The end of the line for an epic ‘Japanuary’ adventure…
I think Mother Nature took a keen interest in our winter tour of Nagano, because she decided to treat us on our arrival in Myoko. She decided to treat us REAL good.
The Myoko area, on average, receives 13 metres of snow a year. That’s kind of up there as one of the snowiest places on the planet! Who knew?! Well we definitely didn’t and that is why the 3.5-plus metres of snow that fell over the three days of our stay somewhat blew us away. The word on the street was that this much snow hadn’t fallen in such a short period for over 30 years! With that in mind, you would think this would cause some serious hurdles for those trying to get on with everyday life (other than snorkel worthy skiing!) Our crew were constantly dumbstruck at how life simply continued. The kids walked to school (on the road as the footpaths had long since disappeared) with no more than a blazer, pair of gumboots and umbrella. 80 year old grannies cleared their front steps with gritty determination. Graders, snow-blowers and lightweight little cars patiently shared the road and no one was wearing enough clothing! However, that local nonchalance didn’t rub off on us at all. Every day we looked incredulously out of our hotel window at the mounting road side banks, hearts thumping and ski feet twitching.
So yes, living in it was amazing. Skiing it, well, let’s just say I went through a few phases!
Phase One was visiting Seki Onsen the morning they received 1.5 metres of fresh in just 5 hours. Both exciting and terrifying. The relaxed vibe, low key facilities and super cool staff had the familiar ring of a New Zealand club field and this was matched by the lack of restrictions they placed on where we could and could not ski. First distinct feeling of the day? Oh yeah… fear as I watched a skier take two turns then sink completely out of sight to ski submerged styles under the thick top layer of virgin pow. That snow was the deepest I had skied in my 25 years of sliding and I had to put some tactics in place. Zero turns, as much bounce as possible to keep momentum in the 4sqm of snow that travelled in a wave around me, stay away from others so I wouldn’t bury them and do everything possible not to bury MYSELF!! Once I got a grip on my girly nerves, sucked it up and just skied the crazy stuff I knew that this was likely to be a once in a lifetime experience. The feeling was shared by my crew who stood stoked and a little gobsmacked at the bottom of each run.
Phase Two was also day two and this time at Akakura Kanko. With local advice to ski the top two lifts and the off piste tree runs around them, we headed on up the network of bubble chairs (by the way – it was still dumping and had another casual 1m-plus overnight). This day was THE day of my skiing life. There was hardly a soul around and a snowy heaven to pillage. We adventured to our hearts content, fresh silky lines for every run and some of the coolest steeper glade skiing we had experienced yet. The snow was still so incredibly deep but dryer than the day before and I had more than one “hero” moment, bouncing off pillowy drops, wafting between trees while regularly choking on the cloudy snow funnelling off the top of my skis. Epic. Dreamy. Exhilarating.
As you can imagine snow time at Myoko was all consuming, but the charm and snippets of culture we experienced in Japan still live on in the back of my brain. Skiing via snow covered roads, dodging graders and snowbound vehicles to our accommodation was one. Walking the snowy tree lined avenue to Togakushi shrine, where a famous Ninja gang used to hide in the forest. Drinking sake from the hugest bottle ever in a tiny rustic restaurant. The final night spent sharing whiskey and laughs around a table with snow loving locals at The Skater Bar was one of the best.
Myoko was the cherry on top of our Japanuary magical mystery tour. We never really knew what to expect and found every experience was bigger, better, more delicious and beautiful then we could have dreamed up. I would recommend a Nagano ski trip to anyone of any level and there is no doubt that a visit to this amazing country should be on everyone’s bucket list.