The chilly winter sport of skiing has become a hot vacation option for Singaporeans. An increasing number of thrill-seekers are opting for winter holidays devoted to, or which include, skiing, in Korea, China and Japan, and further afield to France and Switzerland.
Ms Emeline Tan tried skiing on a group tour and loved it so much, she became a ski instructor.
Those taking a shine to the icy slopes include father of two Soo Yew Weng, 47, who has made skiing a regular fixture in his family's year-end vacation plans since they picked up the sport at Club Med Sahoro in Hokkaido in 2006.
"We had been going for beach holidays in the region so I thought it would be nice for the kids to try something new and experience snow," says the senior vice-president of sales in a broadcasting company. He has two daughters aged 11 and 13.
While the learning experience was "very, very painful" and the family took many tumbles in the snow, they now enjoy the sport so much that they have visited other ski resorts such as Club Med Tignes Val Claret in France in 2010 and Korea's popular Yongpyong ski resort last year.
Next month, they head to Club Med Peisey-Vallandry in the French Alps for eight days of skiing with five other families.
Mr Soo, who paid about $10,000 for his family of four's upcoming Club Med trip, says: "The ski vacations are something we look forward to. Singapore is a tropical country and it is nice to get out to do a sport that cannot be done here."
Travel agents such as Chan Brothers Travel and ASA Holidays tell SundayLife! that they have seen an annual growth in sales of ski packages of between 15 and 20 per cent over the past three years.
Club Med, better known for its sun, sea and sand escapes, has 22 snow resorts worldwide and has experienced an average year-on-year growth of 21 per cent in the number of Singaporeans visiting them since 2009. Their favourite spots are Club Med Sahoro and China's Yabuli, the brand's only two snow resorts in Asia. Rates start from about $2,000 for an eight-day package in Yabuli for an adult, including return airfare.
Such is the demand for the gravity-defying sport that at CTC Travel, ski packages now make up about 50 per cent of its annual overall year-end business in November and December, compared to 30 per cent two years ago, says its senior vice-president of marketing and public relations, Ms Alicia Seah.
While most sales come from group tours offering one to two days for first-timers to experience skiing in Korea, China and Japan, Ms Seah notes there is a fast-growing number of experienced skiers opting for CTC's free-and-easy packages.
She says: "As recent as three years ago, Singaporeans wanted to only experience what it was like to ski. So they would choose regional destinations to enjoy the one- to two-day ski experience. But as more take up skiing seriously, they tend to spend double the duration at regional ski resorts or explore more ski destinations such as those in the Swiss and French Alps."
About 10 per cent of those who join CTC's group tours eventually take up free-and-easy ski packages. At Chan Brothers Travel, 50 per cent of its ski tour sales come from free-and-easy ski holidays and the rest is made up of group tours with up to two days of skiing.
A seven- to nine-day group tour package to Korea and China with one or two days' skiing costs from $600 to $1,300 a person including airfare and ski gear rental and up to $2,400 for Japan. A four-day free-and-easy ski package to Korea costs about $1,000 a person including airfare and accommodation, and up to about $7,000 for an eight-day stay including airfare at a Club Med resort in the French Alps.
Ms Emeline Tan, 36, was an inline skating instructor when she tried skiing as part of CTC's Korea winter group tour in 2002 - and fell in love with the sport. She went on to pursue a ski instructor course in Canada's Whistler resort in 2006 and it is now her career.
She flies with her Singapore clients to destinations including Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand to conduct skiing lessons. Her rates start from $150 an hour for a group of four and clients also pay her fares and accommodation. She receives about four to six bookings for each ski season, from December to March in the northern hemisphere and June to August in the southern hemisphere, which is double the number three years ago. Her clients are mostly affluent families with kids aged as young as three to those in their teens.
On why she fell in love with skiing, she says: "I love the cold and the adrenaline rush of skiing downslope. Plus, you get to wear colourful winterwear."
This article was first published in The Straits Times newspaper on November 11, 2012. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. Please note: To access this section of The Straits Times online you will need to be a subscriber; to subscribe, go to www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop.