Saturday, February 23, 2008

Weekend ski trip

I got back last night from an overnight ski trip. It's a pretty interesting way of doing things.

Sayaka and I caught the 10pm shinkansen from Tokyo north up towards Niigata to Echgo Yuzawa, a little resort town full of hot springs and ski slopes. We had to exit the train at Echigo Yuzawa and wait a bit for the shuttle bus to pick us up. They didn't list what time the train left that we were supposed to board, and the information guys told us that we had about 3 minutes to board a train going that direction, so we jumped aboard the wrong train, but at least going in the right direction.

The shuttle bus took us to the Gala resort spa. This is the cool part. The building where the spa is also has the ski rental shop, the gondola up to the ski slopes, and a shinkansen station for the trip back. Talk about all-inclusive. So we went to the onsen in the spa and slept in the relaxation room there. Typically, the room's are nicely-lit with tatami floors and soothing music. Everything that makes relaxing easier. But this one was hard carpeting and fluorescent lights, and I forgot my sleeping bag. It made for a rather hard night's sleep.

And from here on out, everything kinda went downhill. We woke up in the morning to an announcement that the gondola was closed due to high winds, but our lift pass would be tradeable at another resort. I had to rent my skis at the first place, though, and haul them onto the bus for 20 minutes to the other resort. That one wasn't so bad, but it was pretty crowded.

One cool thing was that at the very highest lift, there was a small restaurant serving Okinawan food, incongruously enough. But there was also a stand outside selling beer and cocktails, with several young people sitting around sipping away. Thirsty? Just grab a beer, chug it down, then head down that black diamond slope. No problem.

This probably explains the most annoying part of the day, every goddamn snowboarder's penchant for parking themselves in the middle of the slope, just sitting there, sometimes in twos and threes. It's not all that uncommon, actually.

If you go to the beach here in the summer, you'll see surfers bobbing up and down in large groups way out. Every now and then one of them will halfheartedly try to get a wave, but most of the time they're just out there bobbing. But they're surfers - that's their hobby. Evidently, those same bastards are snowboarders in the winter.

Our perfectly-laid plans of hitting the slopes early ruined, we didn't get out til about 10am, and we had to catch the 3pm shuttle back to the first place so I could return my skis without a penalty. We'd only been out til about noon, with the weather going from just above freezing with beautiful clear skies and awesome views, to threatening clouds on the horizon, to lots of snow coming down and visibility reduced to not very much. It was tough to tell where the edges of the slopes were, especially if there were no trees marking the places you obviously shouldn't be skiing on. But at least other skiers were visible and you could follow them down or at least dodge the idiots blocking half the slope. We decided to wait it out, in the restaurant at the top of the mountain, but after a couple hours the the wind was blowing harder, picking up the bits of ice on the ground and slamming them into your face. Not the best conditions. After a few times down where I nearly hit or got hit by several skiers, we decided to pack it in.

We actually snuck aboard an earlier shinkansen and headed back. The weather was so bad it delayed all the trains, so we ended up arriving back in Tokyo at the time out normal train would've made it back anyway. The train ride was alright, between sleeping and listening to all the TEDtalks I'd loaded onto my iPod.

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