It rained all day Tuesday, so reasonably fresh snow for Saturday was guaranteed. Saturday dawned with a blue sky and there was an expectant buzz as everyone waited for the train. I’d been advised to get to the platform early as the queues were likely to be long, and indeed there was a carefully set up system, with everyone waiting politely, yet when the bullet train pulled in it was a bit of a scramble. I got a seat – just.
It was my first trip to Japan, and after a week of meetings and seeing the inside of an office it was great to have the chance to see a bit of the country. I don’t normally add on personal time to work trips but when was I likely to be back in Japan, in the winter, and at a weekend?. This was definitely adding something to my challenge to ski throughout the year.
The Shinkansen (bullet train) sped across the flat plain and there was an excited chatter inside. As we neared the mountains we entered a series of long tunnels and finally emerged at Gala Yuzawa into a blizzard. The chatter stopped and there was a moment of complete silence in the train as the shock sank in. Where did that snowstorm come from?
The train station was also the bottom station of the ski resort – called Cowabunga. I got my lift ticket and skis with help from Amy – a japanese australian – and she showed me the locker system. Everyone had travelled up on the train in normal clothes and got changed into ski gear at the resort. I had taken my own boots – there are no size 47 in Japan…
A gondola takes you to the central ski area and from here a series of lifts fanned out. Due to the snow, only a half of the area was open, though it gradually stopped snowing, and by 1.00pm the whole resort opened and there were breaks in the cloud and great views in all directions.
This was a different world to skiing in Europe – the noise levels were amazing – a resident DJ was blasting out music from the base station, which was relayed to speakers on all the pylons – there was no escape from motown (in the morning), cool jazz and then hip hop (in the afternoon). There were floodlights on, due I guess, to the gently falling snow, and people everywhere. Boarders were well represented. Most people skied at a slow speed, and I found myself taking a scything route through the crowds. The snow was fantastically light, though the pistes were narrow and fenced off, so no chance to go off piste.
I heard one english voice all day, and choosing lunch involved pointing and nodding.
In the afternoon I managed to inadvertantly break the system by skiing over the back of the resort and into another ski area. Here the slopes were wider and longer. I did 3 runs before they found an english speaking attendent who informed me that my lift ticket was not valid for this resort.
Then it was back on the Shinkansen. Time for a quick sleep as it passed through the tunnels and arrived back in Tokyo 77 minutes later. Thanks to the folks at WeLoveSnow.com for arranging the tickets that made the day trip so easy.