Just as spring is awakening and the snowline is receding I’ve found a way to enjoy winter, by hitting the ski slopes. In early-February, when I was craving sunshine and dreaming of a beach holiday, my friend Erin suggested we go skiing with her teachers. Ok, I said, why not?
That first day I went, the snow was relentless but, it did result in fluffy powdery snow, perfect for the re-beginner! I spent the day remembering what I was taught ten years ago when I learnt to ski in the Italian Alps; always be in control, make sharp turns round where you’ve touched your pole in and most importantly, practice stopping! In the afternoon I followed Erin’s more experienced teachers on to the ‘Illusion course’ higher up the mountain. It was only on the ski lift when they told me they would be doing the black course! I stuck to the red course, but was out-of-my-depth and took it slow. I very quickly learnt what a ‘mogul’ was (large mounds of snow) and found it was best to go round them, not to fly over the top of them! Anyhow, at the steepest point on one run I couldn’t turn quick enough and went flying over the top of one, loosing my balance and doing a comic-like fall with skis and poles going everywhere! The scariest part of it was putting my ski back on whilst other skiers zoomed past me, going at lightening speed. I reminded myself that I was much more of a hazard to myself, than they were to me.
The second time I went it was a bluebird day, the snow was glistening and the whole experience was much more pleasant. I’d brought a face buff with me this time, so my face didn’t freeze! Although the sunny weather and marginally warmer temperatures had made a crust on the snow, ,making the icy conditions much harder to ski on than the previous week. I succumbed to a fear of vertigo, especially as a peered down the mogul black course, which my friend Nigel told me, “It’ll be grand”. Unsurprisingly, the next ten minutes were not at all ”grand”. Neither was it for my friend Niamh, who had just started learning snowboarding that day! We did both make it down though, and were just about in one piece…
The third outing was another snowy day which meant foggy sunglasses but excellent beginner conditions. After I’d seen the injuries and week-long muscle pain endured by my friends who’d tried snowboarding for the first time, I had vowed never to try snowboarding. I’d stick with the easier sport of skiing. (Most people agree that skiing is much easier to pick up, whereas there is a very steep learning curve for snowboarders.) However Nigel, encouraged me to give it ago, and seeing as two other newbies were learning at the same time I thought it would be a good chance to try. So instead of two trusty skis and poles for balancing, I walked out of the rental shop with just a board under my hand. At first glance I thought my board wasn’t much more than a tea tray with shoe clips on it, how was I going to balance on this? At first, it took a while to get used to the balance of it, and we just slid gently one way, then the other another. We kept to the bunny hill this time, and each time went down with less falls than the last.
Eager to learn the next technique, I was constantly losing control and falling over. So were my comrades, Erin and Neil. If you’re in the right frame of mind and it doesn’t hurt, falling over, and watching other people fall over is the most hilarious thing! Various profanities were coming from our mouths as we flipped, faced planted and tumbled down the slopes. This is fine if you’re not in anyone’s way. Yet two times I collided with other snowboarders, one of which happened to be a child! Fortunately the snow was so powdery that nobody was hurt and we just slid down the mountain together before disentangling our boards.
By the end of the day I loving it, and was twisting and turning down the slopes. The last run I took, I decided to detour to an off piste section of the slope. I’d watched as competent snowboarders had easily cut their way through the meter deep snow, having fun carving through it on their boards. I, however, carved my own route through it and consequently got stuck! When I put my hand down to push myself up there was no end to the light fluffy snow and I just fell deeper into it! Flipping my board over I was finally able to make some headway though the snow, but came out with snow down my neck, in my boots and up my sleeves! It was a fun way to end the day, but I won’t be going off piste again soon!
That day did convert me from two skis to one board, and next year I know exactly how I’ll be spending those snowy weekends.
Skiing in Fukui
Fukui prefecture is renown for the best ski resorts along the western coast of Japan. We do not have the Olympic style black diamond runs of Nagoya or the 6km long Hakuba courses, but we do have perfect beginner and intermediate level slopes for the casual skier or snowboarder. The best resort is named SkiJam and is in Katsuyama, an hour away from Fukui City. It boasts several courses, randomly named ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Illusion’ courses which snake down and around the mountainous terrain. Wide courses have been cut into the pine tree covered mountain and a network of ski lifts put up, so that there are no long queues, and there are a range of slopes for every skill level. There are also amazing views from top on a clear day.
Unlike in Europe, snowboarding is much more popular than skiing in Japan. It seems snowboarding is more about getting the ”golden beauty” look. Every time I went to the ladies, there were women there with more make-up on than women would wear in a Weatherspoons on a Saturday night! With their Roxy ski jackets, make-up and long hair down, it looked like their priority was not snowboarding, but looking cute!
It’s possible to rent skis or a snowboard for about £30 a day, get a ski pass for about another £30 or get a whole package with clothes included for about £70 a day. There are three restaurants on the slopes that serve a variety of food, from curry-rice, to Korean bibimba to tomato spaghetti. If you’re in the area, during January and February, give it a go!
Related articles by fellow Fukui JETs, take a look at their awesome blogs!