Adrian Gourlay gives us the inside track on becoming a ski or snowboard instructor in Japan.

Adrian, WE ARE SNO

Adrian Gourlay of WE ARE SNO

Working as a snowsports instructor in Japan will sound like a pipe dream to many. Deep powder, an exotic new country, an office on the slopes, and a job title that would drive most nine-to-fivers crazy with jealousy. That dream, as it turns out, is more attainable than you might have imagined.

In fact, there are hundreds of Australian, European and North American instructors setting up shop in ski resorts around Japan every winter – beneficiaries (mostly) of a very accessible Working Holiday visa scheme and a growing international tourist market with an insatiable desire for top quality English-language services.

So the question on everyone’s lips is this: how do I make it happen?

We got in touch with Adrian Gourlay, a man more qualified than most to answer this question. Adrian is Head of Operations at WE ARE SNO, a company that runs ski instructor courses in Japan, Canada and Switzerland. He’s also seasoned ski/snowboard instructor himself, with more than 10 winter seasons under his belt.

Ski Asia: Take us from the beginning. What’s the first thing you’ll need to do if you want to be a ski/snowboard instructor in Japan?

Adrian: Firstly (and most importantly) you need some on-snow experience on skis or snowboard. Secondly you need to be between the ages of 18-30 for visa eligibility if you are looking to work in Japan after your training. Thirdly you need to be available from late November to complete the instructor internship training course. This allows you to gain the skills, international qualification and guaranteed job offer necessary to instruct for the season.

Ski Asia: How good at skiing or snowboarding do you need to be?

You need to be at a strong intermediate level of competency and be comfortable linking turns (under control) down a moderately pitched slope. We usually say from 3-4 weeks on-snow as an absolute minimum.

Becoming a snowboard instructor in Japan

The view from a snowboard instructor’s office: Japan

Ski Asia: When it the best time to apply? Is it a good idea to start the application process early?

The best time to apply is as early as possible. Places on our instructor internship courses are limited and tend to sell out quickly. A significant advantage of securing a place early is being able to utilise our monthly payment plan option to spread payment of the course fees into multiple instalments.

Ski Asia: Any tips for the job application? What are the top snowsport schools looking for from their employees?

During our application process we’re looking for individuals who are passionate about the sport. People who are keen to get a start in the industry for the right reasons and work hard to get there. Once you’ve completed the instructor internship course you receive two references to assist you with any future employment. One from WE ARE SNO, the training provider and the other from the reputable ski school you’ve been employed with for that season.

Ski Asia: What about visas?

You are required to obtain a working holiday visa for Japan in order to gain employment. This is relatively easy to obtain and is available to citizens of 19 countries worldwide. Once accepted and enrolled onto our instructor internship course we provide you with step-by-step guidelines outlining exactly how to apply for and receive your visa.

Ski Asia: Does the experience live up to the dream? Is it all parties and pow, or is there some hard work involved too?

We can confidently say that the experience more than lives up to the dream. There are plenty of enjoyable social times to be had and the amount of powder in Japan is insane! For our internship clients it’s about striking a balance between working hard and being focused during the training and examination period. Then it’s about being professional and punctual during your seasonal employment. Ultimately our courses are aimed at kick starting people into a professional and rewarding career in the snowsports industry.

Propeak instructors, Niseko, Japan

Snowsports in instructors in Niseko, Japan

Ski Asia: What about language? Do I need to speak Japanese?

This is a question we get asked a lot. Our courses run in the largest and most popular ski area in Japan, Niseko. Here you’ll find a Western feel with the majority of people in the town, shops, restaurants and bars English-speaking. The snowsports schools we work with are all international meaning the lessons are delivered in English to English speaking clients from around the world. We certainly encourage learning some basic Japanese but it’s not a requirement.

Ski Asia: What are the benefits of picking Japan over other parts of the world?

There are many advantages for choosing Japan over other parts of the world but here are our top three:

  1. Snow – You simply won’t find as much consistent, dry, powder snow in any other area of the world. Niseko receives over 15 meters each season!
  2. Wages – The average wage for a rookie instructor compared to the cost of living is proportionally higher in Japan than anywhere else in the world.
  3. Visa – The working holiday visa is easier to obtain compared to other areas. Obtaining a visa for Canada, for example, can be a challenging and drawn out process.

Ski Asia: What advice would you have for an instructor embarking on their first trip to Japan?

Our advice would be to head out with an open mind and immerse yourself in the culture of this amazing country. Be polite and respectful to the people and sample as much of the food as possible. Be smart and safe on the mountains and enjoy more snow than you are likely to see anywhere else. Spending a season in Japan will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences of your life.


Japan backcountry skiingOrganise your guided backcountry skiing tour in Japan

There are lots of options in Hokkaido and Honshu that can be tailored to the kind of skiing you like and when you plan to come. Answer a few questions and we’ll get back to you with some recommendations.

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