“I like Coach Iku…she stayed with me to help me and makes sure that I learn.”
Just like that, Buddy, all 5 years old of him, summarized his ski experience at Hanazono as we were having dinner on our final night in Niseko. It’s obvious that this has been on his mind.
We enrolled our kids, Buddy and Dana in the children’s ski programme at Niseko International Ski School (NISS) in Dec 2019. Our cautious little guy is not as gung-ho as his older sister. As parents, we know that every child is different but we still want to give him equal opportunities to learn new skills. This has proven true in other sports. Through our persistent encouragement and exposure, Buddy, full of inertia initially, has learnt to cycle and swim. Next on the list – skiing.
Niseko International Ski School (NISS) is a well-established, premium ski school in Niseko, Hokkaido. We enrolled Buddy in the Tic-Tac Galaxy Programme (for ages 3-6) and Dana in their Yuki Galaxy Programme (for ages 7 to 14). Click here to read Dana’s Ski Diary and visit their website to find out the different ski and snowboard programmes available for kids and adults: https://hanazononiseko.com/en/winter/ski-school/kids
The NISS Kids Programmes last from about 10am to 3pm daily (the sky grows dark by 4.30pm) and comes with a buffet lunch and hot chocolate break for the kiddos. Kids get to meet and befriend fellow skiers and ski instructors from around the world. During our visit, they are completing the renovations of a brand new Kids Activity Centre – Galaxy of Kidz, which will have 10 self-belayed climbing walls (up to 5 metres), a floating adventure trail connected by a cloud climb and net playground. Sounds too awesome. Another good reason for us to return to Hanazono, Niseko next season.
If you wish to enrol your kids in ski school, it’s advisable to rent all the ski gears (skis, ski boots, helmets, ski jackets etc.) one day in advance before the actual lessons. NISS has a tie-up with the ski rental shop, Niseko Sports, at Hanazono 308 or at the main intersection of Hirafu. You can pre-book all your rental needs online before arrival to save time. The shop also offers a delivery service to send your ski gear to Hanazono for your first day of lesson. Thereafter, after each day’s lesson, selected ski gears can be stored there F.O.C for convenience.
Our domestic flight from Tokyo arrived into Hokkaido New Chitose Airport at 3.30pm. We picked up our rental car from Klook and drove directly to the Niseko Sports shop at Hirafu to collect the necessary rental stuff. The staff are helpful, and attended to our kids swiftly. Do note the costs of the ski equipment rentals are separate from the ski lessons. You can check out the rental costs here. On the last day of ski lessons, you can return the ski gears conveniently at the Hanazono 308 shop, right next to the ski slopes.
Buddy in Tic-Tac Galaxy
Buddy has acquired some basic skills from the ski lessons he attended from our previous trips to Hokkaido but has not mastered them yet. In fact, he has forgotten most of it. So, this season, we enrolled him in NISS’s beginner level class – the Tic-Tac Galaxy, for 4 days to maximise our stay in Niseko.
Every morning, we would drop Buddy off at 9.30am. After a quick registration, Buddy would be brought into a kids corner to engage in free play with his ski instructors while waiting for the rest of the class to turn up. This helped the young kids bond with their instructors. There were 2 ski instructors attached to about 8-10 little kids in Tic-Tac Galaxy and these instructors rotate according to their schedules.
At 10am, kids trooped out to the ski fields in different groupings, according to their ski competencies, accompanied by their ski instructors in their trademark full body red ski suits. The Tic-Tac Galaxy kids were brought to an area just right outside the Hanazono’s eatery, The Edge, for their lessons. The area is an open space with a short 8 to 10m long slope. A series of short rubberised mats were placed at the end of the slope for the kids to walk up after they have completed skiing down.
Fortunately from his previous experiences, Buddy was able to confidently snap on his own skis and balance well. In fact, we were surprised that he did not have trouble moving around in his ski gear! With a little encouragement from his ski instructors at NISS, he was able to ski down the short slopes after a few falls.
The next skill he has to master would be to stop mid-slope (in a pizza shape and push his ski outwards to stop) . He also had to ski through short arches. Over the next few days, the ski instructors focused on helping the little ones in Level 1 of Tic-Tac Galaxy master this. Simple as they may look, these skills are not easy. NISS does expect a high level of consistency before they allow kids to progress to the next level. As such, a beginner skier like Buddy would have to demonstrate his skills consistently before he could be ‘promoted’ to take the ski lift up the mountain for Level 2 of the lessons.
As a 5 year-old, Buddy did face some challenges. He struggled a little with the change in ski instructors, sometimes finding it hard to adapt to their different teaching styles. Fortunately, he responded particularly well to these 2 – Coach Iku and Coach Sarah. They were firm yet patient and caring. We could see they always put the kids’ welfare and safety first and made sure the kids enjoyed the process of learning the new sport.
At times, when new students join in, the ski instructors had to manage the class dynamics and re-establish ground rules all over again. These can be slightly distracting for our 5 year old, who was always keen to help and interact with other kids. On the final 2 days, we got a bit impatient as he was still kept at level 1 where most of his peers have gone ahead. To be fair, we started his elder sister, Dana on her first ski lesson at 8 years old while Buddy is only 5. So, we had to manage our own expectations. Perhaps the learning curve for him was steeper and longer.
Towards the end of Day 4, Buddy finally demonstrated most, if not all, of the essential skills taught in Level 1. As a reward, Daddy brought him up to the base of the Hanazono slopes to do a short ski-down before we returned the skis for good. He was so happy and mightily pleased. We are proud that despite the challenges (unfavourable weather conditions, we faced sunny, no snow days followed by blizzards etc.), he persevered. Never did he once tell us he wanted to quit the ski lessons. In fact, every morning, he was eager and raring to go! With the help of NISS, he has finally mastered the fundamental beginner skiing skills. We look forward to the day where he can ski alongside his sister in Hanazono Niseko.