How To Sneak A ski Trip Into Your Holiday
Everyone should ski at least once in their lifetime. Don’t laugh. People who live in temperate countries take it for granted but for some of us who live at the equator and are blessed with sunny days all year round, seeing snow for the first time, can be pretty awe-inspiring.
So, shall we ski?
a) Is there spare time? Yes, we have 1 extra day at Niigata
b) Is there absolutely nothing to do there? It would seem so. We have gone to the markets, bought the sakes, tried the food …
c) Is there a Ski resort nearby? Oh yeah, Yuzawa!
d) Is there still snow? Ski season at Yuzawa sees action from Nov till late May
e) Will your travel mates object? see (b)
Yes, we will ski!
We found out that Yuzawa was a very popular ski destination. The Yuzawa area was home to almost 20 ski resorts and the best part – it was only 2 hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo. And here’s the JR Station that connected them all – Echigo Yuzwa.
We got to Echigo Yuzawa pretty early (8am), coming from Niigata (50 mins). The station was virtually deserted. How was this supposed to be the gateway to some great skiing sites? The station looked nondescript, just like the others. Furthermore, we didn’t spot any towering snow mountain nearby. And the next moment, we bumped into a group of young men trudging out of the train replete in heavy-duty ski gear, skis/boards/poles on their shoulders. Ok …
After consulting the staff at the tourist information centre, we dutifully went to the bus stop across the station to queue for the bus to Mitsumata/Tashiro. Soon, the line got longer and longer. All of them were dressed to ski. Here’s the bus schedule.
A friend recommended that we head to Mitsumata. But when we got there, the place was packed. It was a Sunday afterall. So we decided to stay on the bus and move on to the next stop – Tashiro. On the way, the snow mountains were slowly unveiled.
Unfortunately, Tashiro was even more crowded because it was smaller and had only 1 smallish Ropeway. But it was too late to turn back. So we queued to rent our suits/skis, tickets and the Ropeway to bring us up. By the time we got up to Tashiro, it was almost 3 hours later.
The first notice says: if you want to rent equipment, it is necessary to have your ID and ski lift pass. So we went to buy our ski pass first. The second notice says: students please show their students pass before payment (presumably to enjoy student rates).
The rental rates for adults, seniors, students and kids were listed on this board for 1, 2, 3 day rentals. You could rent a set (ski+boots+poles), snow board (board + boots), boots, short board set (short ski+boots+poles), short ski, wear, whole set (ski suit+ ski+ boots+ poles+ gloves). Note: ski poles are known as Stocks in Japan (German origin word).
The wait was worth it. We were treated to a really breathtaking view of snow and emerald blue lake.
But challenges awaited us. We had to ski down a steep narrow curvy slope to get to the ski lift (see that little house down there?).
Our target was this ski course. Ithink it was not a beginner course though.
It was a very beautiful day but I didn’t dare bring my camera because my falling skills were far better than my skiing. We saw young parents swooshing down steep slopes with their little ones strapped onto their chests, or perched on their skis. We met a mother, nudging her 2-year old on little skis down a gentle slope and the tiny tot would sometimes tumble backwards on his butt but would get up and keep going. We saw kids flying and falling as they tried one snow board stunt after another. And many snow boarders stuck at the edge of a very steep incline. We met families camping out at the base, cooking hot soup and instant noodles over portable stoves.
No, I couldn’t capture any of these. All I could take was the view from the Ropeway and the colourful skiers lined up outside the Ropeway waiting to go down after they finished their ski session. It was as packed as morning hour.
We took the Shinkansen Max Toki back. It was a double deck train and from the upper deck we could see the beautiful sunset on the way back to Niigata.
Back at Biigata, we made amends to our stomach with very good ramen at this place not far from the train station.
After ramen, we walked passed this very interesting eatery selling deep fried pork roll. We tried one; the meat was tasty and succulent. Yummy!
And da Boss kindly posed for us.
Next stop, Akita – for the great reunion.