Our recent holiday to Japan included a few days of skiing at Prince Hotel Manza in Gunma.
To be honest I was apprehensive about skiing because I am so averse to cold weather, probably because my early memories of winter have been itchy and scratchy. Isn’t it amazing how much technology has changed things, and thank goodness for Uniqlo?! On our trip to Perth last September, it was very windy and there were some points when I was feeling quite miserable even though I was wearing 4 layers. So once we confirmed the Tokyo trip, I set out shopping for proper winter wear, most importantly down jackets or down layers for everyone, which is really not as easy as it sounds because so many puffy jackets for kids are just filled with polyester or the like. I also bought some fleece-lined leggings and dresses off Qoo10 and they kept us really nice and toasty. We didn’t even need our gloves or beanies while we were in the city.
The Manza Prince Hotel resort is located at Mt. Manza, and is approximately 3.5hours by car from Tokyo, or a 35minute car ride from the nearest JR station. Unfortunately, since we were traveling as a group and had to go by tour bus (all of us would have much rather go by Shinkansen, definitely!), it took us almost 6 hours since we had to drive and wait the first hour to pick up the conference participants and then another another 5 hours since we were traveling at night and probably were going slightly slower because of that.
Thankfully the hours passed by quickly with the kids napping for a few hours and we managed to keep them happy at the rest stops with some vending machine corn soup and hot chocolate, the first of many vending machine buys that the kids loved. The other hours were spent watching some very interesting videos that our guide had brought along. It was short videos that explained everything from tea ceremony to samurai to bunraken and many other things I had not known. We learnt so much just from them and from our wonderful guide. I do however really regret not bringing my travel sickness pills and although there weren’t any major incidents, I’m definitely going to remember to bring it on every trip from now on.
We finally reached the resort at around 9pm, had dinner, and picked out all the ski gear. We only managed to sleep at 1am that day.
The resort is simple but comfortable. In our Family Room we had 2 single beds and 2 single sofa beds which we were able to put together, so I slept there with the 2 younger ones. Usually we are divided between the snoring endomorphs and the non-snoring ectomorphs. It’s sad, but true. They also provide a humidifier in each room. There are several onsen pools, both indoor and outdoor, which are apparently one of the best onsens in Japan.
The food in the resort is very decent, and on our last night we were blown over by the kids meal at the Japanese restaurant (although actually everything is Japenesey, if you know what I mean).
The next morning we had to have had breakfast and be suited up by 9am. We then took a shuttle bus to the bottom of the ski slope to have our ski lessons. I’d hurt my back the day before so thank goodness I’d decided not to ski, as I was SO busy tending to the younger two.
The ski lessons were not how I had imagined it would have been for the kids. There were 5-8 instructors to around 50 people, and the kids were not separated into their own group. It was also early in the ski season and this is central Japan, so the snow was rather icy.
After a while, it was chaos with people everywhere, and with the lack of sleep and effort put into suiting up and walking around in their ski boots, the younger two were ready to call it quits. There was hardly any sun and not long after we started, the visibility started to get really bad with low cloud cover.
Eventually Scout fell asleep at lunch, and after lunch, most of the kids had also lost interest in skiing (due to the disorganized ski lessons) and were just playing with snow. The ski lessons went so well that that by evening everyone decided to abandon skiing for the next day and go to the nearby factory outlet instead. Says a lot, doesn’t it?
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza was a 1.5 hour bus ride away for us, and the view along the mountainside was breathtaking. The shopping plaza has plenty for kids – there are many eateries, and we were able to borrow a stroller (for free), for all our things. There is even a kids play area which we did not have time for because mummy and daddy wanted to do some shopping. Sorry, kids!
We all thought that Karuizawa might have been a much better location for skiing since it is much closer to Tokyo, and the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza and Prince Karuizawa Hotels and ski slopes are literally across one small road to the JR station (only 1 hour away from Tokyo by shinkansen!) and this outlet mall is apparently second only to Gotemba. In fact, we saw some guys wearing their ski boots to lunch at the Prince Shopping Plaza! That’s how close it is. We have friends who have been or just been (like last month!) to Karuizawa, and it sounds a lot more kid-friendly as they have sledding and tubing and specific ski lessons for kids. Unfortunately Manza didn’t offer any of those. And oh, did I mention outlet mall? Guess you can’t take all of the Singaporean out of me even when we are travelling 😀
Manza is a picturesque mountain and I’m sure the ski slopes are lovely, but perhaps the resort is more suited for the more seasoned skiers. They did have ski instructors who spoke English, and one from Germany and another from Australia while we were there, but they did not have the kids training facilities I’ve heard so much about in other resorts. But since it was not a trip that we planned ourselves, it was a great experience nonetheless, and I’m sure we will be more prepared for our subsequent ski trips.
So the next time I bring the kids skiing, I will be sure to:
- Choose a resort that has child-specific classes with the proper equipment. This will be my number 1 requirement next time!! This is probably the most important point for newbies! Apart from a ski training area for kids, some resorts have a Magic Carpet, which is like a travelator. Going down slopes is easy, but if you’re a beginner who has to climb back up to try skiing down again, it can get tiring pretty fast. I have heard that even if the ski lessons are not in English (such as the famous Annie’s Ski School) it still works as long as the kids are having fun.
- Make sure the kids have had proper rest the night before
- Get them used to their ski gear before the ski lesson. Because it wasn’t that cold in Tokyo that we needed beanies and gloves, they wore their equipment for the first time in the snow, so there was a lot of complaining (by them) and adjusting (by me).
- Plan to stay a couple of days to spread out the risk of poor weather days, kids not feeling in the mood, etc. But mostly for the weather since snow can be unpredictable.
I’m sure I’ll have more tips after our next ski trip! What are your best tips for kids who are just learning to ski?