Yabuli! The name conjures up a mysterious and exotic land! When I was first told we were invited by Club Med to stay at this resort, my first reaction was "Ya Boo Where?".
Turns out it was near Harbin, China, near Mongolia, in the province of Heilongjiang.
A midnight six-hour flight to Beijing, then a layover of two hours, then another two-hour flight to Mudanjiang, then a two-hour van ride later, we finally reached Club Med Yabuli at about noon.
The room we were given was lovely: a two-bedroom suite with a view.
We had one checked-in luggage that carried some of the bulkier stuff like boots and ski jackets, but the kids, the wife and I mostly carried our own stuff in our Tom Bihn carry-on bags. This wasn't the family's first winter (we were in France around the same time last year) but this was the first time the kids and the wife have ever experienced below zero temperatures, and for the kids, it was their first time seeing snow, so it was quite exciting. I did Finland in winter some years ago, so I kind of knew what to expect, but my biggest worry in the run up to the trip was to ensure they were all sufficiently warm and appropriately dressed for the trip.
As they say in Norway, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
The important thing to remember is not to have too many layers, or you won't be able to move. So the layers have to work well. I made sure no one was wearing cotton (cotton retains perspiration and doesn't wick, and you end up very cold because the moisture becomes icy). Our basic set up was a base layer (we used Icebreaker Merino wool leggings and tops), then a t-shirt (either merino wool or polyester), then a merino wool or fleece cardigan as the mid-layer, and then a wind-proof, water-proof ski jacket with a hood (we were mostly wearing Montbell jackets).
Hands were protected with an Icebreaker merino wool glove lining and then a waterproof Montbell glove on top of that. We all had an Icebreaker merino wool beanie to keep our heads warm, and a Polar Buff around the neck that could also double as a face cover.
Our feet were kept warm by Icebreaker merino wool ski socks, and we were wearing insulated boots from Columbia. The boots are lined with fleece and can apparently be worn to -32ºC.
We had Uniqlo fleece-lined pants on, and I have to say they worked very well with the Icebreaker merino wool leggings. I think if the weather was slightly warmer (like -10ºC and up), one could do without the leggings even. I try not to wear base layers if I can help it, because they are such a pain.
The layers help you keep the warm air trapped close to your body, and the wind proof outer shell keeps the wind chill from coming in. We carried an extra down jacket each in our backpacks too, in case we needed another layer inside, but you don't need it if you are skiing or doing something rigorous.
We never worried about food in Club Med. We had three major meals a day at the buffet restaurant, and in between there were always drinks and snacks on hand. We had one Mala Hot Pot dinner at the Mudan restaurant one of the evenings too.
We spent the first day after we checked in exploring the place, and sorting out the ski equipment and ski clothes rentals. Note that while the group ski lessons are included in the price, ski equipment rental is not. Also bear in mind that the ski instructors from the Sun Mountain ski school may ask you to try personal one-to-one lessons, which cost extra. It's up to you whether you want to pay extra for personal lessons, but I didn't see a need for it for my family. The free group lessons were enough to learn the basics.
We signed Isaac and Joy up with the Mini Club for kids, and the Club Med GOs took care of them from 8.30am till 4.45pm. For two days, my kids spent the time learning how to ski with other kids, and also had lunch and played indoor games with them. That left the wife and I time to either relax in the room, or go out to explore the snow ourselves.
We also managed to do a ski lesson for ourselves. I am pleased to say that after an hour or so of instruction and practice, the wife managed to ski downhill on the gentle beginner's slope without falling. And she could even stop.
You can see the wife and I in the photos below, dressed in our blue rental ski gear. We look like winter factory workers.
Of course, I didn't want just to ski. I did want to explore the surroundings a bit more. Unfortunately, the week we were there, the local authorities decided to do maintenance of the gondola that could take you to other ski areas and to the mountain top. So we didn't get a chance to take a cable car up higher, not that we were going to ski down the more challenging slopes, but it would have been nice to see the view up there. I mean, who does maintenance during a peak ski season? I suspect Club Med had no control over this maintenance timing by the authorities, so it was out of their hands.
We did manage to go snow trekking, and that was good fun. We donned our winter clothes and geared up for a morning walk in the forest around the resort.
Our first two days in Yabuli were dreadfully cold, at -21ºC and wind chill during the DAY (which is why you see the wife and I all covered up in the earlier photos), but the day we chose to trek was a nice and sunny day, a warm -11ºC with just a little wind.
I know. -11ºC doesn't sound very warm but it is all relative. We didn't even wear our balaclavas and we could sometimes take off our gloves.
Sam, our Club Med GO guide, was the friendly chap who took us trekking. He even brought some mini-sleds for the kids to try riding down the slopes we encountered along the way. Even my wife tried the sleighing.
The photo above was taken by my 12-year-old son, after we finished our family trek. I am quite fond of this photo and I think he is getting the hang of photography.
We also played a while outdoors, at the giant igloo at children's area.
I think my kids are better at this sliding-down-the-roof-of-an-igloo thing than I am.
We also tried the heated indoor pool and outdoor jacuzzi. There is an indoor swimming pool (and gym too) that is heated to about 27ºC. Swimming in it is quite pleasant but the most fun thing is the outdoor jacuzzi. YES, you heard me, OUTDOOR.
That outdoor jacuzzi is heated to 45-49ºC and to get to it, you have to walk out of the pool area into the open. It was a mad dash in -16ºC that day, but once you get into the hot water, it is heavenly. It is surreal to be inside the heated jacuzzi and see ice forming around the edges of the pool.
Don't do what I did: After swimming in the indoor pool, I covered myself with my damp bathrobe and made my way outside to the heated jacuzzi, thinking I was very smart to keep myself covered and warm. By the time I got out of the heated jacuzzi, the wet parts of the bathrobe had already become super cold from sitting out in the -16ºC air. It was like putting on a robe of ice. I think some of my tender bits may have fallen off.
I have to say our first family skiing trip in below zero temperatures went very well. No one felt too cold and all had fun. I think we are ready to try the Club Med in Hokkaido, Japan next. I hear the snow there is like powder. And I want to use the winter clothing I bought for the family as much as possible. Kids outgrow clothes so darn fast.