Japan – Why, What and How

In the first of our regular blogs from Japan this winter, by British ski instructor and Japan first timer, Peter Marsh, we hear about the preparation and reasoning behind packing your bags and heading off for an Eastern snow experience on the other side of the world.

So, a season in Japan. The question is why Japan? There are lots of reasons, but perhaps the biggest is the powder snow, lots of powder snow, as in more than anywhere should morally expect. The amounts are almost positively indecent! And not just the quantities, but the quality. Created by cold Siberian winds picking up lots of snow creating moisture, from the sea between Russia and Japan, Japanese powder has the reputation of being some of the lightest and deepest in the world.

As I said there are other reasons. A totally unique skiing culture in a country that is very different to any other on the planet, at least in my mind as someone who’s never been there before.

What do I know about Japan? Well frankly not very much. Things that spring to mind in no particular order are its peoples politeness, a highly structured society, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the treatment of POW’s on the Burma railway in the Second World War, Japanese car reliability, Japanese manufacturing industries efficiency, sushi, samurai, oh and vending machines where you can buy used Japanese school girl panties! I kid you not.

So Japan is going to be a culture fest for me as well as a totally new skiing experience.

Japanese skiing culture has been of interest to me since I spent a couple of southern hemisphere winters in New Zealand. During those winters it was common to see Japanese Instructors who had come down for the season to train. They did not work in the main, but just spent endless runs honing their technical skills and very good they were too. They were very dedicated to this, to the point of not skiing off-piste at any time even when the powder was up! This may also have had something to do with the rules at many Japanese ski resorts that off-piste was not allowed. I understand some Japanese resorts still have these rules, but that at many others the rule have been relaxed. I certainly hope so!

On one amusing occasion some friends (including Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor, Rob Stewart) and I were skiing the off-piste at Coronet Peak near Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island when we were approached by a Japanese guy whose name turned out to be Yukio. Yukio didn’t speak any English and we spoke no Japanese, but he got it across to us that he needed some off-piste skiing buddies after we’d spent some minutes playing international language charades! Skiing being skiing, who were we to refuse?

Why else did I choose Japan for the coming season? Well simple expediency was one reason. Having spent the last few seasons doing a month at a time in Verbier, Switzerland as a club member leader for the Ski Club of Great Britain my first thought was to approach schools in Verbier. Unfortunately I didn’t get much back on that front other than offers of work in peak weeks. So I started casting my eye further afield. On the British Association of Snowsports Instructors website I found a link to their Facebook jobs page. This was were I spotted a vacancy to work for the resort Ski and Snowboard School of Rusutsu on the north island of Japan, Hokkaido. Rusutsu is about an hour and a half’s drive from Sapporo airport and only 45 minutes from its arguably more famous neighbor Niseko.

Sadly as I’m well past 30 years old I would not qualify for a working holiday visa. But could qualify for a skilled worker visa with sponsorship from my potential employer and the minimum of 36 months of relevant working experience. As I’ve been teaching over a period of 24 years the experience element wasn’t really an issue and the ski school were willing to sponsor me.

As always with anything that involves a government there was lots of paperwork to fill out and evidence with references to supply, but in due course I received my certificate of eligibility and was able to take this to the Japanese embassy in London to receive my visa after making my way through an anti-nuclear protest at its doors. My passport to skiing nirvana was in!

Sadly at the time of writing the Japanese Snow God has gone on strike and there is not much snow in resort. However temperatures are due to drop considerably this week with snow falling most days so hopefully by the time I arrive some sliding will be possible.

So now with flights booked (timings seem to be anywhere from 12 hours to Tokyo to over 2 days in the case of the Soviet national carrier – though they were cheapest!) kit bought and insurance paid for I just need to pack and my Japanese odyssey can begin.

Japanese characters

Peter is travelling to Rusutsu on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Read the whole series:

Further Reading icon

2. First Impressions

3. Curry and Powder in Japan

4. Spoilt in Japan


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Peter Marsh

BASI Ski Instructor

Peter Marsh is a British Association of Snowsports Instructors (BASI) qualified, Level 3, ISIA Ski Teacher. He’s been teaching since 1990 and has worked in numerous roles in the ski industry including as a Ski Teacher, Ski Shop Manager, Ski Holiday company representative, Piste Leader, Ski School Manager, Resort Transfer driver, Airport/Tour Company Liaison Officer and Ski Club of Great Britain leader.

Peter has worked in many places worldwide including Scotland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and New Zealand.

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