I just got back from night skiing and it is unbelievably freakin' cool.
(It is also, according to the novelty size thermometer at the top of the chairlift, incredibly freakin' cold, edging out somewhere slightly colder than ten below zero.)
The mountain is all lit up with these gigantic stadium-style light poles, and there are a couple of chairlifts and a gondola that keep running until about half past eight. For context, it gets dark at around five-ish. So on a good day, you'll get three hours of skiing in after the sun goes down.
Everything looks different after dark. Familiar runs that you've done before in the light become unknown. There are shadows everywhere - sharp, unnatural shadows from point sources, not the fuzzy diffuse ones you get from the sun shining through a cloud layer. The snow is harsh and beautiful and somehow manages to look even colder.
It looks, I reckon, a bit like the surface of the moon.
It's quiet, too. Not just not-busy, although it certainly is that. It's actually physically quiet too. I had a chairlift chair to myself on the way up, and the only thing I could hear was the the wind howling through the chairs coming the other way, and the gentle swooooooooosh - silence - fwapswooooooooooosh of a snowboarder jumping something somewhere below.
A lot of times I was the only one on my chair. Or the only one on my run. Sometimes, if it weren't for the grinding of the chairlift poles, I could've been the only one in the world.
Normally I guess this would give you first dibs at tomorrow's fresh snow, if it was falling heavily. It was actually falling today, but we'd had a bit of rain earlier so everything got harder and slushier as you got down. By the bottom everything was pretty crusty and compacted, which made the first couple of turns of lighter, powderier stuff at the top of the lift on the way back up all the more refreshing.
This is all probably incredibly dangerous. Never mind the fact that I enjoyed it so much that I did my first solo runs - possibly ever - when the other guys went home (it was very cold). It was patrolled though. And I don't think there are any wolves.
I'm not into the whole 'do X before you die' thing, but seriously. If you ski or board, find somewhere with lights and do some sliding after dark. Preferably before you die. It's absolutely incredible.
We were doing a bit of back-country skiing, and I happened to have my phone out when I spotted this guy.
This is a pretty cool example of a cap cloud forming over Mount Yōtei. Cap clouds form when there's a layer of warmer, moister air that is forced upwards by the slope of the mountain. Where it starts to collide with the cooler air at the top, the moisture condenses out and a cloud forms. The nifty thing is that while the cloud looks like it's stationary over the top of the mountain, the layer of air from which it's forming is actually still moving. Like... hmm, like a Mexican wave staying in one spot while everyone keeps running forward. How's that for an analogy?
Sometimes you see really dramatic examples where there's just a single solitary cap on a lone mountain, but in this case you can see a sort of trail behind it, which I would guess would tell you which direction the wind is moving.
Because Mount Yōtei is an (apparently active) volcano, there's another type of cap cloud that could potentially form over it from the ash plume and associated pyrocumulus clouds that come with a volcanic eruption. They form for a similar reason, only the layer of air is being pushed up all at once by a jet of hot, deadly volcanic gas. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately), Yōtei is unlikely to erupt while we're here.
And now director, if you will pan down and to the right, we'll have a look at the reason I happened to have my phone out.
Which just goes to show that even the best of us stack it sometimes, and that's not always a bad thing.
So to follow up directly from the end of my last post: this is how we look, all geared up.
I think I look remarkably colour-coordinated for someone with borrowed skis, rented boots, second-hand pants and a thirty-dollar jacket from HK.
The snow. Oh gosh. The snow. It is all fluffy, and there is so much. So much. Snow everywhere. I hear a lot of talk about 'powder', and to be honest I don't really know what they're on about and am probably not a good enough skier to appreciate it even if I did come across some, but the snow in general really is fantastic to ski on.
The weather has been great so far, for a given value of great. Our first day was a crystal clear sky, which was great for getting to know
The mountain itself is pretty well-serviced by lifts, but less well-serviced by signposts. Which is interesting, because there's less of an emphasis on picking and choosing your runs based on their difficulty, and more on just going with where looks interesting. Maybe if you're lucky, you'll check a trail map afterwards and find you've accidentally just done a double-black run.
Lift tickets are interesting too. You pre-pay a certain number of lift hours, and then every time you get on a lift, your card gets tagged (through your jacket, with a nifty RFID system) and you have one hour of lift use. Which incentivises taking all your lifts at once, maybe doing some quick runs down, to take advantage of your hour, getting as high as you can (ha), and then taking an interesting route down to lunch or something. It's a very different way of skiing to having all your lifts free once you're on the mountain for the day, which is what I'm used to.
I reckon it's like riding a bike. It took me about fifty metres to remember pretty much everything, and now it's been a couple of days and I think I'm as good as I ever was. A lot of it is confidence. I take a bit of cajoling to get off the groomed areas, but once I do get between some trees or into some back country I'm actually okay.
However good I am, though, is still less good than Matt seems to think he is. Cocky bastard.
I don't get it. It's very strong-smelling, and for some reason everyone drinks it hot like it's water.
I tried some, but it's not really my cup of tea. Tea, on the other hand, is my cup of tea, and there's usually the option to get tea of some kind (albeit usually green tea) with meals. Awesome.
Sushi is like four bucks.
Let's just let that sink in. Four bucks, for a whole tray of sushi. I mean, it's from a supermarket, but still.
We had a sit-down meal at a place where you sit on the floor. There's a whole ritual around 'clean' and 'dirty' parts of the floor and when and where you're allowed to take your shoes off, which had to be explained to us. There isn't an option to use forks, even in a Westerner-full town like this, so my chopstick skills are probably improving at about the same rate as my skiing skills. Possibly more so.
Hey, speaking of supermarkets, how weird are Japanese ones?
I'm hardly the first person to observe this, but jeez. Everything is in Japanese - no surprises there. But to compound that, almost nothing is recognisable. It's like an entirely different culinary history has evolved entirely parallel to the rest of the world, with almost no cross-pollination. Which I guess isn't far from the truth.
Everything is pre-prepared, and individually packaged, almost always in plastic. The packets have such a bizarre aesthetic to them as well. Everything is labeling overload. And they had the strangest, most stereotypical Japanese background muzak playing as well - but not over a speaker system. They just had loads of individual CD players positioned all over the store. So it was all almost psychotically discordant.
Still, everything (when we knew what it actually was for comparison purposes) seemed pretty reasonably priced. Even the fruit and veggies.
Okay, look, I know I had kind of an 'S' theme going on here, but I can't not talk about these. Hold on:
Anyway these things are intimidating, and a bit of a mixed bag. With any given unit, you'll get some combination of seat-warmer, automatic flushing, tank-filling handbasin, and built-in butt-washer. All of this is hooked into a fearsome-looking control panel, all of which is labeled in Japanese. It makes you realise how primitive our toilets must seem by comparison.
Then again, I like to think ours have a brutal elegance to them. In Australia, you stand a decent chance of fixing your own loo. In Japan, it looks like it requires a degree. Or at least an electrician. They're very much not user serviceable. In my case, they're barely user usable.
Travel blogging: Come for the photos, stay for the toilet humour.
Now I just have to remember how to put all this gear on...
'And will that be less spicy too, sir?'
We're sitting in a Sichuan restaurant. It's been a long day, and I am more than a little grumpy. Mostly, I attribute this to lack of sleep. I'd spent last night rediscovering - not that I'd forgotten - my total inability to sleep on planes. Matt, who likewise can't sleep on planes, is a little caustic himself, and we're both being rubbed the wrong way by Dad, who cheated by taking a questionably prescribed sleeping pill and is irritatingly chipper.
'No, give it to me normal.'
Possibly I am trying to prove something. Possibly I am just trying to make a point. Possibly my subconscious craves annihilation. Possibly I am hoping to scour the taste of Starbucks from my palate.
Most likely I am just not thinking very clearly.
'Very good sir.'
We're staying at the airport hotel because that's what you do when you're only in a country for twenty-five hours, but the room wasn't ready. Thus denied my customary shower and blissful nap, I have been traipsing around Hong Kong for about eight hours, fresh from a plane. At first I enjoyed getting to look like a total traveler in my zip off pants and North Face jacket, but after a while, the novelty starts to wear off.
The food shows up, and it is literally buried in chillies. Ostensibly there is chicken and crab in this pile somewhere. I think we might be in over our heads. This is confirmed when I get hiccups after one bite. My face is red with embarrassment - or, wait, no, that's just sunburn. Never mind.
The trickiest thing to find was gloves. Once we got to Stanley, which as far as I can gather is sort of a big market district, surprisingly adequate jackets and pants pretty much fell into our hands, for something like thirty (Australian) bucks each. Even socks showed up in the right sizes. Gloves though. None. Or they do have them, but they're not waterproof, just pretending to be. The dim sum we had for lunch is just not sustaining me any more, and we end up hitting a Starbucks for the second time in one day. Not my finest hour.
At this point I think the staff are laughing at us, with our silly white people ways and (my, in particular) obvious overconfidence in our ability to handle Sichuan Cuisine. We are probably tremendously entertaining. My face burns with embarassment, just as my mouth burns with chilli and my skin burns with overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Then, I remember that I don't actually have any stake in what these people I will never see again think of me. I finally start to enjoy myself at this point, and begin searching for fragments of remaining chicken in the bowl of chillies.
(We never did find gloves. I think we'll have to wing it.)
The bill arrives, complete with three business cards much like the one that led us here. We walk away, plates unfinished, clutching our tokens of pride and shame.