by Kyle Drubek
A few years back I had a mini epiphany. I was at the movies with my uncle and my much younger cousins. The movie we had chosen was Tomb Raider and for the first time, I understood what a ‘family’ movie was. Not only were the kids enthralled with some great special effects and a fast-moving plot, but their dad and I got to tag along and watch a whole movie with Angelina Jolie in a skin-tight leather suit. Fun for the whole family!
Now a father of two, I realize this theory applies not just to movies but to a whole array of family activities. Deciding how to keep both yourself and the kids amused with the same activity can be difficult to say the least. Being a seasoned snowboarder of 20 odd years, going to a ski resort with children used to be something I would cringe at. Now, after learning how to ski and also not to worry about getting stuck in the flats on the bunny hill, things are a bit easier. Still, the key ingredients to a good day of family fun at a ski resort stay the same. Where’s Angelina?
As the weather starts to smooth out in February, you can start expecting more bluebird skies accompanied by some great snow conditions. Some of the contributing factors to a fun, family holiday can be very simple to pick out before you head out to a resort.
Safety Beyond the Bubble: Check out the Map
The first thing to look for if you have small children is a safe resort design. I would recommend first having a look at resorts’ course maps. In this country there were a plethora of hills thrown together in the bubble era with little, if any, thought to customer satisfaction or safety. The kind of course map you might look for is one that doesn’t funnel together at the bottom too tightly. I have been at resorts that merge highspeed courses right into beginner slopes and the results can be gruesome. If you’re on holiday, a trip to the hospital with a concussion is the last thing you want to worry about. (It should at least be self-inflicted…)
You can tell a lot about a resort just by the map. Look for designs where each run has its own lift or a completely separate beginner’s slope if you can. Even then keep a watchful eye uphill for out-of-control snowboarders. A harder to find fact is whether the resort is chock full of people or not. Smaller resorts tend to have fewer people and afford a more relaxed atmosphere. Weekdays are always the best time to go if you can.
Best for Beginners: Find Some Longer Starter Runs
Okay, so safety being the first thing to look for. what else is there? Fun, and heaps of it! Many resorts are realizing the value of the family crowd and trying harder by the day to cater to it. One key factor to a good family resort is a beginner run or two that is longer than a couple of hundred meters. Try and find one that doesn’t have a terrain park thrown on it; it’s just asking for trouble. The longer the run, the better a chance your kids will have to start experimenting with the terrain.
Pack in the Snow, Pack in the Fun: Seak Higher Altitudes
A large factor is snow quality; resorts located at lower altitudes or close to the ocean will have fluctuating temperatures and a higher chance of hard-pack or ice. A bit of advice would be to head out into the higher altitudes where the snow is usually not only softer but drier, and won’t soak through your kid’s clothing as quickly.
Variety is Key: Bet on the Extras
While on holiday, you may choose to focus on skiing and if so, I would recommend looking for resorts with ski activity areas. On-snow ski activities are a definite plus to keep the kids interested. They are usually designed to have the children go through a series of exercises to improve their skills while keeping their attention focused on different objects. The idea is like an obstacle course with varying terrain.
Other on-snow activities are a must too. Things like sledding hills, slides, and snow castle building areas (much like a sand box) with shovels and buckets are great past-times. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great non-intimidating sports that the whole family can experience together. My older son’s favorite is kids’ snowmobiling. It’s a great chance to zoom around on the snow and easy enough for kids around four or so to handle as long as they can reach the controls.
Last, the most obvious, check if they have a kids” ski school or day care and also some black diamond runs! With a growing inbound crowd there are more resorts that are English capable for children’s classes. If your child isjust beginning, then a day at a ski school is an excellent idea. All children will benefit from the help of a proper instructor and it’s a good chance for you to have some much-deserved, worry-free turns.
Kyle Drubek is the marketing manager of Minakami Kogen Resort 200. He has spent twenty-one years in Japan, eight of which in Minakami where he enjoys spending the winter and summer outdoors.
For more information on the resort and their family activities, go to www.minakamikogen200.jp/en/ , tel. 02-7875-2222.