Sun, skiing, and monsters

Given our skiing session yesterday was quite short, Denise and I had already decided that if the weather was good today we would try to make a full day of it. Luckily someone was listening and we awoke to fresh snow fallen overnight and blue skies. Filling up on a delicious breakfast as usual, we soon headed off on the day’s mission to accomplish several things:

1. Visit the yet unexplored areas of the ski resort
2. Have lunch at the summit
3. Ski down from the summit to the bottom, a 10km run, which meant I had no choice but to ski a steep and narrow intermediate level run before I could get onto my easier ones
4. Get a copy of the a accident report about Scott’s accident from the ski patrol
5. Visit the snow monsters after dark (more explanation below)

Riding 3/4 of the way up the mountain (the level at which we could cross sides) we started our decent into the other side of the resort. Although there were a few nice runs, we found the lifts that serviced them were laid out very inefficiently which meant at times you had to push along flat ground to move between them, or even worse take off your skis and have a small uphill walk. I had read this was a minor disadvantage to this resort because of the number of separate lift operators who get paid on a percentage of your ticket price based on the number of times you ride their lifts, therefore some lifts have just been put in wherever they fit just to maximize the number they have operating. It made for some good exploring (and exercise) though, and at least now I can say I did most of the resort. It also proved one side of the resort (our hotel side) was better than the other. After putting in a good few hours, Denise and I eventually made it up to the summit for some lunch, and I also figured why not make the most of it and wash it down with a beer. By this time the weather had also changed with the low clouds rolling in which which meant visibility had started to become an issue. I couldn’t leave Zao without having done the full run top to bottom (10km), so we geared up and headed on out. The intermediate run leading down from the summit was quite steep and narrow, so I took it quite easy. The other issue is the snowboarders who think its ok to sit and chat in the middle of the slopes; you are there to snowboard people so get up and go. This has actually been an issue several times this week, and was actually worse later today as more people arrived for the weekend. Upon reaching the bottom we decided it was time for a break so we would try acquiring a copy of Scott’s accident report. We had no idea where we needed to go looking for this, or even how to ask for it when we did find someone, so luckily one of the girls at the hotel had translated our simple request on paper from English to Japanese. First we headed in search of the town clinic thinking this is where the records might go, however this was incorrect. Not knowing where else to try, we decided to drop in on our baker friend for some help, but also for some bread and a final goodbye. Between a bit of pondering and discussions with another 2 people in his bakery, he advised us to try the nearest ski patrol base to the accident and pointed them out on the map. With fresh bread in tow, including what we think must have been a few freebies (hard to know when nothing has visible pricing) we dropped back in on Scott with his lunch then headed off in search of the ski patrol office. After arriving at the office and producing the bit of paper, they were still quite a bit confused as to what we were wanting. Luckily with both of the ski patrol members being tech savvy like me it was soon battle of the phones as we translated words and sentences between English and Japanese, sometimes with quite funny results. Denise thought this looked quite funny, however in the end it got the job done and it was organised to fax a copy of it to the hotel that evening. With this mission accomplished it was back to the slopes to make the most of our little remaining time before the lifts would begin being shut down. The sun quickly disappeared and the temperature dropped, so with one last final run it was time to return the equipment and call it a day. Upon arriving back at the hotel we were queried as to what time we would like dinner (as was the process for all other nights), however as Denise and I were planning to visit the snow monsters tonight we decided we would sort out our own and politely declined. After arriving back at the room the phone rung, with another query about dinner to which we tried to explain our reason for declining, however they were persisting and mentioned what we believed was the word steak. To try and explain our situation, Denise and I headed back down to reception and managed to let them know our plans. They were still quite persistent however, and made an arrangement for us to come to dinner at 8pm, even though the last sitting was at 7:30pm. We did not want to offend, so accepted their offer and quickly got ready to head up the mountain to visit the snow monsters. Snow monsters, or Juhyo in Japanese, are basically trees that are slowly covered in snow and shaped by the wind until they become a large snow like sculpture. On specific nights they run the gondolas to the top and illuminate them with coloured lights. It was quite cold up there to be walking around at night, with the mercury sitting at -8.5 degrees. The cloud was also quite heavy, which meant visibility from the gondola was near zero. We got off at the top and walked around a small roped off area and took a few photos, however based on photos on the Internet and promotional posters we were expecting a lot more. We both agreed however we would have been disappointed if we did not do it. After arriving back at the hotel we just had enough time for a quick shower, before wandering down for dinner to see what all the persistence was about. The first giveaway that something was different was an empty table compared to our tables previously which already had food laid out, and cutlery in addition to chopsticks. After ordering drinks a large bowl of salad for each of us was brought out, and not much longer after that a sizzle plate was brought out laid with a large steak cut into strips. The meat was beautiful, tender, slow medium cooked, and marinated in what tasted like a ginger and soy sauce. We were a little concerned however that we may have made offense on previous nights sending food back that we were not quite keen on and so had only eaten a little of it, as we had read Japanese culture can dictate eating everything to the last grain of rice, and this was the reason for this special meal different from everyone else. The desert was also different to previous nights, with ice cream in a strawberry sauce. We were unsure of how much to make a big deal of it, as if it were a replacement for a standard Japanese meal as they thought we were not being satisfied then they would be wrong as we have enjoyed every meal, or if it was just a special treat then thanking them more than previous nights would suggest we prefer this. In this difficult situation, we simply thanked and greeted the staff as usual and headed back to our room. The dinner experiences have been quite interesting in both the food and the service. Any time a member of staff comes to your table, before they depart they will bow. Walking around the restaurant and the staff will bow to you. Departing of an evening they will all stop what they are doing, face you and bow as you walk past. On most occasions one of them will have also already gone out the front, called the elevator and is holding it for you before giving one last bow as the doors close. What we also found amusing that it was a special treatment to us, as most of the other Japanese guests were not given the same treatment.