Hot Springs, Cold Snow

Apologies for the confusion of having accidentally posted the start of this trip as a page, not a post. Still trying to work out how to fix that! If you have not yet seen the start of the trip “winter in Spring” find it on the main page. Also apologies for the lack of updates, I have been suffering a few technical issues….As a result, have decided to post the ski section as one, and will update with our final Tokyo section once the ski section has posted! Also having picture problems so will post pictures later.

Our first days skiing was Monday, and after the snow for our arrival yesterday, we had a day of almost sunshine and lovely conditions. Good light, great snow, fantastic pistes, groomed immaculately, plus we got to ski with Stu, Meagan and the girls. The additional benefit was that they could show us round the runs, without us having to stop and look at piste maps every time we got to a junction! It was lots of fun and great to see the girls skiing so well, bombing off ahead of us and no worries about powder or lumps and bumps on the piste.

We had a lovely day out, the old ski muscles cranked back to life, but by the end of the day, I was ready for the onsen. As we had a short walk down the hill to the lodge, we went back to drop our skis and change, grab our onsen basket and then catch up with the others at the top onsen. It was a much warmer changing area than the fancy onsen we went in yesterday, so not half as bad getting ready to go in. The change area was also closed off from the pool with glass doors making a very steamy interior to the pool area. It was delightful to unwind the days muscles in the hot steamy water and this onsen had anti aging properties as a bonus.

We popped back to our lodge to take our onsen gear home then headed down the hill to find the nights restaurant. Tonkinichi, where they did pancake however you like – okonomayaki. Bonus they also did gyoza, so we overdosed on everything. Somehow the enormous amount of food we ordered disappeared. after the huge amount of food, it was all we could do to get up the hill and head home, though Pete and I did manage a quick game of cribbage and a little sake before falling fast asleep!

Tuesday dawned not great with a fair amount of overcast and snow periodically falling. Pete and I had booked a powder lesson to try to improve our Australian techniques, and by the time we were due for our lesson at 1045, snow was falling heavily. We met up with Daniel at the Nagasaka gondola, and were pleased to find him an Austrian. Daniel took us up to yamabiko, at the top of the hill, to find some powder to have a test run in. The visibility was totally crap, with thick cloud obscuring any view, and then added snowfall to make it interesting. The first thing Daniel had said to me was that I was going to find it tough with my very short carving skis. And do you know what? I did! I cant really work out why I said ok to the 143 cm Dynastars, but I would have been happy on them in Australia, carving up the ice! For cruising actual real powder, they were way too short and narrow.

I did ok at first, but had to work super hard at it, and then was starting to get tired and closer to the end of the lesson I started falling a lot. Poor Daniel must have been bored stiff digging me out and helping me up from my personal powder holes! By the time we ended the lesson I was buggered, but had picked up a few tips to work on, once I exchanged my skis for longer, wider skis. Pete had benefited hugely from the lesson, and was already skiing better as we worked our way down the mountain.

We decided to head back to the lodge to change my skis, but by the time we got there, it was about 2pm, and the weather still very closed in, so we called it an early day. We changed my skis, then wandered through the town, finding the cooking onsen, stopping for a drink, also having a steamed bun and touring the shops. Its a cool place, still pretty traditional, not much english in signage or menus, so sometimes it was hard to work out the shop or restaurant. Pete and I headed to the onsen early, and each had the onsen to ourselves for the most part. As we left, Meagan, Caitlin and Sophie arrived to have the onsen to thierselves.

Again we dined on way too much food, gotta love the equivalent of tapas, though Japanese style. Great food, though here there are not much in the way of veg, other than cabbage, the local greens pickled, and a variety of other pickles! After dinner, Pete, Stu and I headed to the sake bar to test some sake. Lucky for me, I discovered the sparkling sake – they were happy, but I was happier!

Wednesday was a sparkling, blue bird day as they call it here. It could not have been more beautiful. After morning lessons for the girls, we all caught up for lunch and then skied the afternoon together. Sophie and Caitlin were fearless and happy to go at anything, having heaps of fun showing us the way around. We took loads of video of them, and it was so much fun seeing them enjoy it so much. In the evening after the onsen we headed up to the big cooking onsen and watched the sunset, but it got so very cold after that we had to go to a bar to warm up. The bar took rather too long warming our sake, so we ended up with boiling sake, we had to skull so we were not late for our dinner booking!!

Another great dinner, again too much food, but followed by a walk around town, then home for an early night. Thursday dawned with signs of rain. After yesterdays sunshine there had been a lot of melt, and followed by warmer temperatures and rain, a great deal of the snow in the village seemed to disappear. However, by mid afternoon, levels were almost back as they were! We did not rush out on Thursday, and it was not pleasant skiing. We persevered and headed to the top of the mountain, but the visibility up there was terrible, mainly because of the cloud. At one point we got quite lost and by luck managed to find the right track back to a lift point. We stuck out the day until about 3pm, trying to ski as much as possible, but it wasnt terribly enjoyable and again we were down the mountain early. Pete went for an onsen but I had an afternoon nap, and we met up at Neo bar after, also with Stu, Meagan and the girls.

We walked down town to the new “food court” in the old steel works, and had a fun meal, ordering bits and pieces from all the different shops. We stayed there a while, tasting everything, then wandered home, for an early night. We hoped that the forecast for the next morning of clearing snow showers was accurate.

On waking, the forecast looked like it was going to be right. Blue patches, showing amongst the snow showers. There had been about 25 cm of snow overnight, and this felt like it was going to be a good day. After breakfast, we headed out to the slopes, with snow flurries still happening but clearly plenty of snow having fallen overnight. We wondered if there was enough cover over over the carved up runs. Here, they dont groom the black runs, so once they are carved up it takes a really big fall to make them worth skiing again. On the other hand the groomed runs are awesome, often with powder trails along the side, fresh for the taking in the early part of the day.

At the top of the gondola the visibility was again terrible and so we decided to stay lower, and had a few good runs before visibility became non existent. It came and went, but the snow settled in and by lunch time we decided that we needed a break. Today though we lunched up the mountain, so we needed to ski down to finish. This was a good a move, as we did a heap of skiing in the afternoon, making the most of the low down powder that had settled, to test our abilities after the lesson. I finally found some balance and began to feel a slight ability, though i think i would have like some longer skis, than the 150cms I had ended up with.

This was Stu and Megan’s last evening here, as they were leaving on Saturday at lunchtime, so we went out for dinner after the onsen and a quick walk around town for the girls to do some last minute shopping. Pete and I had taken the chance to pop into “Foot”, the bar that had the takayoki balls served at the window. We had a couple of drinks and a set of takayoki to keep the hunger at bay until dinner! When we did meet up with the others, we stopped in at a restaurant we had not booked for, but they had room for us around an open fire. We settled in gratefully with another couple who seemed happy to share with us. As ever, we ordered the complete Japanese feast, and all proceeded to polish off everything we ordered, from gyoza to fried octopus legs and all the fancy pickles in between. This time our sake glasses, came served in a little wooden box, and the waiter overpoured, so the sake overflowed into the box. Apparently this is the thing, you then refill your glass from the box! Being a few drinks ahead, I felt smashed by the end of dinner and was struggling to hold any intelligent conversation! I can only put it down the the altitude!!!

We wandered through town on the way home, stopped from cream buns at our favourite bun shop, while Sophie demolished an ice cream. It made me cold just thinking about ice cream!

We met up with Stu, Megan, Caitlin and Sophie in the morning, for their last morning of skiing. It was another bluebird day, thank goodness as it was also our last day, though we had the whole day. We all skied across to Hikage to get the gondola, and this was the only time Pete and I stopped to take our skis off to get up the hill. We all skied Chellenger – a huge red run, which the girls were awesome at, then Pete, Stu and I decided that Utopia looked good. It is a huge very steep black run, but it had been pisted in the middle, so while the girls went up and did another Challenger, we toughed out Utopia. It was awesome, and for an added bonus the chair lifts were open over this side because it was the weekend and we didnt need to get the gondola back up.

It was however cold at the top of the mountain, and before long, we all needed to find a warm drink. Megan decided that it was just too cold, and with packing to finish, she went back to the lodge. Stu, Pete, the girls and I went to Craft Bar at the foot of Nagasaka, where we had fabulous coffee and hot chocolate. In fact we were sorry to have found this place on our last day – its an Aussie run cafe/bar with terrific coffee. Pete and I agreed we would have breakfast here in the the morning! After our warming drink, we did a couple of last runs at Nagasaka, before fare-welling Stu and the girls with a couple of fun runs through the trees with jumps.

Pete and I skied our pants off in the afternoon, stopping only for our small picnic of bread, salami, cheese and sake near the top of Yamabiko. It was so busy up there and queues so bad, we stuck to the lower sections of the mountain, and ran in some black runs we had not been on before. Towards Hikage, for some reason there were less people and the snow was much better, and we had a fantastic afternoon. it was probably my best days skiing – I need to remember it takes me a week now to get my ski legs back! We left the slopes about 1630, our latest day in the whole week, and went almost straight to the onsen. After packing, we went out to find the okonomayaki restaurant, and much to our surprise we were able to get a table and there were very few others there.

We finished our final night by going back to the sake bar, but they had no more sparkling sake, so we made do with ordinary sake. A final cream bun and a little shopping, then to bed, for our last nights sleep in our futon with the fluffiest doona ever! In the morning, we had a very light breakfast, organised our bags for pick up, then went over to Craft for coffee and smashed avo on toast. When we had our fill of good coffee, we made our way back to the lodge, picked up our bags and headed to the bus station. A quick bus ride down to Liyama, and before long we were back on the bullet train, snow receding into the distance, as we once again approached the Tokyo megalopolis.

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