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Life as a Ski Instructor in Japan

Have you ever wanted to be a ski instructor in Japan? Here is how I came to Japan to work on some of the best slopes in the world.

By 4 min read

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.

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

Your hours and pay will depend on your teaching experience.

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.

I taught a range of students, from four-year-old kids to teenage boys and 50-year-old women. Some days, I got paid to build snowmen and toboggan down the slope. Keep stickers in your pockets for the kids and a Black Thunder (chocolate bar) snack for you.

Some days, it will be freezing. When the forecast is in the negatives, the snow is puking down and the wind is picking up, you’ll likely still have to be outside teaching. I wore nine layers one day, and the cold still got in. Keeping an extra thermal on hand and a thinner puffer jacket to slip underneath your ski school jacket is good. Japan sells hand warmers, too.

If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere like my village—where natural hot springs are dotted around—you can defrost in an onsen at the end of the day.

Time To Relax

Even on your days off you ski.

Skiing isn’t very lucrative. I did a few shifts a week at a vegan cafe run to make up some extra hours. In fact, most instructors do a few hospitality shifts to save some extra money for the after-work beers.

Apres ski (a French term for “after skiing”) is another part of your daily routine. There’s nothing better than chuhai (Japanese highball drink), gyoza (dumplings) and debriefing with your friends. Most tourist ski towns have great nightlife, too. Nozawa Onsen has izakayas (Japanese pubs), foreign-owned bars and even a karaoke club.

On your days off, you ski. By the end of the season, you’ll likely have improved your technique, with hours locked into your skis. It’s also good to escape your ski town for some fresh air. I took day trips to neighboring ski fields and tourist hotspots, like the famous snow monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen Koen.

For me, I found working as a ski instructor exhausting. I was constantly cold, and my legs ached from plowing snow for hours. But I absolutely loved my job. Every day, I got to meet and work with fascinating people from all over the world. My office is in the mountains, and I spend every day outside. I lived on a diet of ramen and chocolate.

Ski instructing has you live in the moment. So if you too decide to book tickets to Japan in winter, you will have so much fun.

Have you ever wanted to be a ski instructor in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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