A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Following a month of almost continuous snow storms that buried west Japan, the weather has given way to some welcome sunshine, and not so welcome rain.

I’ve been making the most of the powderous conditions, hitting local ski resorts whilst the going was good. Thus, I come to tell you of my best powder day, ever.

The scene is set in Shiramine, a small yet fun ski area lying just over the boarder into neighbouring prefecture, Ishikawa. Using my lingering jetlag to my advantage, I was up early and on the road by 8am. As I powered along the white roads in four wheel drive, the tall snow banks dwarfed my car.

It was a solo mission. My normal posse had been unable to make it, but not wanting to waste such great conditions, I decided to go it alone. I arrived within a hour, and pulled into the car park, surprised to see just 30 other vehicles. It seemed the snow storm had persuaded most people to stay at home.

I bought a day ticket and walked straight on to the lift. The place was ridiculously empty despite it being a Saturday, and I did not wait in line once the whole day. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, but I rarely see evidence of it.

Goggled, gloved and hooded, barley a square inch of skin was exposed as I surveyed the terrain from the lift. The snow was so deep that my board dragged on the surface at times on the way up.

All I could hear was the soothing sound of snowflakes falling on my hood, like rain on a tent. I watched two figures emerge from the whiteness, sweeping past in the thigh deep crystals, snow streaming from their bodies like a jet’s vapour trail, before they disappeared back into the mist. It was going to be a good day.

At the top of the lift, the snow was coming down so fast that it took me a while to get my bearings. Despite visiting Shiramine several times last season, the stormy conditions were disorientating. I eventually realised my position, and headed for a run I’d remembered being pretty sweet last year.

And how sweet it was. The snow was so light and powdery, every turn was a rooster tail. I headed for the side of the run, but forgot to lean back on my board. The nose dug in and catapulted me into bottomless yuki. I lay there laughing for a while, trying to dig myself out and get back to the shallower snow of the piste. My efforts were futile. The snow was too deep. I had to detach from my plank and swim through the pow to make it back to safety.

As the day went on my confidence grew, and with it my speed. I began taking on drops, dipping into the trunks, slashing snow banks and plumping powder pillows, leaving a tracer of fine flakes spurting from my exhaust.

Sometimes I’d fall, leading to temporary imprisonment in the deep drifts. Other times I’d launch from a pillow and explode into the powder below, my board a bomb, then ride away with a racing heart and a big smile on my face.

Several short breaks in the wooded slope side restaurants saw me through the day. Recharging on hot chocolate, yaki-soba (fried noodles) and curry mahn, I was able to enjoy the awesome conditions all day long.

And so it continued – endless lines in bottomless snow - until the incident. Riding fast under the lifts, buzzing from the shouts of “sugoi!” as I dodged dangling skis, I hit a submerged tree trunk, which took me straight out, and left me lying on my back, gasping in pain. After a few minutes, I assessed the damage – fortunately no breaks, just some bruises, and the decision to call it a day.

And there it is. As I was alone, no pictures were taken, and those who know the joys of powder will understand the difficulties in translating the experience to text. Balls deep, face shots, champagne snow - there’s only so many words you can use to describe such a day and most of them have been heavily over used already.

I’ll finish by saying that I feel lucky to have had such a great day, and lucky to have escaped major injury. After all, due to that tree trunk, this could have been the “worst powder day, ever” but that’s a story I hope I’ll never write.


Blogger CJ said...

Great writing! Bring a tear to a glass eye.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 10:41:00 am

Anonymous Hugh said...

Thanks for the insight, I'll be in Fukui from Monday and staying for 3 weeks so I should see some good conditions :)

Friday, January 20, 2006 6:03:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am inspired!


Tuesday, January 24, 2006 9:42:00 am

Blogger Lewis said...

Good work Sam, wish I could have been there with you. On course for this weekend though, gammy eye getting better, powder here we come!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 9:11:00 pm


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