The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Snowboarding trip in Nagano

Currently, I'm still recovering from our snowboarding trip to Nagano. It was an awesome experience, although it has left me a little worse for wear. I'm glad I have a few days of recovery before Rob and I go on our next trip on Wednesday to explore Nara, Hiroshima and Osaka. I love holiday time :)

Day 1: M-Wave Arena

We started our journey with Kim and Richie early last Wednesday. It was a 2hr drive to Kanazawa, and then a 3.5hr train ride from Kanazawa. Much to Rob's disappointment, it wasn't snowing when we arrived in Nagano and most of the snow had probably melted in the warm 10degC afternoon temperature (it has been a warm winter so far, much to my relief! Perhaps to make up for the shockingly cold snowy winter Japan experienced last year). In fact, some people I talked to about our trip was kinda worried that there isn't enough snow for us to enjoy our ski trip, but as it turned out, it started snowing quite heavily the day after we arrived.

Banner at the Nagano eki (train station):

Nagano was host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, which is something I only recently discovered when I started planning this trip. Our first stop in Nagano city was the M-Wave stadium which hosted the speedskating events at the Olympics. The stadium also houses an Olympic memorial museum, but we'd arrived after the museum's closing time. Our main purpose of visit was the ice-skating, so that didn't phase us too much. Plus, the entrance fee was halved since we arrived after 5:30pm in the evening. Ice-skating was fun, and there were children and youths in the rink training for speedskating or figureskating. Quite amazing to watch. I felt so klutzy compared to their agility on the ice.

Ice-skating at M-Wave stadium:

We then made our way to our lodge in Hakuba, which was a 1hr bus trip from Nagano city. Hakuba has 10 ski resorts, and was one of the sites for the 1998 Winter Olympics. It is a very popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. It still wasn't snowing (no snow on the ground either, except for the ski slopes) when we arrived in Hakuba and we wondered if conditions were going to be good for snowboarding.

Day 2: Snowboard lesson

It began snowing when we woke up early in the morning to organise our snowboard gears from the nearby rental shop. Rob was pretty happy to finally experience snow.

Rob was fascinated with the snow, observing flakes as they fall on his black gloves. That's me in my rental ski clothes - I felt quite dowdy, but they did well to keep me dry and warm.

We enlisted the help of a snowboarding instructor, a fellow Aussie from Melbourne who is doing a few months' stay in Hakuba to enjoy the slopes. He brought us to Hakuba Goryu, and the ground conditions weren't great that day due to the lack of snow (not 'powder'-like, but quite 'sticky') but the morning snow gave some cover on the ground. It continued snowing the whole day non-stop until the next day, which meant that conditions were much better on our second day.

Snowboarding is not easy, but I got the hang of it quickly probably because I did some sandboarding during our Kalbarri trip back in 2005 and some surfing on a trip to Lancelin earlier in 2006. But it wasn't without falling down forwards onto my hands and knees, or backwards on my butt! I have lots of bruises as a result of that.

Our instructor, Ryan, first taught us how to skate the snowboard - moving on the snow with one foot strapped to the board. Then we progressed to sideslipping down the slope, which was actually quite scary when I first tried it. But then I got the hang of the physics of it all and it was quite fun! There are two ways to sideslip: heels or toes - each one requiring you to face up or down the slope depending on whether you're a natural (right-handed, with left foot leading) or goofy (left-handed with right foot leading). Ryan then taught us how to traverse across the slope which required us to always proceed with our leading foot forward. Ryan also instructed us how to get on and off the ski lift with the snowboard strapped on to one foot - a tricky maneouvre that I managed to master only on the next day.

From 10:30am to 4:45pm, we were out in the snow practising the basics of snowboarding. We didn't even stop for a lunchbreak (too much hassle with all our gear and the resort's closing time at 4:30pm). There were a total of six people in the class - us four plus two girls from the same lodge we were staying at. This meant that there were periods where we were just sitting on the snow whilst Ryan guided each of us at intervals. It was oh-so-cold when I wasn't moving. At some point, I remembered that I had my keitai (mobile phone) with me which has a camera on it so I took a few shots.

Rob having fun chucking snowballs at poor Kim who was downslope from him:

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was ready to give up at 3pm (and even told the others I was gonna quit for the day) but I soldiered on until we were done for the day. I had sore knees and wrists and the next day, oh how my muscles ached. And the bruises looked pretty bad. No one else seemed to get it as bad as I did..

Day 3: Snowboarding on our own

We started out early at 8am and snowfall was quite heavy - everything was covered in a thick blanket of snow. Great powder snow for skiing and snowboarding. It was also the first day of the six-day Japanese national holiday, so the resort and the slopes were packed with old, young and babies alike.

It took quite a lot of willpower to forget my aching muscles and sore knees and wrists as we snowboarded the slopes, practising what we'd learnt the previous day. The queue to the ski lifts were packed so it took quite awhile of standing around waiting for our turns. It was very windy and it did not stop snowing all day. It was actually quite a painful day for me and I was glad when we were finally seated on the bus as we made our way into Nagano at the end of the day.

I had a lot of fun on this trip, and snowboarding is something I'd recommend trying at least once. I'm still recovering, but it was definitely worth it all. It was interesting to observe the demographics skiers and snowboarders. It seems that snowboarding is a young people's sport, a hip fashionable sport, whereas skiing seems popular with the older generation and children. Of course, the older generation probably grew up with skiing so they're teaching their kids what they know.

When we returned back to our prefecture on Saturday, we discovered that it had begun snowing sometime while we were away. The snow here is not terribly exciting compared to the beautiful snow in Nagano but I am quite over the snow already - gimme sunshine and beach weather!

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