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Image: Samantha Mythen

Life as a ski instructor in Japan

By Samantha Mythen

Imagine waking up with a view of snow covering the scene outside and a towering mountain beckoning for adventure. It’s world-renowned for having some of the best snow in the world, and thousands come every year to be ski instructors in Japan.

In 2023, I ticked off a childhood dream to live in Japan, earning my keep as a professional ski instructor. While not without its challenges, my experience was enriched by camaraderie on the slopes and immersion in the local culture. It’s one of the best ways to work in Japan.

Arrival in Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen is a tiny ski village in the Japanese Alps. Image: PIXTA/いつか

I arrived in Nozawa Onsen in December. Nozawa Onsen is a tiny ski village tucked in the Japanese Alps in Nagano Prefecture. This part of Honshu is one of Japan’s two main ski areas, the other up North in Hokkaido. Along the Japanese Alps are more than 300 ski fields, with thousands of kilometers of slopes.

The Japanese Alps are an excellent choice for skiing, with most resorts only a 4-hour shinkansen (bullet train) trip away from Tokyo. To get to Nozawa Onsen, I only had to take one quick trip to Iiyama and then hop on a 20-minute bus ride into the village. My skis were already waiting at my accommodations — I shipped them straight from the airport after I arrived from the 19-hour flight from the United Kingdom

Most Japanese ski companies have staff accommodation; if they don’t, they will help you find a place to live. For every ski village, there are often accompanying Facebook groups made up of foreigners, locals and visitors sharing the latest village news.

A few days after I arrived, the first snow began to fall, and by mid-December, the village was blanketed in snow. The resort’s opening dates vary, depending on whether that delicious dumping of snow has arrived. Most ski companies like you to arrive before the opening date to sort any final admin and begin the team bonding.

Each year, skiing’s popularity among locals decreases. With foreign instructors, international visitors are also encouraged to visit the countryside. This helps to keep the rural heart of Japan alive and beating.

Daily Life as a Ski Instructor in Japan

For the next few months, my life consisted of early mornings, zipping up the road to the ski field, with a quick stop to get some mochi (rice cakes) from the local konbini (convenience store), then running up a moving escalator to get to work.

Your hours and pay will differ depending on your ski or snowboard instructing level, years of experience and the specific company you work for. Usually, you will be paid per lesson. I worked a mixture of group and private lessons, each at least a couple of hours.

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Sounds great! What does it mean to be “pro”? Also for average skiers like me are their other jobs like running the ski lift?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Nice way to spend the season, and Nozawa is a nice resort that has been foreigner-friendly for a long time, even before the tourist boom. Recently, I've noticed that most of the ski schools at various resorts have classes in English and Chinese, and I saw many people signing up. Ski in Japan is a great experience, not only the slopes, but the onsen, nabe, hot sake, etc.

Redemption, yes, I've seen quite a number of foreigners working at the lifts, at the info counters, etc.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You can become an instructor for kids and beginners by taking a short course. Just beware that doing the snow plough on skis or falling leaf on a snowboard can be very tiring. It takes much more effort to go slowly than it does to go fast!

If interested in working at a ski resort and/or as an instructor, approach them directly and not through a broker. There will be lots of openings. You do not need to use a middleman who will skim your wages. Most folks do this as a working holiday, so the broker is not needed for a visa.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Thanks. I was at Gala Yuzawa two years ago getting rental skis fitted and saw a help wanted sign. I inquired out of interest and it seemed they wanted to hire me on the spot. My little adventure will have to wait until I am retired or semi-retired.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A living passion for a few months, good when we are a single. Otherwise, what the instructor in the article is doing off season. Back to UK?

My Japanese friend from Nozawa does not want be back there to live. I believe the instructor did not feel it but it is a traditional rural area with tough neighbor relationship. When he got married, he invited many people from there. It was twenty years back, it has changed maybe since

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Wage/pay is not discussed.

I assume you get a pittance, while the job is demanding physically.

I wish I could go skiing in Japan. Probably one day but I am no longer a 30 year old man.

Sceneries must be magic, where there is not much crowd.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Jonathan, then you must wither go during week days, or on the large slopes of Tohoku etc. Not Niigata or Nagano in weekend, long lines for the lift.

Didou, I don't know about living there, but about 15 years ago I took my parents for a trip in winter, because I heard it is foreigner friendly. And I was very surprised, small ramen places had ENglish menu, all the souvernir shops had some English translations, it was more bilingual than Tokyo. Again, that was 15 years ago. But I do realize that living and travel are two different things.

And speaking of ski instructors, the Japanese ones I met were all quite old, obviously having families. Indeed, what are they doing outside of the ski season, which in Kanto is quite short?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wish I could go skiing in Japan. Probably one day but I am no longer a 30 year old man.

What? 80 year old men and women slalom. Go as fast or slow as you like.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

As an aside, this is already the snowiest March in what feels like fifteen years. Its been a warm winter on the whole, but has been snowing a lot this week, a welcome blast of Marches past.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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