by Sean, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2012/01/30 - Skiing in Inawashiro, Fukushima
"The people who visit ski resorts but do not ski make me sad!", declared a friend of mine, as he was reading through a travel forum. Evidently, he is an ardent fan of skiing, and is especially emotionally attached to the powdered slopes of Niseko and Hakuba. "Wait a minute, you are going to a ski resort right? You ARE going to ski right?"
That was last week. He was referring to my inexperience as a skier. In fact, I had to look up the dictionary to confirm that I spelt "skier" correctly. That's right, at the tropical paradise where I came from, firstly there is no snow; secondly there are no mountains.
So today marks my first ski trip, and it is to Inawashiro Ski Resort. Driving in the direction of the mountains, we studied the skies carefully - the weather report forecasted bad weather conditions beyond the mountains on the side of the Japan Sea. Our destination was somewhat on the border between snow and sun. As we approached Inawashiro, heavy snow started to fall, and we were contemplating on Plan B, whilst harbouring hopes that the weather would take a turn for the better soon.
To our delight, it stopped snowing just as we drew near to the Inawashiro Lake and Mount Bandai area. We passed by a house and saw an old man clearing the snow off the roof of his house. The seas of white in the skies opened to islands of blue: the ocean of white on the ground was dotted by atolls of colour from houses and cars. I was informed of the phenomenon called "snow-blindness"; indeed, it had become pretty glaring due to the reflection of sunlight off the snow.
It was a really nice atmosphere at the Inawashiro Ski Resort. The size of the crowd was just right, the snow was powdery and of good quality (I wouldn't know, so I consulted the ones who would), the lifts were well maintained, and the temperature was just about right. I enrolled in a beginner's lesson, and after 20 minutes of learning the basics, I found myself on a ski lift going up the mountain.
Sitting at an elevated angle, Mount Bandai came in full view and it was beautiful. I looked down and saw a vivid mix of colours from the winter wear of the skiers and snowboarders gliding gracefully down the slopes. I looked back and that was what that took my breath away: a clear view of Lake Inawashiro and the town lying below the mountain. I have always felt that houses and automobiles looked more adorable when their roofs are covered by fluffy snow.
As I sat there with my coach, I was wondering how the resort had been coping after the 3/11 incident. I pondered for a moment at how to word my question to avoid sounding insensitive. Then, I asked: "is this the usual crowd at this time of the year?" "Yes, why actually it's a nice crowd considering today being a weekday", he replied jovially.
I felt happy for the people of Fukushima that things are returning back to normal for them. Along the roads on our way to the resort, we passed by towns and cities, and it seemed they were as lively as they have always been. Hopefully the tourists would return in numbers. It was a good feeling showing our support by visiting and contributing to the local economy; but not that we were supporting blindly without considering about safety, of course:
The week before, I was studying numbers in relation to the radioactive fallout situation in Fukushima. I wanted to put into perspective what the levels of contamination are exactly when they say "high levels" in the papers; and thus I came up with a simple reasoning to explain to myself all those sieverts better:
a) one is exposed to about 40 microsieverts by taking a plane from New York to LA [and 0.1 microsieverts for eating one banana]. b) For all of Japan outside Fukushima, the background radiation that one is exposed to is 0.017-0.091 microsieverts per hour. c) The levels in Fukushima used to be in the same range, but are currently higher. However, even if one was to stand with the policemen guarding the boarder of the 20 kilometer exclusion zone, he/she would be exposed to 1.1 microsieverts per hour. That's 26.4 microsieverts for standing there for a full day, which is still much less than taking a 5-6 hour flight.
"Blades up!" my coach instructed. Coming off the lift, I found myself sliding down into the preparation area - I was surprised that I managed to stop without crashing into the trees. I steadied myself and tried to keep up with Coach as he led the way to the starting point of the course. The view from the top was spectacular: the blue sky, the fresh air, the white powdery snow, the pleasure in the air as everyone was having a good time, the panoramic view, and, thanks to the co-operative weather, Lake Inawashiro could be clearly seen. Absolutely stunning. Coach taught me the theory about how to move and stop on the slopes. Then he gave me a demonstration. Now, for the practical.
I started off alright, and everything was going according to plan - for the next five seconds that is. Then, I felt myself gaining speed. Tried to stop: didn't work. I was going faster, and faster - unwillingly. What happened in the next few moments happened in a flash: my blades picked up more speed, and I found myself gaining momentum uncontrollably. It must have been like half the course whereby I realized that I HAD to stop somehow before danger strikes. And so, I grit my teeth and did the only thing: to fall on my backside. To my surprise, falling down was fun! I did a 30 yard "sliding tackle" which Paolo Maldini would have been proud of, and it didn't hurt a bit! The coach swooped by soon and grinned. "Ah, your first fall", he said, and taught me how to get up - all part of the learning process.
I fell on three other occasions during the lesson, and each time it was fun. Accompanied by the magnificent scenery and the pleasure of gliding - albeit a little awkwardly - it was a great experience. I began to understand why my friend spoke of skiing with such conviction and passion. The only thing I don't like about skiing are the uncomfortable shoes, but then again, there's the hot spring bath at the bottom of the mountain, waiting to ease any aches away.