Gracefully traversing down the powdery mountain with your sweet tots in tow; a playful afternoon a snowball fight; cozying up in front of the fire with hot cocoa and a book — sounds like a blissful winter family holiday, right? Um, more like wishful thinking. But with the right planning and appropriate expectations, you can have a successful family ski trip, enjoyed by all. Here, Aja Ng, head of public relations for The Luxe Nomad travel concierge and Wanderluxe online travel magazine, tells of her recent experience hitting Niseko, Hong Kong’s go-to snowy hotspot, with kids.
In early January, I decided spur-of-the-moment, to book tickets to Niseko. I wanted to take my two-and-a-half year-old to see snow (and I wanted to get back on the slopes).
And, if travelling with one toddler wasn’t daunting enough, I decided to invite my friends and their one-and-a-half year-old boy.
More variables (because I like a challenge): We had never travelled with these friends before; they had never been skiing before; and this would be their first mid-haul trip with their toddler.
I’m here to tell you we survived. Not only that, we had fun! Here’s a photo to prove it.
This is how we did it.
Coming from Kuala Lumpur, where I am based, we had about 12 hours of traveling time (airport transfer, check-in, boarding, flight time, drive to the mountains) we had to make sure the kids had enough to do.
Our carry-ons were full of books, compact toys and puzzles, fruit, cheese, biscuits and in case all that failed, the trusty iPad preloaded with content. We also packed in their winter clothing for arrival – don’t forget the Uniqlo HeatTech, hats, gloves, and waterproof boots, it was –16 °C when we landed.
We chose The Green Leaf Niseko Village for these five reasons:
- Its location in Niseko Village means we were removed from the frenetic bustle of Hirafu and its crazy-packed slopes – the kids could wander out next to the hotel and sled to their hearts’ delight (the concierge team has sleds, snowball makers, etc. for guest use).
- Ski-in, ski-out: Walk out of the locker area and you ski downhill to the gondola/ski lift. There’s no trudging, lugging or traversing on flat snow. When you’re done, you ski a slight downhill slope straight to the hotel door.
- Niseko Kids Snow School: Whether for “Daycare” or “Daycare Plus” (includes kids’ ski lessons), this ski school takes kids age one and up between 8am-4pm daily. Attendants are a mix of Japanese and English-speaking, and the seasonal ski instructors hail from countries such as Denmark, Canada and Australia.
- In-house onsen: One of the best parts of skiing in Japan is the steaming hot mineral onsen or hot spring pools to soak your limbs after a hard day chasing your child down the slopes (or skiing). Here you slip on your kimono, and head downstairs, no sloshing through the snow outside. There is an indoor and open-air onsen for each gender (no clothes allowed), and a heated outdoor sharing pool where swimwear is required.
- Children under-two eat for free at the hotel. Just a two-minute gondola ride away, the village and Hilton hotel offer a slew of kid-friendly restaurants too. We preferred this option to waiting for and herding the kids on the Niseko United coach to restaurants in Hirafu and Kutchan (it was – 12 °C, and trust me, you don’t want to be carrying a toddler on slippery sidewalks while waiting for the bus in that sort of weather).
The Family-Friendly Activities
Between managing breakfasts, naps, lunches, skiing, daycare and onsen visits, we did one large ‘kid-friendly’ activity daily, usually after breakfast or after lunch.
Day 1: We spent the day acclimatizing the kids to the snow around the hotel – snow angels, snowmen, sledding.
Day 2: We took them down the road to the Milk Kobo, a dairy farm which makes ice creams, yogurts and luscious choux puffs filled with silky custard.
Day 3: Reindeer sledding! At Niseko Village Krusty the reindeer pulls kids on a short circuit in a wooden sled.
Day 4: Hanazono Tube Park is located about 30 mins away – so we factored in lunch at the Michelin-starred Asperges there. Food was fantastic though service was infinitely cold towards our little gourmands (who were paying full price for their gourmet mains). Luckily fun time at the Tube Park made up for it.
Daycare: Housed in a yurt-like structure the Niseko Kids’ Daycare is compact, with play, movie, and dining areas. The kids also get to go out for snowplay.
I won’t beat around the bush and tell you it was all rosy, since every kid is pretty much new to the environment and attendants, morning drop-offs are waterworks to say the very least. (Be strong!)
Onsen: Our kids loved this ritual. Between 39-42°C, the water is pretty hot, but coupled with the freezing outside temperature everything worked out.
FYI: Kids under-three can go to either the male or female onsen as long as accompanied by the gender-appropriate parent.
The Restaurant Strategy
Niseko in high-season means a huge demand for restaurants – our restaurant reservations were made immediately after our flights (even before the hotel!). Some people recommend booking three-months in advance in Niseko.
One place we couldn’t take children was the Anthony Bourdain ordained Rakuichi, so we went at lunchtime while the kids were at daycare.
Here’s where else we went, what the kids ate, and how the atmosphere was in general:
Hanayoshi Sushi, Niseko Town: This place is mentioned in the Le Guide Michelin for Niseko – we had the omakase, our kids had grilled fish and rice (a la carte). Impressive wine and sake list, really welcoming to the kids, and chilled out vibe.
Asperges, Hanazono: We had a superb five-course lunch here, the kids had the adult main course off the menu which was grilled pork loin with pureed potato. Despite having been corresponding with the restaurant for weeks in advance, dietary preferences and allergies were still not catered to and it was a shame about the lack of warmth towards the kids.
Sekka Lab, Kutchan: Amazing chef’s degustation Italian menu here, super warm and accommodating service (my daughter fell asleep on the way there and they rushed to set up cushions and blankets for her). The food was Italian, so the kids ate pasta with porcini while the adults quaffed two bottles of pinot noir. This restaurant is new but definitely set to become very popular in the coming seasons.
And when we couldn’t be bothered to venture too far from the hotel, the buffet at Goshiki featured everything from snow crab teppanyaki to ramen, pizza and fried rice. We also tried The Crab Shack, in the village, which served nabe and shabu shabu, lovely warming broths perfect for the cold weather.
Kid Essentials (don’t forget)
- Waterproof boots with good grip and waterproof mittens for snow play
- Well-insulated snowsuit
- Warm hats
- Uniqlo heat tech!
- Warm socks
- Snacks & Entertainment
And thus our five-night stay concluded. With a bit of planning, everything went off without a hitch and we avoided any large dramas. If there’s one thing we could have done better it would be to go in a less busy period, we went late-January over a long weekend and it was heaving!
Would we do it again? Absolutely.
The Luxe Nomad. A kitchen-tyrant, she also loves writing, reading mystery thrillers and takes her daughter’s education in all things holiday, Queen Bey and Radiohead very seriously. Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, her next adventure takes to Singapore later this year. wifemama-of-one (one husband, one toddler), hung up her corporate high flyer cape for a more ‘relaxed’ existence. She is a PR & Marketing consultant specializing in travel hospitality and food & beverage, and currently Head of Public Relations & WanderLuxe at