Winter Wonderland

Our next destination, Nozawa is where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held, and it is covered in even more snow than Shibu was. In typical Japanese style, we arrive at Iiyama train station, walk outside and there’s a bus to take us up to the Onsen.

The bus has a funny system for calculating the price – stops are numbered 1 – 10, and an electronic matrix calculates the amount for each stop depending on how far we’ve travelled. To the terminus in Nozawa it’s 700Y, about $9.

Our hotel destination is not so easy; we have to walk uphill for several minutes (well, it is a SKI resort, so of course it’s on the side of a mountain!) shlepping our bags until we arrive, out of breath and quite warm, despite the 3 degree temperature. Our room is cosy – so cosy in fact that like most places in Japan there isn’t room to lay out our bags. They’ve managed to squeeze in two single beds, a bedside table, a cupboard, wash basin, toilet and a small coffee table with two chairs into a space about the size of our kitchen: if you haven’t seen our kitchen, it’s not big. It means we have to turn sideways if we both want to move around at the same time. But we have our own toilet, which is a bonus, since most of the rooms have to use the communal ones in the hallway. The bathroom is also shared, downstairs on the first floor – the usual format: showering area plus a plunge pool of hot water to soak in. We’ll probably need that if we decide to go skiing?

In no time at all we’ve had our first wildlife experience: W points out of the window and says – what’s that? A browny-grey creature a resembling a mating between a goat and an antelope is picking its way gingerly across the snow between the houses, quite a feat considering the snow comes up to it’s knees. I notice one front leg looks like it’s been broken at some stage, swollen and knobbly; it seems unlikely that a wild healthy one would be foraging in a town. I learn later that this is a kamoshika, and it’s not unusual to encounter them on (or maybe off) the pistes here.20170309-IMG_5516-23.jpg

As it’s a beautiful afternoon, we decide to reconnoitre a bit; off up the hill to the ski gondola, and there we are, in the snow, surrounded by skiers and snow gear hire shops. It is almost freezing, so a mulled wine and hot chocolate warms us both.20170309-IMG_5511-16.JPG

The Nozawa ski slopes are fantastic (well, in comparison to my only other experiences in Austria and Australia) and extensive: one run nearly top-to-bottom is 5000m long – and it’s a green run (ie for wusses like me {interesting note about the origins of the word wuss: Invented in the summer of 1964 by an eight year old San Diego elementary school Boy named Don who needed to find a new name that none of the bullies would recognize. The popular insult names at that time were Wimpy, from the “Popeye The Sailer” cartoon and Pussy from the obvious. Wussy and Wuss kept them confused for a short time and gave the abused a short victory over the bullies. In the beginning Don actually had them conviced it was a compliment.} ). We want to take the main gondola up top for a look-see, but it’s 3.45 and the lift closes at 4.00: the round trip would take 20 minutes, unless you’re on skis, in which case 10 minutes to get to the top, and 30 seconds to arrive down the bottom. Just kidding.

So we take the shuttle, a snow-mobile pulled sled to the other side of the resort, where there is a second gondola for skiers. My interest is in the travellator – yup, they have an escalator to take people from town to the gondola. How cool is that?20170309-IMG_5514-25.jpg

At the bottom of the travellator is a beautiful shinto shrine nestled amongst 100+ year old trees. With the snow on the ground, it’s a spectacular place.20170309-IMG_5521-12.jpg

The town is much bigger than Shibu, our last stop, which I guess is not surprising since this is clearly a favoured skiing destination during the winter months, and not just for the Japanese. There seems to be quite a few Aussies scattered around, including one guy who while chatting with (up?) his young female companion, is considering selling his house in Australia for 1.8 million, (but only after another year of ownership to avoid triggering capital gains tax) and investing the money so he can go snowboarding all year long, all round the world. And I thought it was only in Sydney I’d have to be exposed to a conversation about real estate and its value… Sigh. But it still intrigues me enough, so I whip out my iCal, and figure out that at even 1% interest he would get 180,000: quite enough to subsidise a lifestyle like that….. I return my focus to chicken with cranberry sauce and mash potatoes washed down with a nice Chilean white wine.

Before too long, soft flakes of snow are descending again, and it’s definitely brass monkeys weather now, but the snowfall augurs well for skiing – we’ll see how we feel.

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