Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ski, Sauna & Sushi

The first picture that came to my mind when my friend Y. proposed a few weeks ago to do some skiing in Japan was the now defunct indoor ski slopes at Japan SSAWS dome that you can see when you are taking the bus from Narita airport on your way to downtown Tokyo. Not very exciting, yet interesting to try for a day or so; but I was willing to get myself into trouble for the sake of swallowing some snowflakes.

[Niseko Ski Resort]

The problem was that the last time I spent more than two days skiing in a row, George W. Bush Senior was president of the US, and my skis were bigger than me by a large 20cm. I was a bit anxious to find if the latest technical advancement, the ones called the “curved ski” could fit my feet the same way I remember the large and heavy flat pieces of wood did. Nonetheless I was extremely pleased to picture myself falling in the snow powder, and finally put my four months' of new routine daily running to a more useful goal than the one I found so far: impress the two dog walkers I have met so far in the park.

[Bus Ride to Niseko Ski Resort]

My Japanese friend Y. convinced us that the best place to ski in Japan was to go as far away from civilization as possible. Niseko in the northern Hokkaido Island would be the place to spend five consecutive days for the winter ski vacation. A red-eye flight plus a local connection flight and a bus trip later helped all of us reach safely the lost hotel, which was covered by snow, ready to be spoiled by human giant feet named ski.

[Old Hokkaido Government Building
(Akarengo), Sapporo]

Although Singapore is not the reference on the planet to do winter gear shopping, we managed just before the plane take-off to do a weekend shopping for the minimum equipment needed for enduring the cold days of Hokkaido. To my surprise all of our winter equipment was almost adequate for the trip, but was definitely lacking the sex appeal that now winter sport-men and sport-women inflict upon each other. We neither had flashy pants nor flamboyant jackets; just few supposedly water repellent outfits that might protect us from the lubricious snow which always finds its way down to your underwear no matter how many layers you put on.

[Sapporo Beer Museum]

On my first day on the slopes I was shocked by what I saw around me. Looking at the crowd confirmed that I was now part of the second last generation, and the only way to confirm my age would be now to use the carbon dating technique. I was barely the only skier around with this awkward instrument named skis, everyone around me had snowboards. The over supply in skis at the rental place should have alarmed me, but I was blinded by my over-excitement of going down the slopes again. Details exist to be paid attention to and I should have been more careful. But I didn’t care and confronted the entire planet; and like a pine tree in a snow storm I was ready to bend but not give up. Ski was my decision; ski will be my tools of enjoyment.

[Sapporo Beer]

My first runs were a delight in one of the best powder I had ever had the pleasure to scar. Long curves in a light and dry snow powder were my winter happiness under the sun of Hokkaido. It took me a few slopes to adjust myself to the new style and put back in mind the memory muscle I had built over my young age of downhill race competition across the French mountains. Like a Grandpa would say, “the new skis are easier to turn with and less difficult to manage. In my days…” The first three days were a compilation of hot chocolate drinking, slope runs swallowing, picture and video taking under the glorious sun of Niseko in Japan. With a small caveat though, my fellow winter snowboard companions were complaining more often than usual about sore muscles and weak leg ligaments. And the double intake of Onsen (Hot Spring and Sauna) at the hotel was becoming insufficient to heal the daily effort and contusions. My revenge was touting around the forest of pine trees.

[JR Tower West View, Sapporo]

With an angelic smile and honest suggestion, I proposed to my snowboard friends (yes I have snowboarder friends) to teach them a more easy way to endure the runs, but that would require them to sacrifice their cool factor and switch to the ancient practice of skiing. I think that the curiosity of using a depleted technique as well as the extreme state of pain they put themselves into, pushed them to accept my proposition for the last two days of our winter vacation. I have to say that I was quite impressed by the progress they made over such a short period of time, but it took them only few runs to handle the antique practice of ski and enjoy themselves in a far easier way that the one they were doing prior.

[JR Tower South View, Sapporo]

I was not alone anymore. We were now three skiers on the slopes of Niseko. It took me a few days to convince two snowboarders to switch to ski, and now, only few million left to go.