Niseko Winterlab

Ski and Snowboard Instruction and Guiding

Established in 2009, Niseko Winterlab is Annupuri's English-speaking Ski and Snowboard School.  We now cover the entire Niseko United area, offering expert instruction in Annupuri and Hirafu, as well as backcountry guiding and tours of more remote powder spots.  Our experienced instructors are all internationally-certified and our guides are Canadian Avalanche Association accredited. We pride ourselves on safety, personal focus and attention.

Our mission is simple: to share the best of our sport and the area we know and love with our valued guests.

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Frequently Asked Questions

General Ski and Snowboard Lesson Questions

It's my first time. What do I need to bring to Niseko?

It is possible to arrange rental equipment such as skis, boots, poles / snowboards and boots. Clothing such as weatherproof (wind and water resistant) jacket, pants, gloves and goggles, beanies/helmet can also be either rented here or you may wish to purchase your own.

When looking for goggles, be aware that Niseko receives A LOT of snow, therefore much of your skiing will be in low-light environments and a lighter-coloured lens will perform better.

You will need to purchase socks, neck-gator or face mask (optional), inners (thermals) and mid layer clothing. All such items are available for purchase in Niseko, however it will be cheaper to purchase these items before you arrive from home or from shops like Uni-QLO in New Chitose airport.

Socks should run approximately 2/3rd of the way up to your knee. Some people may wear two sets of thin socks - this is better than one pair of thick socks as some boots may fit snugly. If your socks are too thick they may restrict circulation, resulting in colder or numb feet. With the thin socks you can always remove a pair if necessary. If you suffer from cold feet you can purchase inexpensive, disposable boot warmer pads here in Niseko.

We recommend thin woolen or breathable synthetic thermals (NOT COTTON) for your inner layers in order to stay warm. Cotton inner layers such as t-shirts do not allow perspiration to pass through as you exercise, this may subsequently freeze as you catch the chairlift up the mountain.

On mild days a second thin layer (also not cotton) may be enough to wear between your thermals and your shell (jacket and pants). On the colder days you will also need a mid-layer such as a breathable fleece / down / synthetic insulation vest or parka jacket will be necessary to go under your outer ski jacket.

Is it OK if I start my lesson at 9:30, rather than 9:00?

Our 3 hour and full day lessons can have flexible starting times. During peak periods we do not offer morning or afternoon 2 hours lessons. We only offer half-day and full day lessons. We do offer 2-hr late afternoon/evening lessons. Feel free to phone our office or email us with special inquiries, we will try to accommodate requests where possible. Please do not be late as your instructor may have another guest requiring a lesson afterwards and therefore will not be able to go beyond their scheduled finishing time.

How will I find my instructor?

Our instructors wear bright red jackets with Niseko Winterlab clearly marked on both sides, and black trousers. We will also contact you with your instructor's name and mobile phone number, and to confirm the meeting location prior to your lesson. Please refer to our maps to check your meeting location.

You offer lessons in Hirafu and Annupuri. Where should I ski or board?

Both Hirafu and Annupuri are very popular ski areas which offer suitable terrain for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. For the first timers who may be a little more nervous, we suggest to start in Annupuri as the terrain tends to be less crowded.

Is it OK to mix skiers and snowboarders in a first-time class?

To ensure you receive premium quality lessons and focused attention, we do NOT teach skiers and snowboarders together.  For backcountry tours or mountain guiding, however, it is quite common to take skiers and snowboarders out into the powder together.  World peace!

Do you teach in Japanese language?

No, all of our instructors are native-speakers of English. There is an excellent school that teaches in Japanese at the base of Annupuri in the Nook. It is called Niseko Annupuri Ski School.

Why do you only offer private lessons?

The fastest and best way to maximise your on-snow potential is through high-quality private ski and snowboard lessons. We deliver one-on-one expert instruction to help you make the most from your limited time on holiday. We commonly see guests achieve in 2 x 3 hour private lesson the same skills it takes others with similar athletic abilities 5 x 2 hour group lessons (over 5 days).  Imagine what fun you can have by day 3!

Only the best instructors are employed to coach private lessons. Our instructors are passionate about skiing and snowboarding, and are here to make a change, being able to teach to expert level. In fact even coach the other instructors around the world. There is nothing quite like achieving that magical breakthrough in your skiing and riding. Our focus and attention will help get you there. 

How hard is skiing on powder snow?

Shredding powder is an amazing experience. It is the reason skiers and riders from all over the world come to Niseko. It is fun for beginners and experts, but deep powder will expose technique flaws and becomes exhausting to even the fittest skiers and riders who can generally battle down most mountains. Our expert instructors will teach you how to dominate the powder, but beware - you will soon be hopelessly addicted just like us!

How do full-day lessons work?

We strive to offer you flexibility. Our instructors begin all lessons from your prearranged meeting point in Hirafu or Annupuri. Lessons begin when scheduled so please ensure everyone is on time. We would appreciate a phone call or email if you are likely to be late so our instructors are not waiting in the snow. Parents or families may wish to arrange a meeting location at various times throughout the day for lunch or perhaps to alternate who receives instruction from one family member to another. Or our instructors are able to take care of lunch arrangements and suitable rest stops where required and supervise (children) for the entire day. Please ensure your child has enough money for lift passes and lunch if you wish to arrange this, and advise us of any dietary requirements or allergies.

Our full-day lessons run for 6 hours, and are extendable at a special hourly rate of 9000 yen upon request, subject to availability. A lesson scheduled to start at 9am will be scheduled to run until 3pm, regardless of how long you wish to spend on breaks. You may have the energy to continue skiing all day with snacks on the lifts, or you may prefer to have a longer lunch - the choice is yours and we aim for flexibility. However, it is possible that our instructors will have other guests booked after their lesson, so we request that everyone sticks to their finishing times unless you wish to arrange a lesson extension.

What if the lifts close?

Sometimes the weather doesn't play fair. Or there may be mechanical issues (also beyond Niseko Winterlab's control as we are not part of the lift company). We monitor lift conditions and will strive to offer you alternative arrangements as soon as possible. Certain wind directions can close one side of the mountain but another side will be protected - we may be able to offer you lessons in another resort (eg from Hirafu to Annupuri or vice versa). If this is not possible we will offer the first available mutually acceptable alternate times for your lessons. No cancellation fee will apply for rescheduled lessons. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information.

Do my lessons include lift passes?

We are independent from the ski lift company. Lift tickets must be purchased separately. However we can offer advice on the best option for purchasing lift passes - especially for first time skiers and boarders as there are different options available depending whether you are in Annupuri or Hirafu.


Children's Lessons

Is it possible to have my 3-yr old and my 10-yr old in the same class?

In reality, very young children have different needs and can only go at a slow pace. This will be unfair to the older child, so we would recommend separate lessons. Even a 4 and 6 year-old will progress at vastly different levels beyond their first day.

Can I request a certain instructor that my kids had last year?

Yes, whenever possible we will try to accommodate these requests. We believe that learning to ski is about getting to know the instructor and feeling comfortable with them.  

What is the youngest age you teach snowboarding?

We do not recommend children snowboard under 5 years old. Their legs are not physically strong enough to be strapped in and safely maneuver a snowboard.

What is the youngest age you teach skiing?

Our instructors can teach skiing to children as young as 2 years old. However we do not encourage this. The energy levels of a 2 year-old can run out very quickly and often 2 year-olds cannot physically last on snow more than 20 minutes. For 3 year-olds it is unlikely their strength will last beyond 1 hour. As our minimum lesson length is 2 hours, we can suggest allocating part of a lesson for a young child's lesson, and a friend or family member may take the rest of the lesson. All children under 4 must have a parent or guardian nearby to assist with toiletry requirements and separation anxiety.

Do children need helmets?

We recommend all skiers and snowboarders use helmets. Our instructors will use helmets when skiing and riding in their own free time - obviously this is primarily for safety, but also with the amount of snow in Niseko they keep our heads warmer! If you need assistance arranging rental equipment including helmets, please contact us.

Can I request a certain instructor that my kids had last year?

Yes, whenever possible we will try to accommodate these requests. We believe that learning to ski or ride is about getting to know your instructor, having a great time and feeling comfortable with them. If this is your first time with Niseko Winterlab, feel free to request the type of instructor you would like - eg if you feel your children would respond better to a male / female instructor or if you would like someone who focuses on communicating the WHY (explaining theories clearly), or someone who is great at keeping young ones alert by combining imagination and games which incorporate challenging skiing techniques and skills - we understand the difference between, and cater for, all learning styles.  

Backcountry Guiding

Does going into the backcountry involve a lot of hiking?

We have a variety of places that we take people.  Through years of experience we have amassed deep knowledge of the mountain and thesurrounding area.  We can take you on a great tour where we use the lifts, go into the backcountry but navigate you back without involving hiking. If you have the energy levels we can hike the summit of Mt Annupuri, take you on the rarely skied rear face down to a remote onsen and then skin (hike with skis and special adapting bindings that make it possible to walk uphill) or snowshoe back over a nearby ridge then shred through the trees back to the ski base. An amazing experience!

Is going off-piste dangerous?

All alpine sports involve risks.  Our experienced Canadian Avalanche Association accredited mountain guides are here to keep you safe while taking you on the most amazing runs that suit your ability levels.

Do you rent avalanche safety gear?

Yes, we rent avalanche safety gear consisting of backcpack, shove, probe and electronic transceiver. It is available on our website in the equipment rental section, or as an add-on when booking a backcountry tour.

Are there limits on the amount of people for guiding?

For safety reasons, when taking backcountry tours with more than five guests, 2 guides will be necessary. Please contact us if you have a large group with more than 5 guests.

I have never ridden deep powder before. Am I going to be able to handle it?

Deep powder will expose technique flaws. Backcountry Tours are suitable for advanced-expert skiers - we strongly recommend booking a lesson first if you are unsure of your ability. We only run private backcountry tours so we go at your pace. If you want to hit cliffs and drops and tight trees then that's where we'll go! If you want wide open powder-bowls and hiking up to the summit with time to enjoy the view then we'll go at your pace. You do not have the risk of other skiers or riders overestimating their ability and holding the group up. If you're organising your own group or skiers or riders to take a tour, please remember that no one gets left behind so choose your buddies wisely!

Do I need to take lunch or other supplies?

The majority of our guided tours use the Niseko ski lifts to ascend the mountain before we adventure out of the resort controlled areas and out of bounds into the backcountry. As a general rule there will only ever be 1.5 - 2 hours between access to mountain restaurants or shops for meals / snacks or drinks. We can stop for breaks or lunch whenever you are ready (or keep going hard until last lifts, it's your call!) We recommend taking high energy snacks like chocolate or nuts, a bottle of water or sports drink, which will easily fit into your avalanche safety backpack. If you are looking to book a trip or expedition that incorporates longer hikes we will discuss the requirements and emergency supplies with you.

What if the weather turns?

If weather should increase the risk element to an unacceptable level, your guide will reassess the situation and give you advice on the best options and plan for the safest options. In the backcountry, our first priority is for safety.

What kind of risks are in the backcountry?

There are many risks in the backcountry, including avalanche terrain, weather exposure and most critically unforeseen circumstances. If we know about certain issues or concerns, we can make better decisions based on information you have disclosed to us. Without that knowledge, we are unable to make informed decisions. In most cases, your guide will always include your opinion in the decision process, unless they see the situations as too risky. Ultimately, we are there to guide you with our experience and knowledge of the area, keeping you in the safest possible environment, whilst still having fun and perhaps leaning a bit, too.

What if I am injured?

In the backcountry, there is no ski patrol. Sometimes there is even no means to communicate back to a base, and you may be far from available help. Our guides have extensive first aid training and assess your skiing and riding before taking you into backcountry terrain. We will always try to prevent injury by continually managing the risk factors.

Can I rent powder gear when I get there?

Absolutely! We can arrange a high-quality equipment rental service with gear suited for groomers, powder, and even touring setups suitable for long hikes. Simply contact us and we can arrange for your equipment to be delivered and picked up from your accommodation (delivery areas to Annupuri and Higashiyama and Moiwa.)  You will be fitted at your lodge by the rental technician who will have multiple pieces of equipment available to ensure you receive a good fit and have gear you are comfortable with.  If at any time you have anything that needs to be adjusted or would like to, for example, switch from skis to snowboard, simply let our staff know and the rental technician will arrive at your accommodation. If you are staying in Hirafu, we can recommend good rental services depending on your requirements.

For more information, contact the Winterlab Office with any questions or requests.