Sunday, December 18, 2005

Notes to self...

After a fantabulously wonderful day of skiing on Hunter Mountain near Nasu today, a few notes to remember for next time:

1. When planning an event which requires an early departure with Alex, call 30 minutes before the pickup time, then again 10 minutes later to make sure he hasn't dozed off again.
2. When planning an event which requires a departure of Alex from his apartment, ensure he is in possession of his apartment key and any other important goods BEFORE you leave.
3. It's cold and snowy at an elevation of 1.6 kilometers in the Winter.
4. The Japanese have some pretty darned good ideas about some things.
5. Utsunomiya is a small town, Utsunomiya's skiing community is smaller.
6. Never, EVER, ever, ever do just one last run at the end of the day.
7. Day of skiing with only 2 coffees serving as hydration for the day = Michel passing out after the Onsen.

First of all, we had an excellent day today. THANK YOU MOTOKI!!! There's no other way to put it, this was the best ski season start I've ever had. Considering last year I was starting out skiing on a 200 meter hill and this year I started out on a 1600 meter mountain... you can easily see a dramatic improvement, right? The snow was great on Hunter, better than anything I skied on back home... pretty much ice free until the last two runs of the day, and even then only on expert runs... pretty damn good. The snow was coming down like crazy from the time we headed into the mountains until it was time for our last run, when the skies opened up a bit and gave us a nice view of the entire ski hill from the very top. I will admit it was pretty windy, and it was relatively cold because of it... but we came prepared (I had with me my entire arsenal of Winter gear which helped me ski at Camp Fortune one night in -35 degree cold) and had a great day.

So Motoki picked me up this morning at 7AM, the agreed meeting time, and we headed over to Alex's place to pick him up. Since he'd replied to an email I sent this morning, I figured he was awake and ready to go... however, this is what we encountered upon entering his apartment... he woke up early but dozed back to sleep shortly thereafter, and so we had a bit of a late start, just 10 minutes or so, so no big deal... funny nonetheless. Not only that, but he made us turn around once we got going because he'd forgotten his key in the door. In his defense, the key is a bit odd in that it is just a flat piece of metal, which you can't really attach to a key chain or anything... but after all that we were on our way.

We quickly stopped at Family Mart on the way to the mountain to pick up supplies and were greeted by this lovely view of the mountains which were our objective for the day.

We made pretty damn good time, going up the famous Nikko tree-lined avenue up through Imaichi and into the mountains. As we approached, I got my first glimpse of snow since some time last April when it all melted from Ottawa... This is at the base of the mountains, in Imaichi.

As we made our way into the mountains proper we started to get dumped on, this was the lovely Winter scene on one of the switchbacks up the mountain.... reminds me of home... sniff sniff... Striking difference when you start heading into them hills right?

We made our way slowly across the snow-covered roads and finally reached our destination, the skiing Mecca of Hunter Mountain Shiobara. As we pulled in to the parking lot, I noticed that Japanese skiers have this strange custom of pointing their wipers up into the sky... maybe as an homage\prayer to the gods of snow?

Oddly enough, I haven't seen this done in Canada, though I have been stuck bashing at the wipers on my truck to free them from ice multiple times. I guess for the amount of times we drive around, it's easier to fight with frozen wipers than to point them up into the air all the time. If you're going skiing for a day, sure no problemo, avoid the hassles when you get back to your car. As we parked and started getting ready for the day, I came upon realization number 5. As we were gearing up, Alex looks at me and says "Hey, isn't that Yuki?"... and sure enough it was. Parked one row back was Yuki, one of our students, with whom I went to Cafe Praktica last Tuesday. He'd mentioned he was an avid boarder (today was his 3rd trip this season) but I certainly didn't expect to meet anyone I knew on the hills!!!

So Alex fixed up his new skis, and we were ready to go... as we headed to the hill, Alex showed his dexterity by simultaneously sitting on his skis and grabbing Motoki's ass...

So we headed down to the ski slope and purchased our lift microchip (which you slide across a sensor at the automated gates to enter the lifts) and headed up the quad for our first run of the day. Here's a first shot of us at the top. Notice our nonchalant attitude and relatively high level of exposed skin... that was soon to change as the gods of Hunter Mountain whipped up a nasty biting wind half way down our first run and forced us to go to DefCon1 and deploy all we had. I was glad I had opted to slap on jogging pants and a long sleeved shirt (as opposed to my original plans of shorts and a short sleeved shirt) but Alex had to head in to the ski shop to buy goggles and a face mask... both items which he needed anyways.... and surprisingly, the prices were not bad at the shop on the hill.

So we headed down a couple of times before deciding to stick to the middle of the hill and ride the double lift up instead of skiing all the way down and riding the busier quad or gondola. The snow was great, deep and pretty fast, and we quickly found our skiing legs.

Everything was going great until Motoki decided to jump off the chair lift and snowboard "hors' piste" down around the chair lift supports in the deep powder and almost got us all kicked off the mountain. Thankfully he was able to escape the ski patrollers sent to round him up and due to his attire, was quickly able to blend into the crowds at the bottom of the hills and avoid detection.

So against my better judgment, since I like to take it pretty easy on my first time out, I succumbed to the pressures of the Alex-meister. He had us doing intermediates on our third run, and expert runs on the 4th... it was absolutely amazing, though I am feeling the effects now. My experience with expert runs have been that they are covered in ice and more closely related to skating than skiing, making them practically suicide runs in my opinion. These were covered in heavy snow, not so (my dear god my English is getting bad in Japan, I can't think of the word I want) worn down by use. We made a couple of real great speed runs, with Alex and I racing each other down to the bottom before heading in to one of the chalets on the hill for lunch. And "What does one eat for lunch on a ski hill in Japan?" one might ask? Sushi? Udon? Ramen? Nope... this chalet offered up the choices of curry, curry, curry or curry.... so we decided to go with the curry... and it was good. Curry's a good choice as a meal while skiing, warm, hearty, filling... it was pretty good considering it was reheated at the top of a hill. I also grabbed a coffee, to warm up a little bit...

With our curry, came a dish of grape jelly\jello... and the following odd item.

Being a novice at skiing in Japan, I was quite curious as to what this flat piece of paper served for... maybe floss? removal of excess snow\ice from one's ski goggles? Nope... it's a spoon...

I guess when you have to drag everything up to the top of a mountain using either snow machines or ski lifts, you come up with some ways to save on space... and it worked great!

Proving again that we live in a small town\world... who comes in for lunch at the same time as us? Well our good friend Yuki of course... this was the second of three run ins with the smiling snowboarder pictured below... none of them which actually happened while skiing... odd.

After lunch, we decided to give the gondola a try since we were a bit cold and the prospect of open lifts no longer appealed to us. It was a nice comfortable ride, we got to talk with a few people and stay relatively warm and well protected from the wind. The near-blizzard conditions at the top top of the hill however made us quickly forget the warmth of the gondola. However, the runs we did from up there were fantastic... fast and furious with Alex and I trying to make our way down faster... I had the unfair advantage of quite a bit of extra weight, but he has longer (by 15 centimeters!!!) skis than I do... so you'd figure we were even... it was great! And the gondola lines quickly thinned out as most people were scared off by the cold\windy conditions.

And so we came down the hill around 3:30 and decided to make one last run before the lifts shut down at 3:45. Upon making this decision, I forgot the one law that Rene and I discussed last year... you never, EVER, do "just one last run." Why? Well because the day has gone so well so far, why give fate the possibility of messing things up? Including today, the last three ski outings I've done have had less than great results when it comes to the "last run" of the day. Last March, my brother broke his wrist while snowboarding down the LAST RUN of the day, on the LAST SKI TRIP of the year with the ski club. On the very next ski trip, during the last run of the night, the skis of my apprentice (5? year old) tripped up with mine and sent us careening into a cloud of powder resulting in a sliced tongue for the poor child (I hope she'll be willing to try skiing again this year...) And today, after a great day during which I was the only one of our party not to take any tumbles in the snow, Alex and I settled in to our last run of the day. Since my ankles were starting to hurt, we took a quick break in the chalet at the very top of the hill for some minor adjustments during which time the sun started coming out and the snow slacked off for the first time since we arrived. This is a shot of me at the top, you can actually see the buildings half way down the hill for the first time today.

So we headed down a run we'd previously hit twice and about half way down I realize I'm in trouble. Being too tired and running down a black run is usually not a good idea, especially at the end of the day when there are bald spots starting to show and the runs get MUCH faster. After hitting a few icy patches and losing my rhythm, my legs gave up on me, refusing to carve and thus greatly impeding my ability to slow down. I headed up an exit ramp off to the right hoping to slow down a bit in the deeper snow but ended up doing a face plant (while laughing heartily all along) directly into a snow bank. So there you go, I've decided... no more "last runs" from now on. I will spontaneously decide (from the bottom of the hill) when to end my day of skiing, never using the words "last" and "run" in a sentence together.

And here is Mister Alex, all colour coordinated and stuff, near the scene of my one fall for the day... We made our way back down the rest of the hill with no further incidents, finishing on an almost graceful note.

So as you can see, we had a fantastic day... but the fun wasn't over yet as we were about to take part in the great Japanese tradition of going to an Onsen after skiing. Much better in my opinion than the Canadian tradition of drinking beer after skiing... So after pretending to be lost for a while in order to get us to the Onsen after the "after 6PM 100Yen discount" line, Motoki got us to a nice Onsen\Dance hall\Udon and Soba restaurant\residence and we gratefully stripped out of our wet clothes, showered up and entered the warm (not hot, kind of like bath water) waters for an hour long soak, both inside and outside, at this Onsen. After an hour, we decide to make tracks, towel off and head to the locker room, at which point my day caught up to me REALLY quickly. Immediately upon entering the unheated locker room, I began to feel dizzy, woozy and the room started spinning. After putting on a shirt and starting to put on my boxers, I felt bad enough I had to sit down in mid-dress. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground and Alex and Motoki were helping me back up with worried looks in their eyes. Thanks to quick reflexes, Alex managed to save my head from bashing against some shelves, THANKS! I sat back up, assured them I was alright and continued to dress. Little did I know, I was gonna konk right back out again, this time without the dramatic falling off the bench move. They woke me up again at which point someone pointed out the lack of hydration during our day of skiing. Except for the bottle of coffee on the ride up and the coffee at lunch, I hadn't drank anything since going to bed last night... that added to the hot waters of the Onsen and the cold temperature in the locker room and it was lights out for the big man... lol Quite frightening feeling really, I had no idea why I was so messed up all of a sudden, having never had any health problems it was really bad to feel so weak and to see concern in the faces of my friends. They say my face just drained of colour when I came in to the locker room, and then when I sat down my chin just settled on my chest as if I was jokingly going asleep before I keeled over forward. Second time my head tilted back and I started snoring??? STRANGE!!! After a quick can of Aquarius from the Onsen's vending machine (which I've since supplemented with an additional liter of Aquarius, half a carton of orange juice, a quarter carton of milk and 3 glasses of water since arriving home), I was feeling MUCH better. It's strange because I ALWAYS keep hydrated when skiing, especially on cold days, which really take a toll on your body. I'd usually grab 4-5 bottles of liquids throughout the day on top of what I drank with lunch, but today I guess with the excitement of it being our first time out, coupled with the pretty intense skiing we were doing.... I simply forgot.... Never again.

So that's about that, I need to wipe off my skis now, lay my stuff out to dry and GO TO SLEEP! I withstood Alex's attempts to get me out skiing with him again tomorrow, he's heading to Koriyama to meet up with Alfred before heading up to the Alts near Inawashiro (where I went in August) and Bandai mountain. Crazy guy! He's trying to make up for last year, he didn't go skiing once... I got out 20-30 times last year so I'm quite pleased with a slow start and would much rather cook up some dinner for my girl and have a nice evening at home since I didn't get to see her today.

One week from today, I'll be in China! My, how this trip has run up on me... have to start packing pretty soon, make sure I have all the papers\info I need and such.... I can't wait!

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