The official international snow sports school of Grand Hirafu Resort in Niseko, Japan.

Our Ski School for Kids: A Parent's Perspective

Feedback from our guests is always so important to us and makes the world of difference to what we do. We recently received an email message from David Sim, father to Dana, one of our lovely Ninja Kids who joined us this winter. As a father that was initially pretty apprehensive about his daughter actually enjoying ski lessons, after some less than encouraging experiences in the past, we were delighted to read David's story.

Featured on David and wife Angie's blog, Tiny Little Miracles, a blog is now dedicated to David and his daughter's experience with us and in particular, some of our instructors: Mel, Alexandra and Connor. Here's David's story.

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Little Ninja Kid, Dana, with GoSnow instructor. Photo: David Sim

It’s not everyday that this happens–me standing in sub-zero temperature with snow blowing in my face, fingers frozen but standing mouth wide open, in awe as I saw my eight year old daughter skiing down unaided on the ski slopes of the Grand Hirafu in Niseko–one of the top ski slopes in Asia no less… and waving at me! Four days ago, she was barely able to put on her skis, but now, she was confidently skiing down-slope. How did our eight year old go from an absolute ski noob to a high novice in four days in this harsh, punishing Niseko weather? How did it all begin?

Why Ski?

One of the experiences we want our children to learn is to be able to ski. To us, it’s part of a skill of a globalised child.

Why Not to Ski?

Our first encounter with skiing a few years ago was far from encouraging. It was as part of an organised tour to South Korea back in 2012. We were clumsy in our ski gear and ended up falling so often. The daughter, all four years old of her got frustrated and gave up after 10 minutes. We eventually settled for some fun time on a sled instead. Over the years, we've formed this impression that skiing is a very dangerous sport as friends have seriously hurt themselves while on ski vacations.

Undeterred, we decided that a proper way for our eldest to learn skiing would be a ski school and not a 2-hour gimmicky ski experience that comes with a tour group. With a ski school, we knew there would be proper instructors, equipment and coaching to help her practice and master this sport.

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Ninja Kid lesson at Grand Hirafu. Photo: David Sim

The Real Deal

We planned for a family vacay to one of the best ski slopes Asia could offer: Niseko in Hokkaido. Famed for its powdery snow, good ski infrastructure and best of all, professional ski schools with coaches that hail from around the world (so English would be the language of instruction). Prior to the trip, we asked the hotel concierge where we had booked our accommodation (Ki Niseko) for recommendation of a good ski school and they referred us to GoSnow–a relatively new but reputable ski school whose ski lessons (for adults and kids three years and up) are conducted right next to the hotel premise. After corresponding with them via email to clear some queries about their ski lessons, we made an online registration for a four full days ski camp for our girl.

When the Skis Hit the Slopes

To be honest, as a parent, I was apprehensive, especially since we are both non-skiers. We were concerned chiefly about safety. We were also worried if she would be so discouraged in the event she can’t ski down an actual slope at the end of our trip. As an educator, I know full well that regardless of how glossy a program may look on its brochure, what it boils down to would be the instructors. It’s with these thoughts that I reflect on my daughter’s experience with GoSnow, here in chronological order.

1. Ease of Registration:

We stayed at the Ki Niseko hotel, which is just a snow-ball’s throw away from the GoSnow registration desk at the Grand Hirafu Mountain Centre. No need to take shuttle bus up and down here and there in the freezing climate. Just a short walk from the hotel and we got our selves settled: registration confirmed and we were offered a free shuttle ride to go grab the rental equipment at a ski sports rental shop few streets away (because we didn't realise we had to collect our ski equipment beforehand–such noobs we are and, well, now we know).

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Dana getting fitted at Rhythm. Photo: David Sim

2. Quality Equipment and Fitting

To learn any skill properly, quality equipment is essential. Right from the beginning, the good folks at GoSnow brought us to Rhythm SnowSports rentals in the heart of Niseko town. There, the staff guided us step by step to pick out the right ski equipment for Dana. This experience with Rhythm was such a far-cry from the ski rental experience we had from our previous trip to South Korea where we felt so rushed, harassed and unassisted.

The folks at Rhythm SnowSports were friendly and professional. They offered patient advice on the getting the right gear and helped Dana with the fitting. From her ski boots to her goggles, they ensured that there was perfect fit without rush. This is important as skiing is a sport involving speed and the equipment must be worn correctly to ensure that maximum protection and safety. We were very pleased with the service we received.

3. Warm and Caring Instructors:

Set against the freezing cold of the Niseko slopes, we were very glad to receive a warm reception by the instructors together with the rest of Dana’s ‘classmates’. From the encouraging tone of voice to a keen eye for details, from administrators to the instructors, every one of the staff at GoSnow had the same caring disposition towards their wards. The way they spoke and nudged the children to not only learn but also to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone was admirable. It clearly wasn’t just work for them, it’s a lifestyle for imparting the love for a sport they themselves love.

The full day ski camps come with a warm chocolate break in mid-morning and a hearty meal for lunch to replenish their energy. We have heard from friends that full day ski camps are exhausting, but our dear Dana never showed any sign of fatigue when we went to collect her after each day's ski classes! She even wanted to try night skiing if we had allowed her to. I guess that just goes to show how much she has taken to skiing.

4. Differentiated and Authentic Lessons (with Magic Carpet!):

There’s no one-size-fit-all approach here. And we are glad. Proper lessons that encourage life-long learning should not be rushed. Dana was put into a beginner’s class for children her age. I was pleasantly surprised that right from the get-go, she was ushered up to the slopes alongside scores of other ‘pro’ skiers. Wow! There her instructor Mel, taught her how to put her skis on and balance herself all on the slopes in the windy and snowy conditions. I was impressed–there is no need to learn indoors and then re-learn outdoors!

What made the difference was the close and patient tutelage of the instructor, assuring and affirming her little successes right in an authentic environment. This was teaching because by end of day one, my eight year-old noob was already skiing down a short slope at Niseko… and smiling. The authentic experience even allowed our child to go on those open-air ski lifts, sometimes on her own, to the higher slopes and ski down. All with close supervision of the instructors, of course, but their level of authenticity is impressive.

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Dana on the magic carpet for beginners. Photo: David Sim

5. Affirmation, Affirmation, Affirmation:

How do you know if a lesson is effective? Simple–if the child jumps out of bed and readies herself to head on out to the -6 degree snow slopes, you know that she loves the lessons. And this was exactly how it was over the next few days. Each day, Angie and I would cringe when we saw the amount of snow fall and the wind outside but that did not deter our daughter at all. In fact, I think learning skiing in the authentic environment enthuses her even more through seeing how the other ‘pro’ skiers do it right in front of her. This is something no indoor ski school can replicate.

Her instructors, though different each day, were very assuring and affirming. No wonder they are such a hit with the kids! In fact, I met an adult colleague on the slopes who specially signed-up for a short beginner's lesson with herself because she saw how good her kids’ instructors were. Two thumbs up!

Everyday, Dana would return eager to show us her ‘passport’ as a ‘Ninja kid’. All Ninja Kids will benefit from a dedicated Learning Zone and Magic Carpet. Registration for classes is at 9am every morning and breaks are provided throughout the day at the Ninja Kids Club. She would proudly show us the skills which her instructor has checked off and, yes, including those she still needed work on. While the instructors are kind and affirming, there’s no sugar-coating the kids’ competencies. Giving honest feedback is important in learning and GoSnow does it in a very affirming way. Every day, it was a joy to see our daughter skiing further and further. We feel heartened to see the confidence level rising in her as she masters this new skill. Truly priceless!

6. Ski-in, Ski-out:

We chose to stay at the Ki Niseko hotel largely due to the proximity it has with the GoSnow center which is literally a hop, skip and jump away. This translates into a lot of time saved as we do not need to trudge in the snow with skis and equipment to wait for crowded shuttle buses to bring us to the ski site for lessons every morning and go through the same hassle when returning.

Furthermore, as part of the partnership between GoSnow and Ki Niseko, the hotel offers a complimentary Ski Valet service right in the hotel. We just literally walk from the hotel room to the Ski Valet on the hotel’s 2nd floor, pick up our skis , put them on and ski out to the slopes, within 5 minutes. At the end of the day’s lesson, ski right back, remove the skis and pass them to the hotel’s Ski Valet who will keep all the accessories for us. No hassle, no mess….just ski-in and ski-out. Super convenient! In fact, on the last day of our trip, we were able to return all our rented ski equipment at the Ski Valet as well instead of the Rhythm ski rental shop. Awesome!

Needless to say, we are very satisfied with Dana’s first ski experience with GoSnow which was complimented by our very pleasant stay at Ki Niseko hotel. The snow slopes of Hokkaido hasn't stop beckoning since we returned from our vacation and we've made a pact to bring the kids back to ski with GoSnow! Hopefully, Buddy can join his sister on the slopes soon.

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