From Sapporo we piled into the heavily laden cars and headed north to Asahikawa. After 48 hours that hot shower at the hotel was greatly appreciated! Then we headed out for Korean barbeque and had an appropriately testosterone fuelled feeding frenzy.
The next day we headed to a small ski field called Pippu. Aside from some superbly groomed runs, antiquated ski lifts including a single seater, and watching the army doing ski lessons in army boots and strap on skis, there wasn't much to recommend this place for a bunch of westerners looking for powder. There hadn't been any fresh stuff for days. For me, however, a few technique tips and the chance to get some strength and confidence back in my legs, made a day of easy piste skiing the perfect day. Yes the leg is improving, though cold weather really exascerbates it so the first run after lunch is usually a killer. I made it through the day though, my first day to finish relatively pain free and with a smile on my face. I'm no longer taking codeine, but the Ibuprofen is still extremely necessary. Sleeping at night, however, continues to be disturbed, so the sleep deprivation is mounting.
In the evening we went to Sushi Train, where you order various dishes and they are delivered to you via a conveyor belt that travels around the restaurant, past your table, from the kitchen. At the end of your meal the plates are counted and that's what you pay. It is dirt cheap, like a lot of food in Japan, where it is easy to get meals between $5-15 dollars, including at the ski resorts. Well, not all ski resorts....
The next day we headed to Asahidake, a snow covered active volcano which is also a popular summer trekking destination as it is in a National Park. Here I at last headed into the off piste terrain, with lots of tree skiing, and avoided hitting any of the aforementioned obstacles. Some of my snowboarding fellow travellers have not been so lucky! I didn't avoid multiple ski ejections however, so it's time to crank up the DIN setting on my bindings so I don't bounce out of my skis half way down a slope, or when I hit a small depression. Needless to say I was a little tired by the afternoon, so I finished a little early and scoffed some chocolate to allay the jelly legs and slightly hypoglycaemic feeling I was experiencing.
That evening I got a massage. Proper shiatsu from a lovely lady who came to my hotel room and pushed all the appropriate pressure points, found those sore places in my back and legs, stretched me around a bit, and seemed to be mostly pain free. Damn good value at $65 for an hour.
The pain didn't resolve completely, but had definitely moved from a burning sharp sort of pain, akin to someone sticking a needle into me, to a more diffuse type of tingling. Definitely an improvement. We packed the bags and headed south to Kamui Links, where we skied all day in gorgeous soft powder in the trees and I began to get my legs back. I even began to get annoyed with the group I was skiing with as a few had a habit of stopping after a couple of turns half way down a slope, meaning it was hard to get a rhythm up as you were either stopping above them or finding your line blocked. In the end I learnt to head out into my own untouched terrain and only follow loosely. I was exhausted by the end of the day though...
But I began to enjoy tree skiing. Which is mostly about looking for gaps and not acknowledging those hard objects on each side of said gap. It definitely gets easier with practice, and the beauty of tree skiing is that the snow quality is superior to that in glades because it doesn't get sun and wind affected. We found new terrain all day, crossing between cat tracks, and I even managed a superb face plant into a creek. No damage to anyone though.
After Kamui we drove back to Sapporo, where we are staying for the final five nights. We are close to the city centre, there are myriad shops and eateries everywhere, and there is Ramen Alley. So we went for gyoza and ramen. Yum...
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