Monday, January 17, 2011

Talk about powder!!!

0450 - and yes, it's dark - that's no time to start a vacation! We took a cab from our house at 4:50 in the morning on Friday, January 14th for a 4-day MLK weekend to Niseko, Japan. If you're looking for good powder skiing, this is the place. We spent 8 hrs. on public transportation and hit the slopes at 1:30 pm. It was COLD, about 5 degrees fahrenheit.

Our hotel (above) was ski in / ski out. Better than that, when you ski in (tired and cold) the 'Ski Valet' meets you at the door and takes your skis and poles to storage, then exchange ski boots for apres-ski boots and you're on your way. NTS - (Not too shabby). Starting late the first day, we didn't hit much powder. But there were powder patches just off the groomed trails. I like to veer into it for a short ride, then get back to the groomed.

Though we got a late start, we had enough skiing for the first day. The lifts stay open later in Japan than U.S. resorts, and night skiing was available. To avoid yet more public transportation, we found a buffet in the hotel for dinner.

Since breakfast was part of our package, we enjoyed a leisurely meal and were back on the slopes by 8:30 the second day. We traveled a little and tried a different set of slopes that led to Hirafu, another resort village. Now we had powder, and we skied together the whole time. I did better after getting my ski legs under me the first day. Try using muscles you last used a year ago.

Every day we had our chocolate break and our lunch break to relieve our fatigue and frozen fingers. Let me say again - 5 degrees!

Saturday night we met up with 5 other Yokosukans at a hotel bar/cafe. We had burgers, pizza, tapas and since it was a bar, beer and sake (Allan's fave) and other libations. The room had a great view of an ongoing blizzard. I don't know what else you call heavy snow blowing sideways. I was knee deep in powder Sunday.

Allan hit the onsen (natural hot springs) every night. Hotels in Japan are built around onsens, and this one had both indoor and outdoors onsen areas. Robes and slippers are supplied, so every time you got on the elevator, there was some guy in a robe headed to the onsen. In Japan, onsen attire is... well - nothing, nada, nude, nekked! Me - I took a hot soak in my room.

Allan took a few shots of me coming down the trail. I fell more this year than last, but I blame the powder.

The ski trails are marked green (easy), red (intermediate) and black (OMG!!). Intermediate trails are blue in the states, so if you wear yellow googles (like I do), it's a little tricky to distinguish between green and blue. Am I the only person who thinks so? Surely not. But it makes sense that the Japanese have a better system. Don't get snippy, it just does.

No language problem here. Everything is written in Japanese and English, but it was amusing that announcements were made with an Australian accent. Americans were outnumbered 4 to 1 by Aussies, some vaca- tioning, some working at the resort. We spoke with lots of them on lifts and in restaurants.

Speaking of our friends from Yokosuka... Last year on our ski trip to Zao Onsen, we met Kevin and Ramon, who became Allan's poker buds. I think they're stalking us, because here they are again. Erica, Kevin's wife (above in red) made it this time. They found a little ramen place for lunch. Hot soup with noodles is soooo good when you're a Floridian in sub-freezing temperatures. Just why was I there? I keep asking myself.

Taking a short break at the top of the last run before lunch, I spotted some snowboarding lunatic coming directly at my beloved husband. Eek! I thought he was going to hurt Allan, and I would have to take him down. It turned out to be this snowboarding lunatic, Ramon Perez.

Our last night in Niseko, we did the town, dinner at Abu Cha, where we ate seafood appetizers and 'hot pot', beef & veg, salmon and veg, spicy chicken and veg that were cooked by us, at the table. Why do we cook our own food in restaurants? It's surely a puzzle. But you couldn't argue with the results. Yum!

This photo is lunch at the ramen restaurant.

Ramon and Allan wanted to hit an 'ice bar' after dinner. A sauna bar would have been my choice, but as that was not an option, three of us headed for the ice bar. As advertised, it was an ice structure with a bar made from frozen water, complete with luge (a small crevice used to pour alcohol directly from bottle into the waiting mouth of a willing patron). People stopped by with the kiddies to drink from glasses also made of frozen water.

Allan was in charge of the camera and it was elsewhere, so you'll have to imagine us there.

Allan skied for two hours on Monday morning. He went to the top of the mountain on a tow rope, looking for 'Niseko's best powder'. Snow was dropping hard and the visibility made it difficult and dangerous, so he stopped a bit earlier than planned, but spent the time in the hot springs. Four days goes so fast when it's vacation time, but you know you had fun if you don't want it to end.

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