Firstly, at 30+ of age, I must confess that I’ve never skied before in my life. Secondly, being a TCM therapist, I’ve seen patients coming back to Singapore with injuries from their ski trips, both young kids and adults alike. I wouldn’t say I’m very fit, and though I do practise yoga on a regular basis, I went Niseko in Hokkaido last winter, feeling both excited and nervous at the same time. Excited to ski, but paranoid about getting injured 😅 Thankfully, none of us broke a bone or strained some muscles on our virgin ski trip.
I’m back with these ski tips for you!
Things to Know & Travel Tips for your first Niseko ski vacation!
Niseko’s snow is really, really soft!
People use “powery snow” to describe the snow in Niseko, and I could see why. The snow was often soft and light, which would layer onto the floor really quickly, and makes you wanna dive right in.
Mornings in Niseko feels like Xmas! 🎄 It was especially delightful to wake up to these views of whiteness from our apartment, feel so cozily warm indoors, and observe snow falling gently outside.
If you’ve never skied before, you’ll need to take ski lessons.
If you don’t know how to ski, you can’t just believe you have a natural talent for skiing, rent the skis and equipment and simply make your way to the slopes. Skiing is totally different from rollerblading and ice-skating.
We used Go Snow and booked 2-day SuperPacks (which include half-day lessons, rental of skis, poles, helmets, via our accommodation vendor: Holiday Niseko. The price was ¥43,000/adult.
Ours were two days of half-day lessons. On the morning of your lessons, the staff will put people into small groups of a few people each. Don’t worry, they’ll keep you together if you’re from the same small group.
On the first day, us 3 adults from Singapore were grouped with 3 other adults from Shanghai. Our first ski instructor was from Australia – very friendly and dedicated to guiding us. My second ski instructor the next day was from Argentina. In fact, we noticed the ski instructors were mostly if not all white. Lessons were held in English.
On the first day, we were in the First-Timer class. At the end of the first lesson, the ski instructor said I was ready to move on to Novice the next morning. If you need more time, the instructor will still take care of you in First-Timer level the next day, by merging you into another group.
You need good knees to ski.
Skiing requires a lot of leg strength (quads). Your legs will be in half-bent position when you ski downwards. As you can’t be skiing straight downhill, you’ll ski left and right in curves. The pressure on knees is quite significant. I felt so glad my knees were in good condition! Just like when I was hiking down Bergen’s highest mountain, in Norway.
Another thing you need for skiing is actually… a good neck.
And I will say having a good neck is even more important than having good knees.
From a professional TCM therapist’s perspective, we tend to notice that people with cervical issues (typically, misalignment of the neck vertebrae) have problems trying to stay balanced even on very slight slopes. This is due to their ear pressures being unbalanced, and/or their neck muscles in uneven tension.
Suggestion: Visit a proper TCM physiotherapy clinic (not a random massage salon) and get your neck checked and neck muscles relaxed before you travel to Niseko.
| Read more TCM wellness tips for staying healthy in winter weather! |
Take half-day ski classes instead of full-day ones.
I actually find ski lessons rather exhausting, TBH 😂
A huge part probably came from the heavy gear – boots were very solid and heavy; skis were heavy. Although it’s not like I’m walking on ski boots and carrying skis in my arms all the time, I guess staying upright and stable on ski slopes would require a constant burning of energy – both mentally and physically. Also, you constantly need to wait – for your group mates or other groups to finish their turn on the slopes, waiting to get off the ‘magical carpet’, waiting to go up the ski lifts, waiting to summon your courage to ski down the hills.
Therefore, half-day lessons were rather perfect. You get a break for lunch (we walked to Aya Hotel which is right next to our ski base), then continue for lessons after, and end at about 3pm.
You will fall from skiing.
And it won’t look glamourous because the skis will still be attached to your boots so you can’t just get up easily 😂 And if you’re facing downhill when you’re trying to get up, even if you’re in a squatting position, you’ll be squat-sliding downhill all the way to the base 🤣
From what I heard, falling on ski slopes doesn’t hurt. Because the snow is so soft! Your butt will be cushioned. I have no experience with this. Blessed by lucky stars, I didn’t fall on my two days of skiing in Niseko!
Niseko’s powdery snow makes it quite a perfect destination to learn skiing for beginners.
Learning to ski will make you rethink everything about falls.
You’ll see kids learning to ski (and it’s super duper cute especially when you see a 2-year-old toddler waddling around in puffy winterwear, on skis). You’ll also notice that those kids first learn to ski without using any ski poles. When they fall, they tumble all over. And will just get up again.
Our fear has so much control over us.
Falling is indeed a scary thought. I’ll be silently-shrieking in fear when my ski speed was getting too fast for my control, and I imagined crashing straight off the edges and breaking every part of my body.
On normal ground, when we feel we’re falling, our self-survival instinct is to lean backward. It’s the opposite for skiing. When you feel you’re gonna fall, or going too fast, all the more you need to lean forward to use your body weight and press down hard on the leg that’s lower down the slope. Which is why I was very thankful I didn’t sprain an ankle or snap my knee-caps!
If you didn’t fall on your own, you might still fall from someone crashing into you.
This might sound a bit scarier than it is, but I did see skiiers or snowboarders crashing into people in front of them, especially near the base if the skiier/snowboarder didn’t brake in time.
Everything about Being in Ski Attire
It’s a chore to walk in ski boots.
On solid ground in ski boots, you’ll be walking like you’re gonna break into a hiphop dance anytime 😄 It’s because ski boots aren’t meant for walking, but to be placed and locked into skis. Ski boots are very tough (and have a significant amount of weight).
When you go for your lunch break, you’ll be walking in the restaurant in these ski boots, while your skis are placed standing outside the restaurant.
But once you’re on your skis, whoa, gliding is a whole new experience. As long as your skiis are pointed parallel downhill, you’ll start sliding already.
More Practical Tips for Your Niseko Ski Trip
Rent a vehicle to get around in Niseko.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Unless you’re staying right next to the ski slopes, renting a car is really the best thing you should do for your ski trip. If I were to walk to the ski slopes in full ski gear, I won’t have the energy to ski anymore.
Our apartment included a van, which could sit 5 of us comfortably, and contain our ski gear.
You’ll need an international driving permit.
Main roads at Grand Hirafu are heated tarmac, so the snow will melt instead of accumulate. Drive carefully regardless, as there’s always risk of the wheels skidding, which happened to us when turning out to the main road.
Buffer time to find your ski rental place.
Sunset is early in winter. The sky turns dark too soon. Shops might close early. Our ski lessons were booked for the 3rd and 4th day in Niseko. We could only collect our rented ski equipment on the 2nd evening. And it was quite stressful trying to locate the right branch, especially when heavy snow was falling fast and visibility was limited while driving around on slippery roads.
* Wear the same thickness of socks when you go fitting for your ski boots’, as per what you’re gonna wear for skiing.
I can’t remember what socks I wore or how thick they were on that late afternoon that we went to collect our rented ski gear and the ski shop staff found the fitting sizes for my feet. But,
Ankle socks will make better choices than calf-length socks.
On my first day of class, my socks were calf-length. I thought that would be the surefire way to protect my ankles from being cut by ski boots. It turned out to be a terrible decision. My ski boots were a bit too fitting (tight) for my legs, which means the calf-length socks were cutting into my calves. A good part of my day was my toes feeling numb, due to blood circulation being blocked by the socks.
When I finally got back to the apartment, I couldn’t walk normally as my legs were in too much pain if I were to activate the usual calf muscles. I could only glide my feet across the floor to walk, which made my companions laugh so hard we had tears 🤣
On my second day of lessons, I wore thin, ankle socks and didn’t experience the pain anymore.
What to Wear for Skiing
- Waterproof jacket. Mine was from Superdry.
- Waterproof ski pants. The outermost layer of pants that will prevent your bottoms from getting wet if you sit on the floor (and you will). I bought mine from Decathlon.
In addition, I wore these underneath:
- The normal (not the Extra-Warm) version of Uniqlo’s HeatTech long-sleeved top
- One thin sweater
- One thick sweater
- Insulated leggings (the kind with inner faux fur)
- Yoga pants
- A thick scarf to protect my neck from the cold
- Cotton socks
- Waterproof ski gloves
Where to stay in Niseko:
We had decided on Grand Hirafu, and went with Holiday Niseko for booking our accommodation. Our apartment was nicely called Shiki 1, hehe.
We booked our own apartment (they also provided a van for us). It was 3 storeys in total. Level 1 was the garage, where you wear shoes. Level 2 was the common area, with a living room and TV, a Tatami area, dining area and kitchen, and a WC. Level 3 were 3 bedrooms, with 2 bathrooms. Heaters were all over the apartment which made the apartment a nice and warm place to stay in.
Visited: Dec 2019
District: Grand Hirafu, Niseko, Hokkaido
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