Two weeks ago I returned to Ueda, a city where I spent a pretty big chunk of my childhood. Staying at a family friend’s house, we had no idea we were about to experience the biggest snowstorm in over a hundred years. Some friends who were planning to come over had to walk, and they ended up staying the whole weekend. We shoveled 3 feet of snow so the car could get out, had snowball fights, played cards and most importantly, held the inaugural Ueda Olympics event.
Let me explain. With three feet of snow and a step ladder, we were trying to think of something creative to do. Since this was during Sochi, we decided to create our own unique “snow diving” event, combining the technical difficulty of diving with the winter X-games. Check out the YouTube videos Here
Shoveling Snow with Saki & Mr. Aoki
Kuni San came to visit!
Once again, I was reminded of how gracious and loyal my friends in Japan are. Despite having busy lives, they took the entire weekend just to hang out and take it slow. Friends like that are rare anywhere, and I’m thankful to have them now in several places around the world
A few days ago I finished my ski instructor job in sugadaira. The experience was great. I became a better skier myself and I met some interesting people. I was also encouraged to find that everyone can ski. No matter how bad a kid was on the first day, by the third day they could zip down the slopes. Helping a kid learn a new skill was pretty cool.
I also realized that there is a certain type of abnormal Japanese person that becomes a ski instructor. These "mountain people" don't conform to society's norms and basically do what they want. I decided that I like these people and sort of fit in. Everyone has a unique story and everyone is accepted – we were all just mountain people who loved to ski.
After I finished teaching, my friend Greg and I snowboarded every day. The first day we hit the slopes early, went to a hot spring, ate a slow Italian lunch, took a nap then played chess by the fireplace in the evening. Pretty close to a perfect day if you ask me.
Then yesterday some Japanese ski instructor friends and I decided to climb Nekodake, a 2200 meter peak right behind sugadaira. We strapped on our snowboards and started walking from the top of the lift with snowshoes. Hiking in snow with a board strapped to you back is tough. We made it to the summit in a couple of hours though, saw a shrine, ate our food and decided to head back before we got too cold. Since it had snowed over 40cm over the weekend, the powder was amazing. Our 2 hour walk was depressingly short on a snowboard.
We got down and were just waiting for the last person – a lady in her 40s to finish up. We thought nothing of it and threw snowballs at each other for a while, until 15, 20, then 30 minutes passed. We called her cell phone and got through – she had taken a wrong turn, got stuck in deep powder and was slowly fighting to get back to the main slope. She didn't know how far she had gone down and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. She said she was still warm but at -10C we didn't want to let it get dark. After deliberating for almost an hour, alerting ski patrol and calling the police, another guy and I decided to go out on snow shoes and try to find her. We didn't think she was very far from the road and thought that if we yelled loud enough she might hear us, which is exactly what happened. She had gotten herself back on track and was skiing down when she heard us yelling. She was almost in tears when she saw us and sincerely said she felt lucky to be alive. It was a pretty intense and exhausting, but still a great day.
Recently I moved from Shiga Kogen to Sugadaira to become a ski instructor for a little while. Never mind the fact that I don’t really ski, the experience has been great. The first 3 days I had awesome kids who had already skied before. The temperature got up to 9 degrees (48 F), the guys always wanted to go for another run, and we had a lot of fun.
Then there was yesterday. The morning was still tolerable. I had my boys from the previous days and they didn’t complain too much about the -8 degree (16 F) weather. In the afternoon, however, we had a new school coming in and had to give our first lesson in freezing snow conditions. I was in charge of 7 Japanese Junior high girls who had never skied before… We put on their skies, skated around for a while, taught them how to get on the lift, then headed to the top.
Poor choice. At the top the wind was blowing like crazy. Since the temperature dropped so much, melted snow became solid ice. We took one ski off and skidded down the first part of the mountain, only to realize that the rest of the run was too dangerous to put beginners on. We ended up walking down the entire run, carrying our skies and stumbling on the slick ice. One girl complained that she was going to throw up, another kept falling, yet another moved at a snail’s pace and had to be carried down the mountain. At one point I was carrying 4 pairs of skies, could not feel any part of my face, and wiped out flat on my back. It felt like we were on an Everest expedition and making it out alive was the best part of the day. No one got to ski, all the girls were complaining, and I’m not sure what our lesson is going to be like today, but I suppose that’s part of the job