Skiing on thin ice

Those close to me know that I am not a confrontational person. I’d rather make peace rather than crying over spilt milk in a meaningless confrontation. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in our trip to Hakuba.

Morals of this story:

  • Ski in Hakuba – it has the best snow in the world!
  • Keep your important possessions well-hidden within your room
  • Don’t assume the lodging/accommodation will look after your best interests
  • Eat a Japanese strawberry. You won’t find anything else like it!

My first ever snowski experience – Hakuba – was an incredible one. My partner Sally & I traveled by train and bus from Tokyo via Nagano – a four hour snowy scenic ride.

We checked into our lodging with a few friends, stowed our things, and eagerly embarked off to the nearby ski fields. Within 30 minutes we were suited up and embarrassing ourselves trying to learn the ‘pizza’ style of skiing. The good news – the snow was super soft and powdery, an excellent cushion for when I decided to sit down (read: fell over). The bad news – face first into the snow isn’t as entertaining as I first thought. Luckily, our friends were particularly patient with us; as you can see, I eventually learned to stand! Toddlers everywhere would be so proud.

One thing is for sure – the views were superb. We soon ventured to the advanced ski fields at the top of the slopes and were astonished at the vastness of it all. It seemed as if the snow knew no bounds – every visible crevice and mountain was covered in it. We also had an interesting time getting to the “mid-way” restaurant in the middle of the intermediate slopes – sliding down at speeds exceeding 30km/hour was a little scary but thankfully shortlived, and rewarded with a delicious bowl of ramen.

As the day drew to a close, we retired to our lodging. Buried in the snowfall but cosy as we stepped in, we were greeted happily by the owner. Approaching our room down the hallway, we noticed a nondescript woman opening its door, checking her surroundings in each direction, then heading inside and closing the door behind her. A little confused, we slowly approached the door and went to open it. Without warning it opened on its own, and the woman stepped out, briefly mumbling “sorry, wrong room” before scurrying down the neighbouring hallway. No further explanation or even an apologetic glance was offered. We checked our belongings and nothing appeared to have been disturbed, but we were uneasy with the situation. It turns out the doors of this establishment couldn’t be locked to prevent any further intrusions, and understandably were worried for our passports and cameras.

Now, the only thing I hate more than a meaningless confrontation is probably these foods. Unfortunately sometimes, confrontation finds you no matter where you go. Later on during the night we ventured to the common area downstairs, happening to discover the same woman. Merely wanting an explanation, I approached her to discuss and conveyed that her behaviour seemed strange. She clarified that she had stayed at this lodge a number of times and incorrectly thought that our room was in fact hers. I happily accepted the explanation and carried on with dinner.

Later on that night, I was summoned by the owner, who had apparently received word of what happened. Expecting an apology for the room allocation confusion, he instead proceeded to ask me to apologise – under the threat of being thrown out of his lodge. Apparently I was rude to one of his regular visitors; presumably, the woman had complained. Under normal circumstances I would have refused – however in a frozen remote town in a foreign country, we have to play by the rules. I conceded, apologised, and nothing more came of it. Although shaken at the mere suggestion of being thrown out into the cold, it was also quite fascinating. Until this point, my experiences in Japan had been filled with the most polite people I had ever met – the Japanese locals will stop at nothing to assist foreign guests. Of course, I then realized the difference – the lodge owner wasn’t Japanese. In the interests of ensuring we continued to enjoy our holiday, I gave it my best attempts to let the ordeal pass.

The next day, we ventured away from the ski fields and into culinary and cultural excitement. Have you ever seen a snow macaque? It turns out in Japan, they bathe just like we do – in style with steaming onsen baths. They live near incredible settlements situated in the mountains such as these – and are supported by the locals with regular food supply during the winter.

As part of the same tour, we checked out a local township with a museum displaying the thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji. Lastly, a local restaurant served us a single giant strawberry for our desert. Such a treat is not to be taken lightly – the Japanese pride themselves on their focus towards low yield, high quality produce – mostly due to their lack of land. With such successful results that is the envy of the gourmet dining world, we can’t help but feel this is a perfect break from skiing.