Women in Blue
Meet the women behind Niseko’s newest all-female snowsports workshop.
Tareesa Straatmans, Margie Messinbird Demarco and Maja Botic have between them worked more than 40 winter seasons as snowsports instructors, spanning a number of countries that most will not see in a lifetime of travel. For the 2015/16 season, they bring their experience to Japan, and will help Gondola Snowsports deliver Niseko’s newest all-female workshop.
Experience Niseko caught up with the three women to chat about their hopes for the workshop, their thoughts on Niseko as an international ski destination, and their advice for visitors to the snowy resort.
TAREESA STRAATMANS – Snowsports Director
SEASONS IN NISEKO: 4
TOTAL WINTER SEASONS: 25
Tareesa leads the charge at GoSnow and is a highly regarded snowboard trainer and examiner for the APSI (Australian Professional Snowsports Instructors) who has been teaching around the world since she was 16 years old. Primarily setting herself up in Whistler, Canada and Perisher, Australia early in her career, she first came to Niseko in 2011 on the back of advice of a friend and was taken aback by the quality of the conditions.
Experience Niseko: How did you first get into instructing?
Tareesa: “This is going to sound really cheesy, but I actually wanted to be an instructor from when I was a kid. It’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.
“When I was 16, I started as an instructor in Australia—actually as a ski instructor. It took me three seasons before I could get a job as a snowboard instructor. Once I started, I loved it and haven’t wanted to move onto anything else.”
Experience Niseko: What is it that makes you keep coming back to Niseko?
Tareesa: “Initially I came over for the snow. After that, I felt like I couldn’t go back to another northern hemisphere resort, that it wouldn’t be the same. Now it’s other things I really love about Japan—the culture, in particular, and the people. That element to it is just amazing.”
Experience Niseko: What made you decide to introduce a Women’s Workshop for 2015/16?
Tareesa: “The introduction of the Women’s Workshops is something I’m quite passionate about. In Whistler I taught a similar program—it was called the Roxy Women’s Camp at the time—and it was a hugely successful camp that ran over two days, specifically for women.”
Experience Niseko: As an instructor, what is it about an all-female group that you think helps the rider progress?
Tareesa: “I do enjoy riding with both men and women, but I find that when you get a group of women together who push each other it really does push you a lot more.
“Seeing other women who are strong riders, and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it’. It’s a really great thing to be a part of. Especially being able to get women to achieve things that they thought they might not be able to do.
“I also find that women like to attack things differently from men. A lot of men will just give things a go and don’t often slow it down to work on the technique, and how you actually perform those movements properly. It’s a generalisation, but I find a lot of women like to take things slower, break things down and work on correct movements and correct technique at their [own] pace.”
Experience Niseko: What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your career?
Tareesa: “One of the pleasures of being in the industry as long as I have is that I’ve been able to see some really talented riders come through. One, I remember teaching how to turn in Whistler. She’s now got to the point where she’s on the Roxy team and travels internationally to compete. So she’s really pushed herself and now rides just as hard, if not harder, than most of the men I know. So that’s been really rewarding.
“There’s another little girl—she’s only 12, and she’s on the Burton team now. I’ve seen her progress from this little grommy 6 year-old who’s hitting the jumps in the park, and now she’s taking out every junior comp that there is in Australia. She’s amazing.”
Experience Niseko: And your advice for anyone coming to Niseko?
Tareesa: “I would definitely say that for me, taking lessons was a massive part of growing and progressing as a rider. Beginning as an instructor, we used to have lessons and training three times a week for the first five or six years of our career. And I’m still training and trying to improve myself. That would be my advice—to get lessons and keep pushing yourself, because there’s always something to learn.”
MARGIE MESSINBIRD DEMARCO – Ski Instructor
SEASONS IN NISEKO: 1
TOTAL WINTER SEASONS: 10
Margie has been a dedicated skier for more than thirty years, getting her start in the relatively unknown sport of grass skiing, where she trained with former Australian Olympian Steven Lee. She balances her life on the snow with a career in academia and is a Doctor of Education and a lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney. Margie’s fascinating background also includes Australian representation in dragon boat racing, surf life saving and athletics, plus a black belt in martial arts (Shotokan and Kenkokan). We suggest you ask her about it on the gondola!
Experience Niseko: Tell us about your start in the sport. We hear your first experiences on skis were quite different from what you might expect in Niseko.
Margie: “I’ve been skiing for over thirty-odd years. I started grass skiing—racing—with Steven Lee, the downhill Olympian. I know Steven Lee quite well. That was at the age of probably twenty, or a little bit older. From there I went onto snow about five or six years later. And I’ve been on snow ever since.”
Experience Niseko: And your start as an instructor? How did that come about?
Margie: “I went and took a private advanced workshop with a ski instructor at Perisher [Australia] and the instructor advised me that with my ability that I should try out for ski school. So I joined APSI, tried out for the ski school and I got in.
“I would have started earlier in my life if I’d had the knowledge about becoming a ski instructor. And if it wasn’t for grass skiing in Queensland that got me going.”
Experience Niseko: Do you think your background in education has helped you as an instructor?
Margie: “Yes, without a doubt. My background in education is in health and physical education and exercise science, so it’s dealing with biomechanics, exercise, sports—all sports activities.”
Experience Niseko: What are your thoughts on the newly-introduced Women’s Workshop? How do you think it benefits women looking to get involved or progress in snowsports?
Margie: “There are unlimited benefits. A lot of my clients are married and—don’t get me wrong when I say this—when they’re in a lesson they’re not being harassed by their partners.
“And I’m very technical when I’m teaching, and I teach to get the results the women want. I did workshops this season with private women’s groups and I had them for two weeks on end or one week. Full-on, every day. And they just advanced and excelled so beautifully. They were just so happy.
“When I [first] read that about the Women’s Workshops, I thought—‘that is my element, that’s my goal for the season’.”
MAJA BOTIC – Ski Instructor
SEASONS IN NISEKO: 2
TOTAL WINTER SEASONS: 10
Maja has spent years teaching skiing in Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Australia, but was immediately attracted to Japan during her first season in 2014/15. She loves sharing her passion for the snow with others and encourages visitors to Niseko to get out and explore the area as much as possible.
Experience Niseko: Tell us about why you became an instructor?
Maja: “I like sharing my passion with others and showing them interesting ways to learn to ski. I often teach the same ways I learned, which I think is the easiest way. And I love making clients happy too!”
Experience Niseko: What in particular do you enjoy about living and teaching in Niseko, and what made you return?
Maja: “First of all, the amount of snow we had. And I’d like to ski more—I feel as though I didn’t ski enough last season.
“Then also because Japan is pretty relaxing and a very nice country to live in. I think the people are lovely and very friendly and the environment is really nice.”
Experience Niseko: And you see yourself in Niseko for a while?
Maja: “Yes, I see myself here, I love Japan. I wouldn’t mind actually staying for summer as well.”
Experience Niseko: Do you have any special plans for this season? What would you recommend to others in Niseko?
Maja: “Last year I went to three resorts outside Niseko and I’d really like to explore more. And I’d love to hike Mt. Yotei and do some more touring.
“Onsens (Japanese natural hot springs) are great for everyone who doesn’t know what they are. And the food in Niseko is fantastic. There’s all kinds from all over the village, from sushi to everything else.”
Experience Niseko: What are your thoughts on the introduction of the Women’s Workshop this season?
Maja: “I think it’s really great. As a woman, I look at some of the ladies who are a bit smaller—some of the Japanese or Chinese ladies, for example. When they’re paired with a large male coach, they can be a little shy—as I am [in the same scenario]. I think being with a female instructor might help them.
“In Perisher, Australia, we had staff training sessions run by and designed specifically for female instructors. It’s more relaxing, less stressful. I like it for myself and I think other ladies are going to like it too. ”
Experience Niseko: Have you enjoyed being part of the GoSnow crew?
Maja: “I liked them all [the staff]. It has been my favourite group of people I’ve worked with for a long time now!”