When we first started our daughter Dana in skiing 4 years ago in 2015, we had no idea she would come this far. After all, coming from sunny Singapore, our kids only get a chance to ski once a year perhaps (if we can afford a trip to a snowy country that year). However, we were pleasantly surprised. What started out as a recreational activity for our daughter then has turned out to be a sport she has taken to quite seriously.
She last skied in Hokkaido two years ago in 2017, where she already showed signs that she was ready to progress from intermediate to advanced level. So for 2019 (after a year’s break where we toured Finland last year), we wanted to build-on her skill, and more importantly her love for skiing at a more advanced level.
Honestly, she herself was a little quite apprehensive if she could still remember to ski properly. For our Hokkaido trip this time around, we decided to go to a ski slope which we chanced upon during our earlier trips to Niseko. A ski slope that is wide and not as crowded (and hence safer). From our conversations with fellow skiing friends, we decided to enrol both Dana and Buddy at Hanazono Niseko’s premier ski school – Niseko International Snowsports School.
The NISS Difference – Fun. Friendly. Firm.
Right off the bat, the instructors’ passion for skiing and snow sports are palpable and infectious. Adding on to the systematic and fun methods of teaching, the instructors know that the best way to teach is to form a fun, friendly yet firm relationship with the kids.
Through the next few days, we saw Dana’s instructors bringing her and her friends up and down the ski slopes of Hanazono countless times helping them to hone their skills. Every night, we hear Dana recount attempting the red and black runs while her instructors devised games and fun routines for them to learn and apply their skills. Personally, I was quite touched when I saw one afternoon when the snowfall got too heavy for safe lessons, the instructors paused the lesson but yet were still giving them tips and answering the eager kids’ questions on skiing, over a hot cup of chocolate.
For this review, we thought it would be more appropriate for our daughter Dana herself to write about her experience (since she can’t stop talking about it!) as a tribute to NISS and their wonderful instructors, especially Jackson, Eric and Marlissa.
Intro to Ski school
My parents enrolled both Buddy and I in the Niseko International Snowsports School (NISS) Kids Programme in Hanazono, Niseko, in Dec 2019. We were spilt into two different groups, Buddy’s in the Tic-Tac Galaxy for 3-6 year olds that only allow skiing while I am in the Yuki Galaxy for 7-14 year olds that allows a choice between skiing and snowboarding. Following that, we were spilt according to our ability to ski/snowboard. There are 5 small groups ranging from the Level 1s, who have never skied before to the Level 5s, who can ski parallel on the entire mountain. The instructors are mostly young adults who are highly experienced in snow sports. I found them to be very warm and approachable. Each morning, they will decide on the slopes best suited to our abilities and thinking of fun ways to motivate us to reach the next level.
Day 1: 9 Dec 2019 – Not Snowing, A Lot of Sunshine
When we arrived in Hanazono, we were able to see the assembly area easily as the ski school had put up sign posts for the students. We first sent Alexander into his class and met his instructor for the first day, Sarah. He went into a corner of the room to mingle around with his new friends and played some Lego and building blocks before the class started.
After making sure he was settled in, I headed not far to the Yuki Galaxy meeting point to meet my instructors for Level 4, Jackson and Eric. At around 10am, we headed up on the Hanazono Hooded Quad Lift #1 and skied down ‘Silver Dream’, one of their green slopes for a quick warm-up first. The stronger Level 4s would then go with Eric on harder runs, while the rest stays with Jackson on the Green slopes. Since I had not skied since last December, my skiing was very rusty. Sensing my potential in skiing and my eagerness to join the stronger and more challenging group, Eric, Jackson and I made a deal that if I was able to get my ‘ski legs’ back by lunch time, I would be allowed to join Eric’s group in the afternoon. I worked hard with Jackson in the morning and improved rapidly.
After lunch, I joined Eric and two other girls on the slopes. We first did a quick run down ‘Silver Dream’ then headed all the way up Hanazono Quad Lift #2 and tried to go down ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a Red Run. After a few runs around ‘Silver Dream’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’, it was time to end the lesson. The ski instructors made me fall in love with skiing all over again and I am excited for Day 2.
Day 2: 10 Dec 2019 – Not Snowing, A Lot of Sunshine
Arriving at Hanazono, we quickly joined the ski groups so as to maximize the amount of time we get to ski on the slopes. True enough, we were able to hit the slopes by 0950. The snow that day was just pathetic as the sun had been shining fiercely. The grounds turned icy and slushy so when we skied, we could hear our skis grinding the ice each time we made a turn. We could see patches of dirt or grass everywhere. We tried to ski around the patches which make the overall ski downhill much more challenging and time consuming as it caused many of us to wipe out when we accidentally ski past patches of soil due to the friction caused. However, it was quite enjoyable as we had to learn to overcome challenges thrown at our faces at anytime and place.
Day 3: 11 Dec 2019 – Blizzard, Blustery Strong Winds
Strong gusty winds and low vision greeted us when we stepped out of the rental car in Hanazono in the morning. I barely could see within ten meters in front of me. Going up the moutain was abit of a challenge as the chairlift would rock left and right due to the gusty winds. It just gets more vigorous as we ascended slowly. We went up Hanazono Quad Lift #2 and the wind up there was so strong it almost blew me away on my skis. Thankfully, we were able to go up to the Hanazono Park and I managed to ski on boxes for the first time ever in my life! It was absolutely AMAZING!
After lunch, the weather got worse. It was so bad that all the lifts closed, forcing us to take the Kamonohashi Ride, a snowmobile with a raft attached to the back of it which would take us up only about a quarter of the moutain. It would then take us less than 5 min to ski back down. We only managed to go on it once as an hour later, the chairlift opened again. Due to the blizzard, we were only able to go back down on a full run again once as too much time was waiting for the Kamonohashi ride to come. Today was quite an eye-opener to the harsh weather conditions that we can encounter in Hokkaido, reminding me that I need to be vigilant at all times because harsh weather can be life-threatening to skiers.
Day 4: 12 Dec 2019 – Amazing Weather, Very Good Snow
As it snowed a lot the day before, the weather today was perfect, and the snow was great. When I hit the slope with instructors and friends, we had a quick run and it was absolutely amazing. Although you could still see abit of dirt and slush around, the good bits of snow was really powdery, making the conditions extrememly delightful to ski in. The instructors brought us up to Hirafu because the snow was exceptionally good.
In Hirafu, there were many green slopes, allowing us to ski really relaxingly. There were many professional skiers there and seeeing them ski so well pushed me to want to learn how to ski better. We had an amazing time at Hirafu and learnt the basics of skiing in powder. It was snowing slightly, making it seem like a winter wonderland. We played plenty of games on the mountain, adding to the amount of fun we already were having, making it the best day ever!
Day 5: 13 Dec 2019 – Perfect Weather for Skiing
This is the day we leave Hokkaido. As we have to start driving to New Chitose Airport at 2pm, we only skiied for half a day in the ski school. Knowing that it was my last, my instructor, Merlissa tried her best to make the time as fun and worthwhile for me. She brought us up to Hirafu and played numerous ski games, then we went back down to Hanazono and we skiied down ‘Silver Dream’ countless times. I also skiied down ‘Stairway to Heaven’ 3 times. Merlissa also brought us to the Hanazono Ski Park and taught us how to do tricks. She made the time so fun that in a blink of an eye, I was bidding my ski instructors and friends goodbyes. All the instructors are amazing. I really enjoyed my time with NISS and Hanazono is my favorite ski runs. I hope that my brother and I can return very soon, hopefully next season.
A word from my Parents:
David and I are not skiers but we believe giving opportunities to our kids to let them pursue their interests. For skiing, safety and quality of instructors are really kour top two considerations. We are very happy with our decision to enrol both kids in Niseko International Snowsports School this year. Both have nothing but praises for their instructors. Many readers have sent us inquiries on our Insta-stories. Please find NISS website here: https://hanazononiseko.com/en/winter/ski-school/kids We’ll be sharing Buddy’s experience next. Stay tuned!