Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
January 31, 2017
To a tropical boy, snow was as real as Santa Claus. I knew which was fictional, but snow was just as much the stuff of children’s literature and my childhood dream. Then “adulting” cured me of my boyhood fascination with frozen precipitation.
Until almost half a century later. I had a gnawing feeling it was time to get it out of my dreams and into my memories. This snow virgin decided on Japan Alps as my winter wonderland. Because winter (on one hand) and Alps (on the other) – ugh (together) – SNOW!
But my travel buddies were none too thrilled to travel all the way to Niigata from Tokyo. Time and budget constraints also held me back. I was crestfallen to have “adulting” get the better of my childhood dream once again.
Until my former students, Taka and Koji, came to my rescue as my snow angels. Without any prodding on my part, they decided to skip work for a day – a big deal for the workaholic Japanese – to give me my first snow experience.
Taka rented a car and took turns with Koji driving up to Fujiten Snow Park in nearby Yamanashi Prefecture. From the highway, I first laid eyes on Mt. Fuji, a distinctly pyramidal mountain of snow at a distance. When we set out, I didn’t realize we were driving toward it. The closer we got, the bigger it got, the wider my eyes got. My dream was getting too good to be true!
I finally set foot on hard and slippery snow – for the very first time – at Fujiten. Lo and behold, we were standing at the foot of Mt. Fuji rising dramatically at the top of the ski slope. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
My snow angels thought it better to “break in” this snow virgin on the sledging slope. I denied any feelings of trepidation as we went up the conveyor belt by yapping nonstop to a video recording (read: vlogging, or an attempt of it). I had an aversion to the sensation of falling.
“Let it go. Let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore.” The song was apropos. I let go of all motor control and slid down with my heart in my shoe. I hit the snowbank and landed perfectly – faceplanting on the snow of my dreams. I fancied I kissed the ground. My snow angels were too happy to capture the moment on video. “The cold never bothered me anyway!”
After our brekkie break, Taka announced the time had come for the main event: my first ever ski lesson. The poor tropical boy had no budget for ski rental, but not to worry – Taka lent me his wife’s gear!
I put on waterproof jacket and pants over my clothes. Silly me, I never realized snow was wet! I slipped on ski gloves, much thicker than the woolen ones I had on. I threw the hoodie on my beanie to complete the look. I was transformed into a newbie skier with only my sunglasses retained from my original OOTD.
Getting into ski equipment, care of snow angel Taka once again, was the challenging part of gearing up. The boots were as heavy as a ton of bricks. As he strapped on the bindings for me, I immediately felt immobile. As he locked them onto the skis, I was done in. I was tempted to simply have a photo op and call it a day. My snow angels were more determined to get me to work the slope than I ever was.
Step 1 – I practiced walking – actually lifting my foot with that ball and chain, i.e. ski boots – on a flat surface with knees slightly bent. Each step required monumental effort. I had to make angular turns without interlocking the skis, lest I collapse helplessly.
Step 2 – My snow angels held me up like a paraplegic and pushed me up the bunny slope. I had mastered turning my skis enough to face across the slope and keep me in place before I was ready to slide down, which I never was. At this point I never imagined sweat and snow went together. I was clammy under my multi-layer clothing.
Step 3 – Taka bent over (and kept the position, which got me to appreciate how my snow angels went to great lengths to let me do this) to get my skis in a wedge like a slice of pizza. “Tips together, tails apart” was the name of the game. With legs slightly bent and torso slightly leaning forward, I started to glide down. Of course, with Taka on hand to catch me seconds later and Koji at a distance recording every step on video.
Step 4 – Finally I was gliding on the snow. It was a delicate yet firm balancing act: my ankles keeping the wedge position and my arms gripping the ski poles that propelled me down the slope.
Step 5 – Until I crashed onto my instructor! I collapsed on my skis and on Taka. I had yet to learn widening the wedge angle to slow down and turning the skis across to stop.
I was beat, it was late, and it was over. But for the first time in my sedentary life, I enjoyed a sport! I had always found shooting, kicking, tossing, hitting, and rolling balls deathly boring. In this one chance and one day to try my hand at skiing, I could say it was the closest I got to flying with my feet on the ground. The rest of my body ended up on the ground as well; that was part of the fun, for sure.
Coincidentally, the word of the day at dictionary.com was KANONE: “a person who is an expert skier.” That was a long shot for me, but it was amusingly encouraging.
On the day I arrived in Tokyo, Taka welcomed me at my hotel on his way to visit his father’s grave. He said something I would never forget: “My father and your mother arranged this meeting!” I believed him. One of my mother’s dreams was for us kids to play in the snow. My sibs got their snowy experience early on. Mine took nearly half a century, but I could feel my mother’s hand through it all. Mom was my original snow angel!
Arigato, my snow angels!