I've always been fascinated with this very cool looking sport since I hit the slopes last year. My first lesson last winter was with my uni mates who were already a natural at skiing, and I was really grateful for their patience and tips. If not for them, I wouldn't have had the courage to try the advance slopes at all.
But the more I saw my other friends taking up their snowboards and looking so kakkoi* on them, the more the skiing looked boring in comparison. So when the email from Tokyo Gaijins (TG) came, I called up as many people I could find to follow me. However, only Zad managed to make it, and he didn't regret it one bit!
TG organizes weekly activities for foreigners in Japan (and Japanese who are interested in making friends with foreigners), and skiing/snowboarding trips were the highlight every weekend at various ski resorts this winter. But since ours was the last trip of the season, the hotel we stayed at even offered free equipment and outfit rental. But the bonus for me was the free snowboarding lessons. Not including lunches, the whole package for the weekend was only Y20,000.
The TG organiser and instructor for our group was Ricky, an avid sports lover from the Philippines. I think he has the right business model and must be enjoying a dream job as the sole organiser in TG since he's into outdoors and adventure. He was also quite a strict snowboarding teacher. From teaching us how to put on our gear properly to doing the basics right, all that only happened within the first 2 hours.
I had on a regular snowboard** (as opposed to a goofy one) and felt a bit uncomfortable since my right foot was the stronger one. Still, since I had already walked all the way to the slopes and didn't want to waste anymore time and energy in getting the snowboard changed, I decided to bear with it. The Indian guys were fast learners, so they went up on the ski lift earlier. I was just about to get myself used to the snowboard and practicing my brakes when Ricky said it was my turn to go up.
He's one krazy instructor, but if not for him, I might have stayed at the bottom of the slope for the next few hours. I had to learn how to get off the lift with one foot strapped to the board and balance myself off it. From up the beginner slope, he thought me how to do the traverse, frontside turn and toeside rotation (I think!). Pretty useful stuff, kept me busy until the end of the day. However, I made many many falls. It didn't hurt one bit when I fell, but the next morning I felt like my bones were all broken.
Because of that, some of us beginners decided to take it slowly the 2nd day. We went around enjoying the crisp air and beautiful snow instead of going straight to the slopes. Such a change from bustling Tokyo - the serenity and scenery. What balm for the eyes and soul. Wish I could do this every weeekend.
So the whole morning we just went around taking pictures and feeling really reluctant to carry the equipment to the ski area again. But that was also the other reason why I was beginning to prefer snowboard to ski - there is only 1 equipment to carry! I remember the clumsiness of carrying the ski sticks and ski poles and not forgetting the heavy Robocop-like boots that restricted ankle movements.
The snow was so bright that when I did the self-timer, I couldn't see the display. But on 2nd try, managed to get it just right.
Zad gave up snowboarding and returned to skiing, some decided to just walk around while I decided to continue on with my practices. The pro's were all up in the mountains, enjoying the last bit of snow. Surprisingly, it snowed that weekend, so we had fresh snow. That really makes a difference, especially when you fall!
For lunch that day we took the gondola up to one of the peaks. There was a German-style cabin which served reasonably good food. But the view was just superb. If I was not a beginner I would have brought my snowboard up here (it was advance slopes!) and scream all the way down. I couldn't have enough of the view as it was just so pleasantly calming. Especially when you know you can't get this back in Tokyo. Anytime!
*Kakkoi - attractive; good-looking; stylish
** Regular snowboards are for left-footers, while goofy snowboards are for right-footers. However some say you can interchange and "train" your foot in either way.