Japan Ski Trip Jan 2015: Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

Geek fail! I never noticed that WordPress doesn’t keep draft revisions after an entry is published (my blank placeholder in this case; which makes total sense now that I think about it), so I didn’t think to keep a backup and lost a whole typed up entry pending photo upload. Let’s try this again. In dot points this time, the entry for the third ski trip of my life at Hakuba (白馬), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan!

10 Jan 2015 (Sat) Day 1: Arrival

  • This ski trip was a little different because Richard was travelling with me! We headed off for our trip straight after work. Having a pleasant travel companion during the long-haul flight made a huge difference.
  • It took us a long time to get to our destination from Tokyo. Bus (airport T2 to T1 to pick up Singapore team), train (to meet up with Hong Kong team), train, bus, bus… All that after the 10-hour flight.
  • It was already after 2:30 pm by the time we got to the hotel, and all shuttle bus out had already left for the day. No skiing today.
  • The hotel was ridiculously more modern and gorgeous compared to the two ryokans I stayed at in my previous trips. Richard you lucky fool.
  • I didn’t expect to see so many Australians here, either! It was 99% local Japanese for my last trips!

11 Jan 2015 (Sun) Day 2: Hakuba Goryu & Hakuba 47

  • Richard, the brother and I rented our gear from the shop in the hotel, while the others who didn’t already have their own went out to rent from other shops.
  • We took the shuttle bus out to ski field Hakuba Goryu (白馬五竜) and joined the others. We also skied at Hakuba47.
  • I actually remember how to ski?! surprised
  • This was also technically Richard’s first time skiing. He picked it up straight away. I lamented my lack of athletic abilities.
  • We took lifts up and skied down the long green trail, where one wrong turn could mean we end up on a double black diamond slope. It was hard to see too with the heavy snow. Shout out to Chee for scouting the route for us and leading the group all safely down.
  • There were also more hiking across fields than I’d like, but I still really enjoyed the day.
  • That was until it’s time to head back, and the queue for the bus was long and growing. People weren’t even really queueing at all and hopped on in random order. We had to stand on the small van, the last shuttle bus of the day.
  • At least I have Richard who earned a lot of boyfriend points by offering to carry my heavy skis for the entirety of this trip. heart
  • I actually remember how to ski!

12 Jan 2015 (Mon) Day 3: Hakuba Goryu

  • More Goryu today, this time for the whole day and with everyone.
  • It’s the last day of the long weekend in Japan, so the crowds for both the slopes and buses did seem to ease up a bit from the afternoon on. No standing on small vans again. Phew.
  • It also meant Chee was heading back home today. It was good to see you again — even though you told everyone else you were happy to see them and/or congratulated them on their progress, but only thanked me for bringing Richard. tongue

13 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 4: Happo-One

  • Two went out to take professional ski classes before they joined us at Happo-One (八方尾根).
  • We skied down a very lovely green trail. Not many had been there yet so the slope was extra pleasant.
  • I then ditched Richard and spent time skiing with my brother down that trail two more times, until lunch where we regrouped with everyone.
  • Got my most favourite shot of the trip: my brother parallel skiing! Yep, I’m still just relearning, and he’s already moved on to parallel.
  • Did Richard seriously successfully attempt a red slope on his first trip as well? I should just quit skiing forever.
  • As the evening drew close, the group contemplated night skiing, but decided against it in the end. I wasn’t very keen myself because it would mostly be skiing down the same slope that we just went down, but at night.
  • The crowd at the bus stop at the end of the day worried me at first, but thankfully most got on different buses.
  • Another fun day I particularly enjoyed!

14 Jan 2015 (Tue) Day 5: Tsugaike Kogen

  • We taxied out to Tsugaike Kogen (栂池高原), which was further away from our hotel than the rest of the fields.
  • It’s quite sunny and warm today, so some of the more popular slopes were really icy and scratchy. Otherwise, these would make the perfect slopes for practice.
  • I discovered first hand that it’s impossible to ski on true powder unless there’s enough speed. That fluffiness, though!

15 Jan 2015 (Wed) Day 6: Tsugaike Kogen

  • There were still many slopes to cover so we returned to Tsugaike. We tried the connecting bus out. It took so much longer.
  • Richard and I split up with the group and let the more experienced try the harder slopes. We took it easy and enjoyed ourselves on the nice green ones.
  • Very heavy snow for our last day of skiing today!
  • Following our positive experience on the first few days, we decided to try the green forest trail here. It was a huge mistake, because the slope was very annoyingly flat. Back to gentle but not annoyingly flat greens!
  • It snowed, and snowed, and snowed. And snowed. I was quite cold at the end.
  • Richard and I missed the bus while we took refuge in a cafe to have yakiniku out in town together as a farewell dinner. Yum!
  • Absolutely no boyfriend suggested, before the trip, for me to bring my hiking shoes so it’s easier to walk on ice and snow. I absolutely didn’t have to walk very slowly back to the hotel, requiring both said boyfriend and the brother to escort me. It never happened. rolleyes

16 Jan 2015 (Thu) Day 7: Last Day

  • The ski fields weren’t accessible by just walking out and there were also the reversed bus-bus-train-train trips back, so we didn’t have enough time for more skiing. We packed up and checked out of the hotel, and made our way to the airport with the Hong Kong team.
  • Sadly, the Hong Kong team were flying out from another terminal, unlike previous times where their boarding gate was directly across mine. We said goodbye on the train. sad
  • But happy to report that I have no bum bruises this time. Yay!

Epilogue

Sydney was hot. It took me a while to adjust back to real life, and for the next few days, I still woke up and expected to eat a big breakfast and head out to the snow for a full day of skiing.

Ski Trip Jan 2015 D2:
Group shot minus one

It was another absolutely wonderful trip. Thank you all once again! See you all in the next trip soon!

Japan Ski Trip Mar 2014: Ishiuchi Maruyama, Niigata, Japan

Not even two months after the previous ski trip at Nozawa Onsen, the friends in Japan organised another one, the last trip of the season. It made sense for them to go because they’re from Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore; I was the only silly person who flew all the way from Sydney again.

The non-local of us arrived on 15 March 2014 (Saturday) from separate flights, but our planes landed around similar times and I actually bumped into them at Narita Airport customs. We didn’t waste any time and took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station as soon as we got our luggage, then went on the “treasure hunt” Chee Yee planned for us to find our tickets from a locker that got us straight to Echigoyuzawa Station (越後湯沢駅), the station closest to our ski resort Ishiuchi Maruyama (石打丸山). Yep, this time we didn’t take some crazy 8-hour overnight bus!

Our lodge was a 10-minute taxi trip from Echigoyuzawa Station. We got there, left all the luggage in the unattended lobby (I’ve learnt to fully trust the Japanese on this), got our rental gear downstairs (no queue and very efficient!), and straight to the ski field we went. And the ski field was only a few minutes of walking away. Everything was just too smooth this time.

Skiing for the second time after a 2-month break felt… strange. I had much better gear this time so that part I didn’t struggle, but I had to relearn skiing all over again. With expectations this time, I felt a little frustrated at my slow progress.

The weather was also a bit unstable. One hour it would be warm and sunny; the next it was snowy and rainy. In the afternoon one day, it started snowing quite heavily. The brother and I were done skiing and I thought I would grab a can of hot black coffee from the vending machine on the way back. As soon as I took my ski glove off, my hand just froze. I couldn’t take any coins out and couldn’t put my glove back on; it was so cold my hand literally hurt. We had to take refuge inside another lodge and I was fantasising about putting my hands inside the fire of the fireplace. That sexy fireplace.

But we skied non-stop for 5 days. Thanks to the friends (who were all super patient seasoned skiers) spending what must have been boring time with me on the green slopes, and the brother later pointing out a mistake he noticed I’d been making (putting weight on the wrong leg), I eventually learnt how to actually ski. I was getting braver, going on ski lifts alone, and even accompanied the group further up the mountain and got to the peak.

Vickie on Summit of Ishiuchi Maruyama
I made it! Summit of Ishiuchi Maruyama!

Next time I would probably wear sunscreen or completely wrap myself up like Deddy.

We also went to the more popular and touristy ski resort, Gala Yuzawa (ガーラ湯沢), nearby. I tried a green/red (borderline) slope there as well. I fell throughout, but was happy I attempted when I made it down to the bottom. Meanwhile, the brother tackled several red slopes voluntarily.

5 days was just about enough of skiing; I think I’ve collected enough bruises now! I do not regret digging into my savings and using pretty much my last days of annual leave for the year. Massive thanks to Kenneth, Deddy, Donny, Benny and Jacky the brother for all of their patience, amazing support and eating all the food with me!

Ishiuchi Maruyama Summit: Group Shot
March 2014 Japan Ski Trip at Ishiuchi Maruyama: the rare group shot at the summit

See you all again next year, I hope! smile

Japan Trip Days 4-6: First Time Skiing: Nozawa Onsen, Nagano, Japan

After dinner, our big ski group took the overnight bus to our destination ski resort. It was a long trip of over 8 hours. The bus stopped for multiple toilet and food breaks during the night, but all I wanted was a warm bed in a dark room for some proper shuteye. I don’t know how much money we ended up saving like that, but I really wouldn’t try that ever again.

I woke up from my intermittent sleep to see all the snow outside the window:

Yay!

We eventually got to the ski resort, Nozawa Onsen. We had to queue up for a long time in a super small and packed shop to get our rented gear. It took another long time before I was fitted, learnt how to wear them, learnt how to walk in them (read: waddle), learnt how to go up and down stairs in them (read: more waddle), learnt how to carry the skis without knocking the ceiling out or killing others… and we were finally at the bottom of the greenest of green slope.

It was my first time skiing ever. I quickly learnt that:

  1. I was dressed entirely too warm for beginner skiing.
  2. Once fallen, it is next to impossible to get up from the flat snow ground with ski gear on.
  3. The above point is apparently only true for total beginners like me.
  4. I am terrible at this.

Chee Yee, our friend and coach with the sprained ankle for the trip, taught us the very basics of skiing, which I failed at miserably. The brother was much more adept at this and was brought up on the ski lift to the top of the green slope. It took him a while to get back to the bottom, but he did make it down and we were all very amazed and proud of his progress.

We have never been more exhausted. We fell dead asleep when we headed back to the lodge.

On the second day, we wasted no time and headed straight out after breakfast. It was an unfortunately warm and sunny day and the snow was melting a little. Honestly, it made no difference to a total beginner.

Kenneth, another more seasoned skier, took me on my first ski lift trip. I still didn’t know how to turn or stop yet and had no fear of speed. Very deadly combination.

In about 5 seconds, I made it from the top of the slope to the bottom. I fell a lot, laughed a lot, and bruised even more.

I went up several more times, until I had one last fall that left me with both skis in the air, a sprained left thumb, a scratched nose, and taste of blood in my mouth. I slid on the snow for over 10m before I eventually stopped. I was okay, but was finally scared enough to stop and rest.

Another dead night of sleep back at the lodge.

We woke up to this on the third day:

So, so much more snow; we they were all very excited (still didn’t mean much to a total beginner like me). I did, however, get my courage back and was back on the ski lift and slope. More laughs and bruises, but thankfully no more bleeding — outside the skin, that is!

It was near noon and we had to take another long bus trip back to Tokyo soon. We couldn’t believe our three days of skiing was over just like that. This ski trip was really an experience of a lifetime.

Half of the Lovely Ski Group
This is only half of the lovely group of new friends; photo taken in the lobby of Resort Inn Chitose (I’m the one in pink)

Hopefully this isn’t the last — skiing, or hanging out with such an awesome group of friends. smile