The Japanese word 幽玄 (pronounced Yūgen), loosely translated means "subtle and profound" but is used in a sentence to express the sudden "awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words." It is a beautiful word and perfectly describes the four days I spent last week skiing, travelling, and eating my way through Iwate and Akita Prefectures of northern Japan.
My alarm went off at the not so pleasant hour of 1:15am. I stumbled into the kitchen and flipped on the coffee maker while simultaneously checking the weather report for the next few days on my iPhone. My gear was piled by the door and after a quick breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns I shuttled the gear downstairs and into the back of my car. I met my friend Junpei and co-guide at the front of our "office" and we quickly shuffled my gear into his car. After a quick stop at a Lawson's for some more coffee, we got on the highway and began our 7+ hour drive up to Iwata Prefecture.
When we arrived at our ryokan Irihata Onsen around 9am the weather had gone from sunny to very stormy. The hills above the ryokan were covered in hugemongous cornices, I have not seen cornices that big before. I was glad to be skiing at a resort that day as the wind loading on almost all of the aspects was a tad intimidating (not to mention the very steep looking tree covered hills). Once we checked in at the ryokan we drove up the road to the resort Geto Kogen. This resort is massive and we were one of about 50 cars (most of which belonged to the staff) in the parking lot.
As we were getting suited up the skies opened up and rain began to fall quite heavily. We were a little discouraged but decided to head out anyways. Sitting in the gondola on the way up we watched as the rain turned into big fat snowflakes. The top of the mountain was fluffy powder while the bottom was slushy mashed potatoes. The weather was projected to get colder throughout the day though so we kept playing, looking for fun lines in the trees.
As the day went on the weather got colder and the winds picked up, at the end of the day we were skiing in white out conditions on ice. It was spicy.
The view from our room of the Getogawa! I was kicking myself for not bringing my Tenkara rod, especially because it was March 1 or opening day for fishing in Japan.
During the night the wind was howling and the snow was coming down with a vengeance. When we awoke the view of the Getogawa had been completely transformed.
However, the howling wind had grown to ferocious velocities and consequently all of the resorts in Iwate Prefecture were closed except for Shizukuishi So after a hearty breakfast and a nice soak in the onsen we packed up the car and drove north to the resort above Gosho Lake.
Shizukuishi is a bit of an odd resort. Ten years ago they closed several lifts including one that goes to the top of the mountain but left some of the lower and mid mountain lifts open. There is also a massive 40 person gondola that leaves the bottom of the mountain every 20 minutes but it only goes part way up the mountain. Once you disembark the gondola you have to take two other separate doubles to get to the high point. The first double takes you over some extremely low angle terrain.
You find some spectacular terrain though on the last double to the top. It was in those trees that I skied the deepest powder I have ever encountered in my life. The average was waist, with pockets of neck deep snow. I did not want the day to end. However, we had only purchased half day lift tickets because we had quite the long drive to get to our next hotel for nights two and three.
On our way to Akita Prefecture we drove along the banks of Lake Tazawa.
On the banks of Lake Tazawa we came across by far the most beautiful shrine I have seen in Japan, the Gozanoishi Shrine.
As we drove into Akita Prefecture the snowfall picked up in intensity.
After stopping in at an onsen in the Animaeda Train Station we drove deep into the mountains above Lake Moriyoshishikimi. After driving for what seemed like an hour up a very snowy mountain road we arrived at the Telemark Sanso Moriyoshi a budget Japanese inn deep in the Angel Forest. That night we had a phenomenal dinner of shark and whale soup (both of which I had never had before).
It had snowed most of the night and we awoke on day three to a veritable winter wonderland. It was also the coldest day of our trip coming in at around -12°C without windchill! I accidentally left my camera in the mama-san's van when we were dropped off at Ani Ski Resort. So, I unfortunately did not get too many photos of the trip.
Day three of our four day trip was spectacular. It was also my first ski tour in Japan! I never want to leave :D
The tour was absolutely spectacular. I cannot even begin to find the words to describe how beautiful, peaceful, pulchritudinous, lovely, and snowy this slice of heaven, that is Mount Moriyoshi, was. So I will not try. If you ever find yourself in the region during winter make sure you visit this mountain - you will not regret it. Our guide, Yoshino, who lives at the Telemark Sanso Moriyoshi inn was awesome, competent, and a well prepared guide. When we realized that we had forgotten our lunches at the inn he graciously gave up his entire lunch so that we could eat.
After returning from the tour we headed down into town back to the onsen at the Animaeda Train station. When we got back the mama-san had cooked up a delicious dinner of hatahata (an ocean going fish).
Then she taught me how to make rice balls for the soup.
After dinner we sipped on whisky chilled with ice candy (aka icicles from the trees that we skied past earlier in the day), snow, and clear mountain spring water and sang Japanese and American songs. It was a night I will not soon forget.
With a 12+ hour drive to get home we did not have much time for skiing but our guide insisted that he knew of a place to take us for a quick tour so we acquiesced. Soon we were laughing with glee as we skied between stands of Japanese cedar trees into a massive clear cut filled with several meters of fresh snow. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
On the way back home we drove along the coast of the Sea of Japan. It was my first time seeing the Sea of Japan.>