From zero to 75 instructors in their debut season shows just what an impact Go Snow Gondola Snowsports made as Niseko Grand Hirafu’s new official international ski school last season.
Snow Action caught up with Ski School Director Tareesa Straatmans & operations & training manager Michal Bierczynski for an update on that debut season and what’s in store for 2015-2016 winter, including the great news that yes, they will have lift priority for Go Snow clients on the Gondola & Ace Quad for speedy access.
Now the snow is coming down hard at Niseko it’s time to get on and lock in your dates – especially for the different holiday periods.
You went from scratch to pretty big almost overnight. Did you have any major teething problems?
It was a bit scary last year coming out with such a bang, we knew we would be busy over Xmas, but I was a bit worried what would happen after, but with only a minor lull it stayed busy. I think we are lucky with our location, it’s busy every morning with people going past. We had a few systems problems just starting, but nothing major. The winter was late last year which didn’t help – we were expecting to open on the 22nd of November, but it didn’t happen till the 6th of December, so that really only gave us just a week till it got full on.
Did you think it was going to be that busy or were you recruiting at the last minute?
We planned for 50 instructors, but bookings were so strong we realised we needed more already in November. We got up to 75 over Xmas with part timers. Fortunately a lot of people applied once they arrived here which was quite convenient.
What’s the mix of instructor nationalities?
It’s predominantly Australian, plus some New Zealanders, Americans, French Canadians, British, Slovenian and Spanish.
Any Asian ones?
We will for next season. We steered clear of native Japanese speakers because of the relation with Grand Hirafu’s Japanese School. We do have a Cantonese speaking Aussie instructor though.
All the ski shops say there are waves of different markets coming through Niseko now according to the time of season – Aussies, Singaporeans, Thais, Chinese etc. How was your client mix?
Xmas was a lot of Australians predominantly, then there was a bit of a lull, then Hong Kong people, then Chinese New Year was actually mostly ex-pats, then actually after that was more Chinese.
Who gets to drive the kid’s yellow bus, and how much are kids programs part of the equation?
We drive it sometimes. It’s fun, the kids love the bus. Kids are a massive part of Go Snow. Over Xmas we had more private lessons booked in for kids, but over Chinese New Year we readjusted our programs with more group ones and ended up with 125 kids a day over that period.
Are you mainly doing Australian style kids programs?
It’s a bit of a mix, I’ve worked in North America, predominantly at Whistler, and it’s a mix of stuff we’re offering. We have capped and small group sizes for example – 8 for kids and 6 for adults.
How about private lessons?
Yes they have been very strong, we could have nearly been a privates only school in December! We want to provide lessons to as many visitors to Niseko as possible, so we have adjusted our numbers to allow more people in to take lessons.
How do instructors go for the work visas?
If they’re under 31 they get the working holiday visa, but if they’re older than that they need to have at least 36 months actual teaching experience, which means having done 7 or 8 seasons.
So the older ones are mainly Level 3 or 4s?
Not necessarily. In Japan they put the emphasis on the experience not the certification, so some very qualified people miss out if they haven’t done the time, whereas for North America it’s all based on the certification.
How did the Powder Programs go. You have a good core of people with qualifications for that?
I think initially the mountain was concerned with running tours out the gates, it’s not something they have previously done, but they have developed a lot of trust with us over the season as they saw how we operated those without a problem. For 2015-16 we are launching our Powder Workshop product, which will cater to adults who would like to learn more about powder or the back bowls but don’t want to book a private guide. With only 3 in a class I think the workshops will be a lot of fun!
Are people getting onto night lessons? It’s pretty amazing here, as we noticed falling out the door from Ki Niseko to jump on the Gondola and lap in fresh snow as it fell last night.
Not so much for lessons, but it’s perfect for our training too, the terrain available is applicable for everything we need to do and the guys aren’t working. Sometimes it’s better visibility at night here. It’s pretty amazing night riding here, it’s definitely the best place I’ve ever ridden at night.
Back home you’re both at Perisher (Australia’s largest resort, now part of Vail Resorts for those who don’t know it)?
Yes, I did 5 years at Thredbo and now 6 at Perisher and Mike’s done 11 at Perisher. A lot of the Australian staff are from Perisher and Thredbo so we know them pretty well.
You are doing a lot with APSI (Australian Professional Snowsports Instructors) training here.
Yes, we’re both involved in the courses/exams held here as we’re both active APSI Examiners back in Australia. We offered a great internal training program for all levels of skiing and snowboarding to our staff. APSI offered several Alpine & Snowboard Level 1 Courses/Exams for public and crossover discipline candidates working around town. Alpine & Snowboard Level 2 and 3 courses/exams were offered to employed candidates from ski schools around the area. Also an Alpine Level 4 Resit exam was run. For more information on APSI Japan courses/exams in 2015 check out www.apsi.net.au
It beats doing it early season at home on a little patch of snow presumably.
Yes, it’s better snow, smaller numbers, and people here generally have more time to train. Australian seasons are so full-on it’s hard to work on training as it gets busy with school holidays early season.
Be a pretty good gig to come up and teach for a bit as part of a snow trip to Japan.
Yeah it sure would be! We have quite a few school teachers who come and work with us during their school break, along with other instructors who only want to do a short season.
So you’re looking forward to season two?
Yes for sure, there are some big things and exciting changes happening.
You’re up to 120 instructors, that’s over a 50% increase already, that’s huge!
Pre-bookings are really strong, we’ve got some new things going on. We have got lift priority which we confirmed now on the Gondola and the Ace Quad, so that makes a huge point of difference for people beating the morning queues. A lot more instructors means we can provide a lot more lessons!
The kids programs are also bigger presumably, and do you do créche ages as well?
We haven’t expanded into the childcare service at the moment, however we do teach kids as young as 2 in private lessons and 3 in our Ninja Kids program. We have expanded our kids’ products and facilities to accommodate more kids this year. We also have a fun new weekly program with a fun race and kids’ passport which will be new for 15/16.
Even with all the new instructors demand will be strong, so we recommend getting on the website and pre-booking early. Full program details at