Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And that's a wrap...

Ah it certainly is good to be home. The trip to Shiga Kogen certainly capped off this year's ski season nicely, and in fact is probably the last skiing I'll ever do in Japan. My brothers have expressed interest in skiing out here at some point, but a trip from Ottawa to Japan flies right over some of the best skiing in the world... the Canadian Rockies... hardly worth travelling twice the distance I think.

Woke up late this morning, 7:15 and headed down for breakfast. Happily, I didn't find natto on my table today as I did yesterday since today's breakfast was self-serve. After a good meal and a chat with Toshiko whom I met yesterday, I headed back to my room to pack my things and prepare for my final few hours of skiing. I then checked out and gladly dished out 24,000Yen for 2 nights accommodation, with breakfast and dinner included AND two days lift ticket... Pretty damn good deal.. The Chu Hotel was simply fantastic, a great place to stay at and I recommend it to anyone heading up Shiga way.

After checking out, I suited up and hit the slopes under a deep blue sky and lovely warm sunshine. Here is a picture I took from my first run of the day, much nicer than yesterday, isn't it?


We were quite lucky that the sun was out, because when clouds came over, the temperature dropped back down around -10 or so during the morning... pretty nippy. Unfortunately, the sun was not enough to loosen things up above about 1200 meters and most of the runs were either really crusty groomed snow or granular powder over sheer ice. I worked my way across familiar territory at first, to warm up a bit and ended up back on Panorama in the Ichonose area. The name now becomes obvious.


After making a few runs down, I once more made up my mind to tackle the black diamond which was sitting at the top of the high-speed quad and which psyched me out all day yesterday. I took my seat on the near empty lift, disembarked at the top and skied along the top of the run for what must be the 5th time in 2 days.... and once more, I chickened out. I don't know why, but I've been really freaked out about expert runs this year, and I guess I've come to a certain realization. My skiing has slipped a bit these last two years due to lack of practice. I now think I am a solid intermediate skier, which is fine... but I used to be better. I guess it's hard to compare the last two winters (4 days of skiing last year, and 6 this year) with my final winter in Canada when I went out some 20+ times. I doubt I'll get out that much next winter, but I will certainly take a couple of lessons to get a couple of things firmed up. That and I'll get my skis fixed since I just discovered a crack in the plate that my binding is screwed into... then I should be all set to go.

Having said that, according to the following photo... my being an Intermediate level skier is nothing to scoff as, since I skied an Olympic run today.


After finding that conditions were nasty in Ichinose, I worked my way back across the mountain(s) and made my way to the top of Takamagahara which connects to the Higashitateyama Olympic run, so named because it was used in the Alpine Skiing competitions in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. For the first time ever, I was skiing while connecting with a bit of history. Pretty cool! The bottom part of the run turns into an expert run which was pretty nasty and scared the bejesus out of me, but I am glad I made my way down there nonetheless. I then quickly made my way back to Takamagahara and skied there for the rest of my short day of skiing. Here is the view down from Takamagahara, at times you could see straight through to Nagano city.


With a bit of a journey home ahead of me, I opted to end my day at noon and headed in to change and catch the bus. As I made my way outside with my bags, I was surprised to see that a group of monkeys had taken over Ichinose. They were on cars, climbing up around the hotels, they were running amok all over the place.


This marks the second time in as many trips that I've seen monkeys in Nagano. Last August when Yoshiko and I went hiking in Kamikochi, we also came across a group or two of the critters. These bad boys were quite a bit more aggressive, actively seeking food from passers by. You were safe, so long as you didn't have anything to eat on your person.


At one point, a whole bunch of them ran by me, including this mother with her little baby on her back.


Despite the imminent monkey threat, I was hungry and headed in to Daily Yamazaki for some grub. This reminds me of a photo I meant to take but didn't... Convenience stores usually have the obligatory umbrella stand out front... in Shiga Kogen, they have ski racks... I love it! As I made my way back to the bus stop, keeping a wary eye out for the monkeys and trying to make my white plastic bag as inconspicuous as possible... I witnessed a genuine monkey attack! A couple were heading to the bus stop with their young daughter in their hands and bags hanging every which way. One of these bags was a white plastic one and one of the male monkeys hanging around made a beeline for it, ripped it apart and made off with one of their daughters' boots! Disappointed that it wasn't food, the monkey headed my way while the couple recovered their stolen items.


The little rascal stood in the middle of the street sizing me up for a bit before deciding to take his shenanigans elsewhere... guess being as big as I am does have its advantages, eh? lol So that was that, I hopped on the bus to Nagano, then the Shinkansen to Omiya and to Utsunomiya where my dear Yoshiko picked me up. Quite nice to be reunited again, as I mentioned before, it just wasn't the same without her. Another nice touch to this trip was that I got to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, the elusive behemoth which I've only seen 4 times now, only once clearly. From all the way out in Saitama, I could see Fuji's West-flank, covered in snow and lit up nicely by the setting sun. And that's curtains on my Japanese ski experience.

Tomorrow, on to a much more spring-ish activity with a run down to Mito to check out Kairakuen's 300+ blossoming plum trees. Looking forward to it, especially since I get to see Yoshi again for only the second time since he moved on down the line to Tsuchiura last May. Next up is coffee with some folks Friday night, dinner with Nozomi on Saturday and my folks arrive in Japan on Monday... more good times ahead!

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