A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

In Nozawa Onsen

And heading back home

snow -3 °C

The original onsen - resident's only

The original onsen - resident's only

Breakfast is traditional fare on the floor of the dining room, lots of yummy fresh stuff, some things that G likes better than others. We have the cast iron pots to cook our tofu and mushrooms, and the local pickled vegetables, all part of the experience.
The Hikage gondola base station is a fair way above the village, so this morning we go through town to the walking road. This is an escalator up the hill to the base. We have had a 20 minute walk to get here though. As we head up, there has been easily another 30cms of snow since last night – magic.
We start off on Challenger to get going and there is some great powder, up to thigh deep, light and fluffy, deeper in spots. Have to keep the tips up which is a real strain on the legs at times. Do quite a few runs in this area as we are enjoying ourselves so much.
We have lunch on mountain at Buna in the Paradise area, as recommended by Yukiko. Here there is the standard fare of soups, noodle or rice dishes and desserts. But it is very cosy and nice, we end up being here every day for lunch. They have big windows for a great panorama view – if the clouds and snow ever let up. We never got to have a view from anywhere after that first day at Akakura Onsen.


After lunch we do Uenotaira, a bit of Utopia and then we discover the Examination run. This is only 150 metres long, but it has deep powder and a lift right next to it. We circuit round, doing this about ten times until the lift closes. It is short steep and deep. G has troubles keeping his tip up and gets bogged a number of times – I have to dig him out in the worst case. But great fun.
We freshen up with an onsen in the ryokan, then we are off to a yakiniku place, but G did not rate it as highly as the one in Akakura. Still fun to fry your own though. Sleeping went the same, woke up early, turned the heater off, back to sleep.
Saturday we are out there with about ten times more people than yesterday – the weekend is here. As the crowds go up, the powder is harder to find, but I still get to dig G out. For something new we head down Schneider (black) without incident. After lunch at Buna, we head up higher going along Uenotaira (thanks for the bubble chair in this wind). Up higher to Yambiko, but the visibility is poor and the runs are crowded as they funnel into the end.
Next is the mountain’s longest run Skyline made tricky by the crowds and the narrowness at some points, but as long as the momentum is there for the uphills everything is okay. And if not, I am there to tow G up anyway. We spend the rest of the day on the Nagasaka runs before a last go on Examination – quite chopped up now.
We have a reviving onsen before dinner in the ryokan. We come down for dinner in our pyjamas – as is tradition, we are not alone – and have a multi course traditional meal. I have the menu somewhere, I’ll put it in the blog soon. We have steak – it is thick marbled meat, not a lot but it renders down well on the hot plate. G is good and will try everything, but his staple is definitely rice.
Nice little 11 course meal

Nice little 11 course meal

In the morning we are back into it. Rather than walking up again, we have taken a shorter route to a connecting lift which drops you off around the corner from Hikage and you can walk/skate the 500m to the Gondola station. This is fun as you are up to 15m in the air with no safety bar!!
Don't look down 15 metres and no safety bar!

Don't look down 15 metres and no safety bar!

Today we are back in the favourite areas to start with, but then head off to the Mizunashi lift which is pretty much deserted. This is because it is not easy to get to or away from. But it is pleasant enough as it is reasonably sheltered and empty. At lunch time we have to ride a long trail to get out, and I spend a lot of energy towing G along.
We take our time over lunch, including pancakes with syrup, before getting going. We briefly managed to see across to the Yunomine gondola station but the cloud quickly closed over. We spend the afternoon low down on the Nagasaka and Karasawa slopes before a last run down Champion.
After we have finished for the day, we head out to the local public onsen across the road, Kumanoteara-yu. We follow the local ways of bathing, watching and learning. There is a bit of sign language and Japanese greetings. The cooler bath is fantastic, but I can’t take the hot one. We get out and dry off, G comes a cropper just outside the baths and he gets into the Ryokan with wet and bruised knees.
To try and ease the pain, we head out for okonomiyaki. Here we are the only customers as everyone has gone back ready for work in the morning. We get a couple of side dishes as well– we didn’t need them as the okonomiyaki is huge and we are stuffed to bursting. For some reason with that lot churning around I don’t sleep too well to start with.
In the morning I am out quickly alone, as G is having a sleep in for his final day. I race around doing as many of the black runs as are open to round off this holiday. I am finding that I have to stop halfway down some runs to let my thighs recover – maybe I am getting old (feel free to write in and refute this).
I am back at the Ryokan and into the onsen for a clean up before departure. All the ski gear is bagged and tagged to go back to myoko. This has all happened very quickly, so we have time to go for a walk around the main street. As we do this, for the first time this holiday, the clouds part to reveal a beautiful blue sky with great vistas everywhere. Mind you, the locals are frantically cleaning up as there is going to be another dump tonight.
Blue skies at last

Blue skies at last

We pick up bags from the hotel, and get a lift to the bus stop. The bus trip is in brilliant sunshine and with the reflection off the snow it’s burning my eyeballs out. My sunnies are in the luggage as I haven’t used them all trip! It is a good trip, this time we get to see the landscape as we go. As we tootle along, you realise how many ski fields there are along the Nagano valleys. Back into Nagano, and back to the bullet train. In ninety minutes, we are in Tokyo station and dropping off the bags while we head back to Akiba for a change.
In Akiba, we pick up the things I did not want to cart around for a week, and then we head up to Unasho, an eel restaurant on the 8th floor of the Yodobashi electronics store so I can be happy. And happy I am, the eel is great, G was really getting into his too. The hitsumabushi is a generous serve of unagi with four different ways of eating it, just great. I had mine with a milky sake which was very smooth and almost sweet. The waitress was lovely and managed to hide her exasperation at my poor communication very well.
Unagi at last

Unagi at last

Eeled up, we picked up the bags and headed out to Haneda airport on the monorail. Not particularly fast, but a novel change. Got some Wasasbi flavoured Kit Kats at the airport, then the plane journey back to OZ. Again, got the wrong planes – a modern flash one as we slept through the night, and a crappy old one with a tiny scratched video screen during the day. Economy fliers can’t be choosers.
In Haneda Airport

In Haneda Airport

Posted by lostagain 20:01 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Myoko Kogen part two

Ikenotaira and across to Nozawa Onsen

snow -4 °C

Once we are awake we do see something new for us – clear blue sky! This is the first time since day one of the trip. By the time we have had breakfast and are on the bus, life is back to normal and the grey clouds have rolled in, and the snow has started again. Back on the bus, today we head to Ikenotaira for the day. This is a small resort compared to the others we have been to recently, but still has a good variation in terrain. They are aiming at boarders, with a bit of terrain park and tree runs accessible too. G was getting into the tree runs now too, but finding it hard to keep the tip up to stop from bogging. I have had to dig him out a few times. And you can get an idea of how deep the powder is...Really deep powder

Really deep powder

Weather is a bit on the cold and windy side, great to have the bubble chairs to go uphill in relative protection – I reckon these are exactly what Hotham needs on the Summit to keep us all protected – sure it can be retrofitted. The cold does not bother the snow soldiers though they have followed us here and seem quite relaxed in the conditions.Gotta love a bubble lift

Gotta love a bubble lift

After another yummy lunch and more skiing we head back – the bus nearly leaves without us as G is in the toilet, and I have to block open the door while he ambles back. Here is where we should have got lunch from.
Lunch van, Ikenotaira

Lunch van, Ikenotaira

We are going to drop off our gear as we head are heading to Nozawa Onsen tomorrow. However, it turns out that we can just extend the hire and courier back the gear for a reasonable price. Myoko Snow Sports do this a bit. Back at the hotel it is time to wrestle all our gear into bags ready for our 9:30 departure, before heading back to G’s favourite yakiniku place for dinner again.
In the favourite yakiniku restaurant

In the favourite yakiniku restaurant

There has been a massive dump overnight, region of 80 cms, and we are leaving... That’s the plan anyway. We have breakfast and are ready in the lobby for the bus, on time. Well, we are. Because of the dump, there are major snarls on the roads all around the region so no one is willing to specify a time of departure. We while away the time using wifi, having cups of tea, snoozing and waiting. After noon, the bus rocks up. When I say rocks up, the driver guns it up the street we are on, and neatly turns into the parking area a little beyond the hotel. He backs out and then points down the hill, intending to stop outside the door so we can get in. As he applies the brakes, nothing happens and the van delicately slides down the slope and crunches delicately into a snow/ice drift. The hotel (like most places around here) has a front end loader they use to pull the van out of the drift, and then hold it while we get out. Once in with all our gear (only fell over a couple of times) we are cut loose and slide down the road, bouncing off the edges. Around the corner on the main road, road clearing has been carried out, so we are on our way with no more excitement.
Pulling our bus out of the snow

Pulling our bus out of the snow

We get to Nozawa around 2, and the driver, after repeated looks at the map and directions, gets us to Nakajimaya Ryokan where we are met by the lovely Yukiko. We are in a 6 tatami mat room, big for the two of us. We do not have time to get on the snow today, so we take a long stroll around town, see the hot spring that feeds the town, look at the souvenir shops and buy some hot dumplings on the street. With the load last night, they are clearing the streets and the roofs of the snow. People are out with their shovels, diggers and snow blowers trying to get back to normal. There was an 80 year old chipping away at the ice outside her shop to make it safe.Love the dumplings

Love the dumplings

We get sushi for dinner and it is very nice, prepared fresh in front of us. Sated, we head back to the hotel where we do some remote shopping with Lon in Hong Kong. We settle into our futons for a good night’s sleep. Or it would be, but I wake at 2:40 and cannot get back to sleep. I send a few texts to L who can’t sleep either (caffeine). Laying there, I work out the heater noise is keeping me awake – not just the air flow noise but a deep bass resonance in the wall too. Turn it off, no problem. A bit cool in the morning though.

Posted by lostagain 19:57 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Skiing in Myoko Kogen

Akakan and Suginohara

snow -5 °C

Boring stuff - time to pack. In the morning it is goodbye Blue Wave Inn, you have served us well. We head out to the station and make sure L is on her train to Haneda, the we head over to Ueno to catch the Shinkansen to Nagano. Before we depart L checks in, she has arrived at Haneda no issues. We are soon whisked through the countryside, love the Shinkansen. Looks dry for a long way, wet on the ground at Takahashi, through the mountains to Kurizawa, where there is loads of snow on the ground. Before I get much of a chance to write anything we are arriving and have to duck over to the local train. This is a lot more characterful than the bullet train, but still whizzes along at a good rate of knots. Well as far as Kurushimae, where frozen lines stops the train in its tracks (I had to use that one) JR are organised with a shuttle bus getting us to Myoko Kogen station just a little behind schedule.
End of the line - local train snowed in

End of the line - local train snowed in

And guess who is there - the indefatigable Amy. The hotel we picked has its outside onsen closed, but there is another similar one which is closer to the action, so she has set us up there instead. So we settle into Central Hotel, head off to hire ski gear at Myoko Snow Sports, then head up to Akakura Onsen for our warm up ski. The snow is a little soft as the sun has been out all day, but still great by Aussie standards. Out on some of the runs, there is a great view to the north to the Sea of Japan. It is great how the snow legs come back quickly. We make the most of our limited time and ski until close.
G has chosen dinner at a yakiniku place. It is Spartan inside, but it is fun, we get to cook our own dinner on a little gas hot plate on our table. The pork is good, G enjoys chicken and I force the vegies on him. I go for hot sake to drink again - a little oily this one. Walk around the Akakura area of Myoko Kogen it is a small place full of hotels and restaurants and other ski places.
We head home with a plan to get to sleep and wake early so we can out to Suginohara on the 8 am bus. Three hours later we are still up reading, and we are similarly late waking in the morning, so we miss the bus and it is local skiing...
Local skiing means the Akakakan (Akakura Kanko) area which is pretty darn good. There has been snow falling the whole time and it is good hard packed stuff on the main runs. We get a few runs in, including doing a run from top to bottom – more than 5 kms. This is hard work, and we have a few stops for G to get over his foot cramps, something that will plague him a bit over the trip. Stop down the bottom to get G new goggles – a basic pair of Uvex as his others are too small and fog up all the time. But we have to get back to the snow sports for G’s lesson. Easier said than done as the lifts are in an upside down ‘Y’ – to cross from one arm to the other you have to go more than halfway up the mountain. So we race up the mountain to go back across to the other side, and do a big rooster tail stop with a minute to spare.
So while G is off having a lesson with cool instructor Damien, I head up to #3 Champion course and head into the trees out on the edge. This is a lot of fun making new tracks through the powder that has settled overnight. The hill is plenty steep enough to keep the pace up as I duck back and forth. No doubt at first run for the day it was pristine, but now there are plenty of tracks around. Mind, as this is the best tree skiing I have ever done, I make the most and cannot complain. Coming back down, I get to see G finishing off a lesson, including them throwing themselves off a cliff – but don’t tell L about it!
Lesson over, we go for lunch. It is now after 3:30 and the restaurants are closed. We do look into one, but everything has been cleared away. But the lovely people say it will be fine and in a short time we have a huge steaming bowl of noodles and curry – magic. With this in our bellies we ski the rest of the day out. The snow is great, good firm base with a bit of powder off to the side, if you know where to look.
After a refreshing bath I get to spend a while doing the accounts and checking the money. We then head out for a late, but easy dinner just down the road from Central. It’s looking good for tomorrow with a steady snowfall as we head back to the hotel.
In the morning we are called down for breakfast – need to get a move on as we are definitely heading over to Suginohara today. There has been a veritable dump last night and we are keen to get out there. We get ready, and I send G out, I will catch up. I was a bit frustrated to see G sitting in the street waiting for me. I yelled at him to get a move on or we will miss the bus ... and as my feet shot out from under me and I landed on my helmet, it did cross my mind that maybe he wasn’t just waiting for me. So he got to unload his frustrations on me, then we picked our way down the icy road to the bus stop.
The bus driver did not seem fussed about the ice on the road as he powered along. After the heavy falls last night, there is powder aplenty. We head right up to the highest parts of the mountain for a look around. Coming down the black side of Hell’s Valley G takes a fall and a hit to the head. My fault.
Out on the Mitahara side they have set up a terrain park, we head over here and do some of the easy stuff. G wants to go again, so we head over – and I notice a few tracks heading into the trees. I follow and have some great runs in knee deep powder through the trees – love it!! G is building up to it, ducking in along the edges here and there. G knee deep in powder snow

G knee deep in powder snow

At one point, I am heading along and all of a sudden, there is a 6 foot drop off and G is stopped at the bottom. I go over the edge, and land too steep so I am over the tips and thump into the snow right next to G – with a small whack in the head from my pole. I haven’t popped out so the bindings may be a bit stiff.
It continues to snow the whole day, so a warm cafe and hot lunch is welcome. Back out, we head into the trees on the lower slopes as well, ducking in and out off the groomed runs. We get to see the JSDF training up the next group of alpine soldiers on the flatter areas. They are obviously tougher than me as some have no hats, no goggles and thin gloves.
We head back up to the higher slopes. We do the big long run right down the hill, 8.5kms long. We are doing some of the terrain park when G has a big stack, which puts an end to the day’s ‘boarding. So we head back to the bus for a steamy 30 minute ride back to the hotel.
After our onsen, we have dinner in the hotel – a traditional multi course Japanese dinner with a steamboat on the table. It is very fresh and tasty, and goes down well. A beer certainly helps. We are getting pretty tired and are early to bed this time. Not that it matters - it is still difficult to wake in the morning. Once we are awake we do see something new for us – clear blue sky! This is the first time since day one of the trip.


Posted by lostagain 18:26 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

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