Where to go? What to wear? Do I need lessons? Here are some FAQs for my fellow Singaporeans and other tropical bunnies. Hope that you will love the snow as much as I do!
This post may be too basic to some, but what is obvious to people who live close to snow is not at all obvious to us tropical bunnies (or it wasn’t obvious to me when I first started out).
Where can I go?
For the Northern hemisphere season (Dec-Mar), the cheapest options are Korea and Japan (many ski resorts just 1.5h-3h from Tokyo). Korea is marginally cheaper, but Japan has much better volume and consistency of snow, plus an abundance of English-speaking instructors (mainly Aussies). If you have the time/money, Europe and USA/Canada are also good options, but really, how can one ski without the benefit of an onsen (hot spring) after?
For the Southern hemisphere season (Jul-Sep), head for Australia or NZ. For longer trips, NZ may work out cheaper as ski accommodation in Australia can be very expensive. The snow can be awful (measured in itty-bitty centimetres), but self-driving is definitely easier when it’s not puking snow every day and you can finally do that great NZ road trip.
From Jul 2015 onwards you can ski and have lessons at Urban Ski, Millenia Walk ! Read about my indoor ski experience in July 2015. [Update Oct 2017: Urban ski has ceased operations] However (!!!) from mid-2017 you can have ski lessons at Singapore’s Snow City again. I have not tried this myself (anyone want to sponsor me?) but be aware that this is only a 30m long slope. I would recommend reading the Tripadvisor and facebook reviews before signing up (seems like the magic carpet is not working and the slope is very icy). Honestly the reviews are pretty poor…..
Not just about the skiing….
What do I wear?
You will need the following items. If you are really not sure about this whole skiing thing, you can either rent (kind of gross!), or cheat with normal winter gear as described below:
- Waterproof jacket: A normal winter jacket will suffice, but be prepared for heavy wear and tear as you may often end up in bizarre acrobatic positions while trying to break your falls (a loose fit is better). NO FAUX FUR please, the snow accumulates on the fur and you will resemble a drowned raccoon when all the snow melts. For the inner layers, just a fleece or tee over a base layer is usually good enough for me. You don’t have to wear really thick stuff especially at the beginning, as falling down and getting up is pretty sweaty work.
- Waterproof pants: Unfortunately, there aren’t many alternatives for this (unless you happen to already have windproof and waterproof hiking pants) so you’ll have to rent or buy. You’ll need them. NO JEANS as they are not waterproof. I usually wear my fleece leggings inside my ski pants. You can wear thermals, or just your underpants. Legs don’t really get cold anyways.
- Waterproof gloves: You can get el cheapo versions of these for c.SGD20 from shops like Decathlon, Winter Time or Cold Wear, or for c.SGD10 from websites like dx or qoo10. They don’t work that great but hey they are cheap. [kid-friendly tip: Buy some spares if you can, these tend to mysterious disappear].
- Long socks: I have proper Salomon and Burton ski socks but believe it or not, my Decathlon ones (SGD4.90) work just fine too. For skiers especially, socks should cover your whole calf (as the ski boot is very stiff and the top may bite into your shin or calf if not properly covered.
- Beanie/Helmet (optional): Helps to keep your head warm and your skull intact. A ski helmet is similar to a rollerblade helmet, but with insulation inside. Helmet not really necessary for first-timer skiers as you tend to fall (un)gracefully on your side, unlike first-timer boarders who tend to bang their heads a lot.
- Goggles (optional): These help with both glare and wind. First timers can consider using sunglasses.
- Balaclava/ski mask (optional): For windburn and keeping your skin soft and supple. A couple of dollars from websites like dx or qoo10.
- Wrist & knee guards (optional): Highly recommended for beginner snowboarders. The type you use for roller blading is fine.
You can *usually* rent only 1 & 2. The rest cannot be rented due to hygiene reasons, but should be fairly easy to procure even in tropical Singapore.
Singapore isn’t big on ski gear (obviously!) so if you want the “real thing”, the only way is to buy online. I usually buy from USA websites such as oakleyvault or dogfunk / backcountry, and ship them to Singapore via borderlinx, comgateway or vPOST. There are also Korean websites such as Felice or STL that ship directly to Singapore. Why buy online? A basic jacket can cost as little as USD50, and you will look way more pro than the typical Singaporean Timberland zombie. Check out my post on where to buy proper ski/snowboard gear in Singapore and online, or if you are already ski/snowboard, see if you also like to use the ski/snowboard gadgets and accessories that I use!
What people wear (Whistler, Canada)
How many days should I ski (first time)?
This is a sport and like all sports it requires time and effort. Give yourself a chance, really- 3 full days at least (i.e. 4 nights at the ski resort – see below comment). Ignore all protests from girlfriends / wives. Do NOT bother travelling hours to a ski resort to “try it out” for two hours. You will have barely figured out how to put on your boots and stand up in two hours. Save it for a proper ski trip.
Note that unlike “normal” city holidays, it is advisable to add an extra night’s accommodation for each ski day. For example if you plan to ski for 4 full days, book 5 nights at the ski resort. It is not impossible to ski on arrival or departure day depending on your ETA/ETD, but logistically more troublesome as you have to check in/out of your hotel and change into/out of ski wear (may be wet/soggy after skiing session), and even more so if you are renting equipment/ski clothes (as it takes time to try, wait in line, do paperwork, etc).
Do I need lessons and how many?
Yes, definitely invest in lessons, unless you have a friend who is proficient enough to teach you the basics (remember though that anyone can ride but not everyone is good at teaching). You will only frustrate yourself if you muck around on your own. Oh and one more thing, boyfriends/husbands PLEASE DO NOT attempt to teach your girlfriends/wives…….
Lessons are typically offered in half (2-2.5h) and full day formats (4-5h with a lunch break in between). I find it useful to have half-day lessons in the morning, followed by self-practice time in the afternoon. For group size, I prefer small groups of 3-5pax, as I find big groups a bit stressful and 1-to-1 too intensive. Everyone has a different learning style so you should think about what’s best for you, not just what’s cheapest. You do not need lessons every day, even at the beginning. If skiing for a week, two to three half-day lessons should be good enough. Most important is to practise, and not just rely on lessons, because you will eventually have to ski or ride without an instructor around. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your ski lessons, and what you can expect during the first lesson.
Group lessons with Mieko at Club Med Sahoro.
How fast will I progress?
I am pretty retarded at sports, and I was linking turns consistently on green (beginner) runs by my 7th day on the snow. The average person should progress wayyyyy faster. This is probably not a PC thing to say but I have observed that guys generally learn faster than girls (maybe more naturally athletic and/or more “garang” and competitive attitude).
Of course, you will progress faster if you have longer trips and/or put in more hours of practice per day. I’m a sloth so I usually ride only 4 hours a day, compared to some of my friends who are ready to hit the slopes at 8am (!!!) And even if you have 1-2 years between trips, your efforts will not be totally wasted. It is (sort of) like cycling and your muscle memory will not forget.
Still looking pretty retarded on my second trip
Is it difficult to learn?
Well it’s not the easiest thing to learn as an adult (I started at 25) as it involves a fair amount of falling down, but man… you will feel invincible once you start to overtake the beginners. I really wish my parents had the foresight to bring me skiing when I was a kid, but times were different back then. Read about my personal snowboard journey. I’m starting to see many Singaporean kids on the slopes these days. Good for you, parents !
People who have the mindset that they do not want to fall down at all WILL NOT be able to progress. If you can cycle, ice skate, roller skate, skateboard, surf, wakeboard, cable ski….. you will definitely be able to succeed. Partly because you have some experience in using your body to operate a “vehicle”, but more importantly, because you have the correct mindset (to get up and try again).
Can I go with my “pro” friend?
Yup, definitely go with your more experienced friends, who can be very useful when you need a crutch or an errand boy/girl. Just putting on or walking in ski boots for the first time may take some getting used to. Don’t worry about them getting bored as they can ski at the same mountain while you are having your lesson or practising on the learner slope (most resorts have a mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced ski runs). You can always arrange to meet up with them for lunch and/or dinner. If they are proficient enough they can even double up as free coach (although they will most probably also try to trick you into a black run or two). After a while you will realize that most Singaporeans who say they “can ski” have only tried it once before, so don’t be intimidated! You will be more pro than them in no time.
If you just cannot find any friends, don’t be afraid of going solo. There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to wait for others if you really want to learn (otherwise you will be waiting forever). YMCA Outdoors organizes all-inclusive beginner group trips every season from Singapore and I joined their Dec 2015 trip to Rusutsu, Hokkaido! Read my trip report here – Powder snow and meeting new ski buddies.
Ski or Snowboard?
As a snowboarders you tend to bang your head a lot at first when you accidentally catch an edge. Oh yea, and whiplash. And bruised wrists and knees (from breaking falls). BUT ALL WORTH IT! ‘cos you will always look cooler than a skier. Hands down 🙂 Plus, you seldom end up with ACL injuries as your legs are one with the board. Experience in board sports such as skateboard or surfing does help.
Oh! I finally tried out skiing in Feb 2015 and it is definitely wayyyy easier than snowboarding (at the beginner level anyway), especially if you can roller blade or ice skate- Read about my first ever ski lesson at Club Med Sahoro.
Can I learn ski together with my bf who is learning snowboard? (New!)
No, you will be in separate classes, but you can use the same learner slope. Can you learn tennis while your bf learns squash?
Can I learn ski on Day #1 and snowboard on Day #2? (New!)
Not advisable, it is better to stick to one for three full days on your first trip to give it a fair chance.
I am scared of heights. Do I have to take the chairlift ? (New!)
NOPE, you can stay on the learner slope forever with the three year olds. On a separate note, it is almost impossible for an adult to fall off a chairlift by accident. For kids lessons, the instructor will always accompany the students on a chairlift ride. If there are insufficient instructors/minders, the instructor will usually ask an adult skier (who happens to be queueing for chairlift at same time) to sit with each unaccompanied group.
I don’t want to fall down. Can ? (New!)
Confirm can. Go sit in the cafe for three days.
Will I like it ? (New!)
Why wouldn’t you like feeling the wind in your face at 50km/h ?!
Ready to plan your trip? See:
- What type of ski resort should I choose in Japan?
- Sample itinerary & budgeting (Ski Hokkaido 6D5N)
- How to DIY your Niseko ski trip (step by step guide for beginners- Getting there, where to stay, arranging ski lessons and gear rental)
- How to DIY your NZ South island ski trip (step by step guide for beginners- Getting there, where to stay, arranging ski lessons and gear rental)
- 5 Tips to save money on ski trips