Wintersports have enjoyed a long stay of popularity in Japan – especially Snowboarding. Even a hasty glance on social media quickly gives you the impression that with Japan’s plethora of great mountains and world-class runs, everyone loves to hit the slopes during the season. With this level of popularity, good Snowboard instructors are a hot commodity these days. If you’re into snowboarding, maybe you’ve even thought about what that kind of lifestyle would be like. It sounds just about perfect – waking up next to a beautiful mountain every day, working outside in nature, meeting interesting people from all walks of life, and being paid for doing what you love. A true dream job. We asked professional Snowboard Instructor Alex Parsons to sit down with us for a quick interview to find out just how much of that dream is actual reality.
It all started in 2014 when Alex decided to throw in a desk job and leave her home town of Sydney to snowboard around the world – starting with 9 months in Nozawa Onsen. Since then she’s been writing and snowboarding in Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and the US. She’s done 9 back to back winters and is a certified snowboard instructor and Alpine Guide. Alex is also the name behind the snow blog bigworldlittlecat.com and in 2018 was named as one of “Five Aussie Snow Bloggers to Follow This Winter”. With a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, she has been published in magazines and websites like SnowsBest.com, Mountainwatch, InTheSnow.com, We Are Explorers, SnowPro, Snowy Mountains Magazine and many more.
JD: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with us for this quick interview.
I imagine you usually have to get up quite early to head up the mountain. Other than a strong cup of coffee (or three), what gets you up in the morning?
Alex: Thanks for having me. There are some early starts involved. We usually have to be on the snow with all our gear on and ready to go at 8:30am. I do it because I love sharing my love of snowboarding, and being on the mountain that early is just stunning. If you have a 9:00am lesson you can usually fit in a run or two if you catch first lifts. The cold air and fresh snow is the best way to start your day!
JD: I can definitely imagine that. You mentioned that you threw in a desk job to follow your dreams. Did you always want to be a Snowboard Instructor, and how did you get into the sport?
Alex: It was a pretty random thing to do actually. I was just in this desk job on low pay and really stressed out. Every day I would daydream about snowboarding in Nozawa Onsen. I had been there a year before on holidays but I was terrible at snowboarding! I could barely turn at this point – but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So yeah, I quit and moved to Nozawa for 9 months and got way better at snowboarding. It was that season that I decided I wanted to teach it. I had taught taekwondo for about 6 years before that so I knew I could teach well. I had been a skier since I was a kid actually (I’m not very good at it now) and then tried snowboarding in my early 20s with some friends from my taekwondo days. I used to be a competitive fighter so I picked it up quite well. But anyone can learn!
JD: Snowboarding can be quite physically demanding… How do you train when you’re not boarding?
Alex: There’s an image of snowboard instructors just partying all time but I take my job seriously and train at every opportunity. Between seasons is my main time to work on my strength and conditioning. I go on massive hikes, do weights and paddle board a lot – which is great for your core strength and stabilising muscles. During the season, things get really busy and you don’t have much time to work out, but I still try to go to the gym a couple of times a week, do yoga most days, and of course snowboard every day.
JD: That’s truly envious. You’ve worked in quite a few resorts around the world already. What do you think are the biggest differences between Japanese and overseas resorts?
Alex: In my opinion, Japan has the best snow in the world. But it doesn’t have the steep, rocky cliffs that Canada does, or as many tree wells. So to me it feels like really fun, relaxed riding. (However, there are still plenty of avalanches and other hazards to be aware of.) Japanese resorts have a cool vibe to them, there’s a lot of left over architecture and abandoned places from the 80s ski boom and I love that many of the ryokans, lifts and businesses are run by older Japanese locals. There’s a real old-school charm to Japan’s resorts that you don’t get overseas. The hot springs are a major difference too. They are hands down the best way to finish you day after snowboarding!
JD: Indeed! You started out in Nozawa Onsen. What was the biggest cultural shock / difference for you on your first trip to Japan?
Alex: I had been coming to Japan since I was 4 years old actually because my dad worked for Japan Airlines, so I didn’t have too much culture shock. Having said that, I moved to Nozawa in September when there was no snow and no foreigners so it was a shock to be in such a small farming village where almost no one spoke English. And I barely spoke Japanese! It was difficult but I loved the challenge and I needed the peace and quiet after having a stressful time in Australia.
JD: Your current lifestyle is a true inspiration for many people out there (seriously, read her blog!!) Who inspires you, and if you could have anyone in the world (alive or dead) as a student, who would it be?
Alex: Thank you! The badass women in this industry inspire me every day to keep pushing in an environment that traditionally hasn’t had many women, and can be hostile towards them still. I adore the Aussie snow kiter Jennie Milton and always looked up to a more senior instructor named Moniche who unfortunately suffered a traumatic brain injury a few seasons ago. Shout out to my fellow female snowboarders and skiers in Thredbo – we’re called the Lady Shred Crew and we rip.
As for who I would teach, I wish I could teach my dad when he was younger! He taught me how to ski when I was a kid, and we still ride together most years in Nozawa. I think he would have made a fantastic snowboarder though. He’s a great athlete and used to compete in water ski races. Too bad snowboarding wasn’t even invented when he was young!
JD: And finally, with the sport becoming ever more popular, what’s your no.1 Tip for new Snowboarders? What about for people who want to teach Snowboarding in Japan?
Alex: New snowboarders, be aware that your first day will suck and you will have a sore butt. Get your hands on some butt pads and get lessons instead of just learning from friends. Trust me when I say that snowboarding is not an intuitive sport to begin with but it will only take about 3 lessons until you start to feel the flow and love it.
Wannabe snowboard instructors – remember that you’re in it for the love and not the money.
Try not to get too stressed about snowboard exams. They can take the fun out of snowboarding…but fun is the whole reason we fell in love with snowboarding in the first place!
If you want to find out more about Alex and her adventures, and/or if you’d like to get in touch with her for collaboration, or for lessons, please have a look at the links below.