My first ski trip of 2013 sees us pull up to a dark wooden-slatted chalet with a warm orange glow emanating from the windows. The deep blanket of snow on the slanted roof makes the scene absurdly picturesque. As we brush off snow off to enter the pension, I wrack my brain to remember how to say ‘Good Evening’ in German.
Before I get a chance, I’m greeted by… “Konichiwa”!
It’s only then that I remember, despite the familiar outer appearance, I’m actually in Niseko, Japan, not Switzerland, and we’ve arrived at Kimamaya by Odin – possibly the trendiest and most understatedly cool hotel in any ski resort worldwide, let alone Japan.
Housed in one of the oldest pensions in Niseko, Kimamaya was completely redesigned in 2009. Still housed in the same traditional casing, the interior is an alluring world of dark textural walls, stark wooden flooring, dim lighting and attention to detail. Although the environment is reminiscent of an alpine lodge, it’s done with a distinctly Asian twist; the clever use of space, texture, colour and materials is testament to that trademark Japanese design savvy. This nine-bedroom micro-boutique hotel provides a refreshing, inspired alternative to the dated twee image that chalets are often associated with.
A keen skier since the age of 3, I had been itching to test out Niseko’s famed deep powder, free flowing sake, delicious food… and unfortunately, phenomenally high prices. With a weak exchange rate and obligatory ski costs, it can be a budget-blowing trip. But nice accommodation is key after a long day’s skiing. Kimamaya’s cocooning lounge with fireplace, leather armchairs, DVD library and bar makes for the perfect retreat to curl up in après-ski. Alternately, you can slip into one of the two private onsen – their exclusive version of the famed Japanese naked communal hot baths. If that alone wasn’t enough, Kimamaya’s on-site masseuse is also on hand to nurse sore muscles back to health.
But all these facilities do come at a price. Its personalised service (managers Katelynne and Peter were available throughout the day to drive us to the ski lifts, book all our restaurants, dish out onsen dos and don’ts and even host a complimentary wine evening), small size, attention to detail and quality design don’t come cheap – but it’s worth every penny.
On the first night, my husband and I checked into an Alpine 2 room. Filled with Kimamaya’s distinct design style, the room was intimate and stylish but rather small, with the large double bed taking up the majority of the space. Despite being the smallest room, it still clocked in at a slightly pricey HK$2800 per night. However, for the rest of the trip, we moved into a Loft 1 room for HK$4200 per night.
The Loft rooms have a mezzanine level and significantly more space. Downstairs is a large double bed, a sofa area that could sleep a child, a dressing area and wardrobe, along with the en suite (mandatory hi-tech Japanese toilet, of course). Ascend the wooden stairs in the corner however, and you discover another whole section to the room – an open raised area that comfortably sleeps two on Japanese ryokan style beds at floor level, with its own wardrobe ensuring adequate storage. These rooms comfortably sleep four adults – enter our friends! Splitting the room rate four ways takes it down to a much more wallet friendly HK$1050 per night (and even less later in the season). At this point, Kimamaya shifts from being a slightly indulgent accommodation option to the obvious choice.
The adjoining Barn restaurant boasts delicious European food, ambient lighting, a buzzing mezzanine bar and a killer cocktail list. We dined here the first night but whilst delicious, I would recommend using The Barn as your onsite bar and saving your appetite for the local food. We enjoyed dinner at lively izakaya A-bu-cha-2nd, feasted on giant crab legs in the intimate Ezo Seafood and drove 20 minutes to the next village to sample the best sushi in town. We also checked out Japanese whisky at the hidden Bar Gyu – the Japanese equivalent of a speakeasy, it lurks behind an unassuming fridge door, creating a Willy Wonka surrealist feel to your entry!
But what about the skiing? With access to the four local ski areas, we happily spent days exploring, swishing and zooming down the slopes. Niseko’s famed powder really is worth a visit but as much as I loved the skiing, Kimamaya’s charms kept tempting me off the slopes early! In a less than attractive town, Kimamaya is a beacon of modern Japanese design with unrivalled hospitality.
If you’re planning a ski trip, I implore you to get a small group together and head to Kimamaya. With only 9 rooms and an already fantastic reputation, bookings need to be made early for January and February. Otherwise try March and April for great weather, great snow and lower rates at the hotel.
Whilst I don’t believe in re-visiting hotels too often, I am a firm believer in having your faithful ski hotel. My one in Europe was decided long ago, but Kimamaya has now earned its stripes and proudly sits as my Niseko ski hotel – and it may well just become yours too.
Kimamaya by Odin, Niseko, Japan, +81 80 6060 2512