academy Snow Kids 70 — the hotel’s very own ski school. Dressed in blue school vests, they are gently led by their friendly teacher Ai Ai to the top of the slope, where she starts a two-hour private class, enabling me and my husband to sneak off for a deliciously rare ski date on the near-empty upper slopes.

Returning before the end of their class, to my surprise, we spot the girls riding on a chair lift (another first for them) — my older daughter on her own, the younger sitting with her teacher — and they wave happily at us, before slowly, proudly showcasing their new skills as they ski down the slope.

Later that day, we enjoy some time skiing together as a family — and it’s soon clear we are all smitten. The only difficult part of the weekend is getting the children to take their skis off and leave the slopes at the end of the day.

Risonare Yatsugatake in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture (risonare.com/yatsugatake/en) is one of three Risonare properties in Japan. Twin rooms at Risonare Yatsugatake start at ¥25,800 per person a night, including two meals at YYgrill. Rates also include ski equipment and clothing rental for all guests, ski lift passes for children under 12 and free shuttle buses to two nearby ski areas. Hoshino Resorts Junior Ski Academy offers group children’s classes from ¥3,000 per child and private classes for ¥15,000.

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