- A term used by skiers after a bad crash in which skis, ski poles, helmets, goggles, etc... are scattered haphazardly across the mountain.
There was quite the yard sale on the bunny slope, when an out of control snowboarder collided with a skier, this afternoon.
So far Old Man Winter has been a little slow in visiting Japan. Many of the 700 or so ski resorts in Japan do not yet have enough snow to open. To make maters even more dire, last night a very warm storm (right now it is 23° C!) blew in and throughout the country of Japan warm rain decimated the already thin snow pack. Even Hokkaido got rain from this most recent storm!
However, in the Prefecture of Fukushima is a small ski resort above Lake Onogawa near the town of Kitikata; it is known as the Tokyu Grandeco Snow Resort (aka グランデコスノーリゾート) and so far this season Old Man Winter has been uncharacteristically cordial to this region. It is one of the few ski resorts that is currently open with a fairly decent base of 80cm. And I was lucky enough to squeeze in a ski trip before the warm storm moved in.
Grandeco Ski Resort
Grandeco Ski Resort is quite a long drive from where I live (over 800km round trip to be exact) but it was worth the 4.5 hour drive (each way) to get there. While the snow pack was a little thin in places it was great to be sliding on snow again. There were no crowds on the slopes and there were zero lift lines. The upper mountain was closed (not sure why maybe to save money on staffing and power consumption during the less busy mid-week days) but mid-mountain down to the base still granted 2.5km long runs which was plenty to get my legs screaming.
Grandeco Ski Resort is a great resort for beginners - the runs are wide, with simple fall lines, and there is a plethora of long green runs. After getting familiar with my skis, after a very long off season, on some of the tamer green and blue runs I was ready for a little more action. So I ventured onto Lavender 28, a short black diamond. It looked good from the gondola but once I was fully committed to dropping in I found out that it had not been groomed in several days, which would not be that big of a deal at most other ski resorts as this would result in the formation of moguls. This is not the case at Grandeco Ski Resort though as it appears that 99% of the clientele are beginner snowboarders (after a half-day of skiing I only saw one other skier). So instead of moguls the slope was covered in "snowboarder trenches" (a term I have coined to describe the utter destruction snowboarders reek on a hillside that is above their ability level). To top it off the snow reminded me of mashed potatoes that was only partially thawed after being frozen overnight. It was on this run that my first yard sale took place; one ski was stopped by a particularly deep snowboarder trench while the other wanted to keep going. It was a truly spectacular yard sale (thank God my Montbell ski pants are very stretchy). The fact that it happened in plain view of everyone on the gondola only ensured that my faux pas was enjoyed by not just myself. Crashing while skiing is something I do quite well.
Safely at the bottom of Lavender 28 I decided that my first day back on snow in eight month would go smoother if I stuck to the green and blue runs. After swallowing my pride the rest of the day was less eventful until the last run of the day (you think I would have learned by now to never go for "the last run of the day"). As I was weaving between a few well padded trees, I hit a submerged rock (or maybe it was a log) and was promptly ejected from my skis and thrown ten feet through the air. Luckily the snow was kind of soft and my throat absorbed most of the impact so it was not the worse pain I have felt this year (being attacked by a swarm of hornets this past summer in Oze National Park takes that cake). Unfortunately the crash took place on Mint, a green run that everyone else thought, for whatever reason, was closed - so no one witnessed my spectacular Super Man impersonation :(
After a solid half day of skiing we were itching for some ramen and a nice long soak in an onsen. On our way to Kitikata we came across a water amusement park called Urabandai Lavie Spa. For ¥1500 you can soak in the onsen and play in the indoor waterpark complete with a rather large water slide or for ¥520 you can just enjoy the onsen. We opted for the onsen only package and after a nice long soak in the lightly carbonated alkaline salt water we continued on our way to Kitikata. My friend Junpei had found a website where cab drivers rated the best ramen shops in Kitikata. #1 was closed so we opted for #2 - Abe Cafeteria (aka あべ食堂). It was by far THE best ramen I have ever had in my entire life. I am tempted to get in my car and drive 400km tonight just to eat it again.
Overall, it was a great trip and I am super stoked to have had the opportunity to check out a resort not very many foreigners visit. While Grandeco Ski Resort is very small, the region has at least six other ski resorts (mostly situated around Mount Bandai) some of which are quite large, and then there is the seemingly limitless backcountry options in the area too that make this place a winter paradise. Next week there is a big cold storm lining up that should allow more resorts to open and for the official Japanese ski season to kick off. I have another trip planned next week so I am hoping this storm does not go way of the Dodo.