Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snowboarding was fun!

I haven't snowboarded in many years thanks in part to the concussion I got when I went last time, as well as not having any money or interest in that time.

I'm glad that this time around, I didn't get a concussion.  I hit my head a couple of times, but no memory loss or anything bad like that.

The place that me and my friends went snowboarding was this place in Minami Aizu called Aizu Kogen Takatsue.  The deal seemed pretty decent: ~¥10500 for the train and bus tickets (round-trip), the snowboarding gear (jacket, pants, goggles, board), onsen ticket, and a free breakfast.  This was a one-day trip, so the train was leaving at midnight and we'd be back the next day around 9pm.

After meeting up and loading up on snacks and beer, we were off in the middle of the night.  We played some card games to pass the time but the lights went out, a signal that we should all be sleeping.

After a couple hours, everyone fell asleep and the train stopped.  I watched a couple of video podcasts and noticed that the train still hadn't moved since I started watching.  I walked out to the bathroom frequently because the seal had broken already.  I walked outside of the passenger car wondering why the hell we weren't moving.

Finally, I fell asleep as well, but only when the train started moving again.  A short while later, we arrived at our destination and boarded a bus where we drove in darkness for the next 45 minutes.  The area was covered with snow, with a lot more still coming down from the sky.

At this point, it was time for our free breakfast which consisted of salad, miso soup, and some other stuff I can't remember.  All the while, I was in a daze just watching the snow fall outside.  I detest Japanese winters; being from a part of the world where winters are fairly sunny and the temperature gets to around 40F at night (sometimes below 35F), experiencing the Japanese winter for the first time a couple of years ago was a shock.  To illustrate how naive I was about my situation, I packed mostly t-shirts in my suitcases.  However, I do enjoy the snow quite a lot.

Finally, we got fitted into our snowboarding gear and hit the slopes.  We started at the family slope, or beginner's slope, where we were moved by a people-mover to that lift.  Remembering the time when I suffered a concussion, I was feeling nervous.  The family slope was a good warm-up though and I felt that I was already snowboarding a lot better than ever before.  Out of the 5 of us, I was right in the middle of the group as far as speed goes.  The last two kept falling and eventually retreated into a cafe to rest up a bit.

The faster boarders and I went up to the intermediate slope a couple of times where speed got the best of me.  I can handle myself just fine at a relaxing speed, but get me going and my body freezes up and I ended up clipping the edge and falling over.  Still, I felt I was doing a lot better than before.

Lunch time arrived, but no free lunch.  We relaxed and ate ramen and sat mostly in silence because we were tired.  A couple of my friends were able to sneak a quick nap in before we headed out again.

From here, we went up the intermediate slopes again but took a different route down.  I liked this way a lot better although the slightly slimmer path worried me because a wrong move would take me down a part of the mountain filled with trees.  The part of the slope just before the lift in this area opened up and became very wide and it was very fun to practice carving and going fast where it was so open.  So, we continued to go down this particular path for the remainder of the day.  It wasn't until my second to last run where I finally clipped my back edge a little bit more than I wanted and hit my head.  No concussion though, just slightly banged up.  After hitting my head, fear crept in and affected the rest of the run, hitting my head and falling a few more times.  I went in for a last run and that ended up better.

It was around 3 o'clock when we changed out and headed towards the onsen.  There was a bus at 2 that could have taken us there, but we decided to skip it and do a few more runs instead.  In retrospect, taking the bus might have been better because although the distance to the onsen wasn't that far, the walk there was confusing and we ended up doing a couple loops to retrace our steps.  By the time we got to the onsen, we only had about 40 minutes to fully enjoy it.

I'm still not totally comfortable with the idea of onsen where everyone gets naked together (guys and ladies separate, of course), washes themselves vigorously, then shares the same onsen water.  Does everyone scrub their ass?  I hope so...doesn't seem like it though.  Still, hanging outside in the onsen and watching the snowfall was a nice experience.  Would have rather been there with my naked girlfriend, but private onsens are really pricey.

After the onsen, we loaded up on the bus and train again to go back home.  The train ride back was less comfortable than going there, mainly because we couldn't find seating.  So, we opted to get one of the smaller seats available and make do.

Before everyone went their own ways, we stopped by an izakaya for dinner, drinks, and idle, tired chat.

In short: great company, great trip, cheap, no concussions.

Oh, it seems the snow has followed us back.  It's snowing a lot right now and from what I'm gathering, it hasn't snowed this much in this area in many years.

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