Ski and Learn Trip to Japan

Quite regularly in business, opportunities present themselves and you’re forced to make a decision, and the path that you choose can sometimes be a roller coaster of emotion. I made just such a decision in the middle of last year, and I’ve been riding the roller coaster ever since, but man it’s been an amazing ride!

6 months ago my old plumbing mate Matt Jones from The Site Shed asked me for the third year in a row if I was interested in coming along to his “Ski and Learn” event in Japan, however this year it was a little bit different. “Ski and Learn” is an awesome program where business owners are able to take a break from the day to day running of the business and enjoy some time on the snow with a bunch of other business owners, but at the same time spend some time working ON the business through some afternoon workshops focusing on different areas of business education and a chance for some awesome networking.

So the first event in 2017 was in New Zealand, last year it was in Hakuba Japan, and this year it was a return to Japan but this time to the north island of Hokkaido to a resort called Furano. I’d always been keen to go along as it combines 2 of my greatest loves, skiing and business improvement, but could never quite justify it in my own head. This year, Matt threw me a curveball and asked me to come along as a guest presenter for the workshop sessions, another one of my loves, sharing my knowledge through education. How could I possibly say no, Japan had been on my bucket list since my years of working at the snow in Australia and Canada so I made my decision and the emotional roller coaster started to pull away from the station….

Saying “Yes” was the easy part, but the flood of emotions that followed had me doubting myself over and over again. Primarily it was the guilt that was the hardest. “I’m leaving the business”, “I’m leaving the family”, justifying the time away and the associated cost was a real struggle. I spoke to several people about the guilt I was feeling and one of my most experienced mentors explained the importance of being able to have a break as a business owner. Matt Jones even shared one of his awesome podcasts with me all about managing guilt, it all made sense but the stabs of guilt were still there.

Finally, the day of departure arrived, I’d been up half the night before doing last minute packing (more stress as I was grossly underprepared) and I started the day with a call from Matt at 6:30 am informing me that his wife had gone into labour 7 weeks early and he was at the hospital. “This has put a bit of a dent in my plans for the next 10 days mate” he said, yep, you’re not going anywhere champ! And so now I wasn’t the guest presenter, I was the only presenter. The roller coaster ride is picking up some serious speed now, my guts are in my throat…..

So I jump on a plane to a completely foreign country to hang with a bunch of blokes I’ve never met and manage some workshops using content I’ve never seen before, what could possibly go wrong? As usual, the mind was working overtime and running all sorts of scenarios but seeing I was on the way to Japan, I channelled my inner zen as best I could and tried to calm things down. Focus Daniel-San.

What followed can only be described as “Kanpeki” (“perfection” in Japanese). The roller coaster had climbed up the initial ascent, dropped down the first gut churning hill, and now it was all the thrilling twists, turns and loop the loops. Without a doubt the ride of my life!

So the first adventure was meeting the crew. We were a group of 7 from all walks of life, a joinery business, a building company from the UK, window tinting, even a corporate fella, certainly a motley crew. A few of the boys knew each other but we were mostly strangers, however, it didn’t take long before the initial barriers came down and we started to share experiences over a beer or 6.

The first 2 days on the hill were intense, our afternoon workshops didn’t start until day 3, so I skied all of day 1 followed by an extra special night skiing event that went ALL night due to the change in seasons. I never thought I’d get a chance to be skiing at 3 o’clock in the morning but here I was. I’d already had a massive day and the late night skiing took its toll, but the hot coffee in a can from the vending machine was an absolute lifesaver, we seriously need these things here in Aus!

A few hours sleep then it was straight back into it with a seriously full on day of guiding from Adam, one of the amazing guides at Whiteroom Tours. Adam brought a wealth of local knowledge and showed us areas we would never have thought to have explored. Just like in business, this investment in knowledge paid dividends over and over again for the following days as we had fresh snow every night and knee to waist deep powder runs coming out of our ears. It was like the stuff you see in the movies, I couldn’t believe I was living this dream!

Unfortunately, I developed a bit of an unhealthy love for the local trees, I managed to treat a steep tricky section without the respect it deserved and came off second best, ramming my noggin and thigh into some of Japan’s finest birch. This gave me an awesome shiner that got some weird looks and started a lot of conversations, and a wicked corked thigh which slowed me down a little (but not for long!).

Day 4 started with a massive overnight dump and some epic untracked runs. I was at it again causing trouble and somehow managed to lose a ski on one of the side country areas in the most unbelievable waist deep fluff. Four of us scoured the area for over an hour and finally gave up and I resigned myself to skiing out on one ski. Miraculously, our guide Adam from earlier in the week appeared like some kind of white knight and one of the guys in his group spotted my ski stuck in a tree 50 meters down from where we’d been looking. It was at this point that I realised that the Japanese trees seriously have it out for me!

So clearly the time on the hill was amazing, but I have to admit that it was the time off the hill that was the most valuable part of the trip. The workshop sessions we did focussed on organisational structures and explored the importance of structure from the smallest to the largest of businesses. This subject also opened up discussion about roles within businesses, position descriptions, performance management, and a range of other issues and experiences that the group had had over the years.

As nervous as I was about being the sole presenter, the workshops became much more about sharing our knowledge rather than me banging on to a PowerPoint presentation. This was probably one of the most casual yet useful events I’ve had the privilege of being involved in. It really was a great format and certainly suited the environment we were in. The best part was that the conversations then flowed out of the workshops into dinner discussions, networking and business deals, and certainly planted all sorts of different seeds for me.

So it’s now back to reality and telling the stories of our trip (including explaining the black eye about 1000 times so far…) The whole “business workshops” concept is usually met with scoffs and “yeah right”, but I can confidently say that what made this one of the best weeks of my life was the perfect combination of work and play. The opportunity to spend some time thinking about and working on the business along with comparing experiences with other business owners in a relaxed environment was an extremely unique opportunity and something I can’t wait to do again.

So stay tuned for the next event, Matt is running Surf and Learn in the amazing Maldives in August (as long as he doesn’t have any more kids on the way) and I’m hanging to hear the details of the next Ski and Learn location, I feel like I’m addicted to this roller coaster now……


Keen to learn more about the Site Shed Learn ‘n’ travel program? Check out their website for all the details and hear from previous attendees about their experiences.

Hope you can join us on the next adventure!



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