Day 8 - Hot Springs and Downhill
written by Scott with Alison

I'm sitting here in my fancy yukata and jacket at 23:01, bone tired but relaxed. It's been a long but good day.

It's somewhat amazing that we got out of bed with time to shower and still arrive promptly at the 8 AM breakfast. We must not have been entirely awake by the time we got there, as there was "The Egg Incident" which Ali will not discuss further than saying that the waitress was very kind about the extra fuel-cakes for the hot pots. Breakfast was again delicious, and hearty enough for a day skiing. And light! None of the feeling of lead of the (otherwise wonderful) breakfasts my grandmother might make before we would head off into the Rockies for skiing.

After breakfast we were pulled aside by the receptionist, who explained that the hotel has its own ski shop, and that we could get our equipment there. This time, I checked that the price given was for both of us, and she explained that, in fact, clothing was also included. That wonderfully made up for the fact that we'd chosen to pack lightly for city travel rather than for our single day skiing. I can now procrastinate on fixing my peacoat a while longer. The fellow at the ski shop was very patient and kind about the fact that we not only don't know any of the vocabulary for ski equipment, but furthermore don't know our European shoe sizes, weight in kg or height in cm. Damn American measurements! Damn them to hell!

We made a quick run down to the town sports shop to get a knee brace for Alison. Nozawa Onsen can now join the elite club of over 1500 locations worldwide! where Alison has separately purchased a knee brace for some physical event. We got back, bundled up, and headed out with our new skis, boots, poles, snowpants, and jacket. I somehow emerged looking like a snowboarder in the shop's gear except for the bright pink and teal poles and bindings they gave. I suspect foul play, or Alison slipping them a 2,000¥ note. We assured the clerk that we knew the way to the mountain (since we checked it out last night), and self-assuredly walked out the door, turned the wrong direction, were corrected, and went on our way.

Her way of sending us to the lifts was way cooler-- we got to ride the "Yu Road Moving Path", a moving sidewalk for skiers. It was a bit scary, since it had no stair-steps and went up a hill, but we managed not to slip back into the horde of 10-year-olds behind us. At the ticket window, we made complete idiots of ourselves and amused all of the ticket people and the poor guy behind us in line as we tried to get 1 day pass each for 2 people. Hey, it's harder that it sounds, especially when the mountain offers single-lift-ride tickets, gondola-only tickets, 1.5 day passes, night skiing, and none of the prices match the brochures because they include ticket deposits.

That's another thing. The tickets are RFID-ish tags which you wear on your shoulder and swipe past a swinging gate at each lift-- a very sensible, flexible, and cool way to control access. With the system, there was no haggling over lift closure, no getting caught at the wrong end of the area, no worry about old tickets on the coat or what color today is. We declined to pay for shoulder-pouches (at 1,200¥ each), and just pulled the small plastic cards out of our pockets and swiped them each time. You do have to return the tickets at the end of the day, since they're fancy little buggers, and there are machines near each base area where you can deposit your 'ticket' and get a crisp 1,000¥ note back. Alas, $10 was too much to pay for a souvenir ticket.

The area was much larger, and generally steeper, than I expected. Alison was a bit overwhelmed at times after 5 years or more without skiing, and I wasn't in shape, so we took it easy for a while. We found a valley that had a variety of trail difficulties, and stuck there for the first half of the day. We bravely (and foolishly) did an intermediate slope first (intermediate is red on the maps-- what gives?) and on a short black shortcut face I confirmed that green and blue would be just fine for the day. We cruised the long green access road run (every area has one, don't they?) and it was lovely. I've never been to the European Alps, but the view was gorgeous enough that I'll bet it comes by the name Japanese Alps honestly.

We then skiied a bunch, and took a bunch more trails. We did lunch on the mountain for a ridiculously good price... for that price I expect we might've gotten, at best, an egg salad sandwich at Killington or Stowe. When we came back out, the sun was really nice and we hunted down a place to get a disposable camera after I showed my family colors with a full-blown round of 'muffiting' about not bringing the digital. We spent the afternoon on just a few runs-- another down the green road leading to a traverse across the mountain so that we could hit the long gondola for an end-of-day run down the "Skyline Trail" which, more appropriately than the thousand US trails named similarly, actually ran down the top of the spine of a ridge from the top of the mountain to the very bottom. Along the way it passed the Grand Prix course from the Olympics and the Ski Jump. Many pictures were taken. A few runs and a traversal back, and the lifts had stopped for the day.

Dinner was fabulous again-- Ali maintains that it was more fabulous than last night, and I agree, though we can't say why ... something about the balance of tastes and some particularly yummy dishes. The whole fish, skineyesandall, kinda freaked me out, but I did my best and Ali ate the rest in a way frighteningly reminiscent of a hungry albeit appreciative jackal. With chopsticks.

Then, the onsen. Co-ed naked hot springs. It took me a good two hours to work up the nerve, but the coolness of my yukata helped. Damn, I need one of these. With the jacket. I mean, I'll look like some sort of japanese-wannabe, but really, it's a comfy and practical robe to wear around the house if nothing else. It stays closed, is comfortable, Ali assures me that it looks manly, and the jacket with the sleeves rules. Try one if you're not sure what I mean, or check out the pictures.

The onsen. You separate by gender, strip, sit on a tiny stool, wash with a hand-shower, washcloth, and bucket, and only then do you enter the spring. It's bad form to enter the communal water dirty, but unlike the US, they actually do something about it. You have to shower before you bathe. And, in return, the water is clean and does not have to be chlorinated so hard that your skin cracks while still wet. In this onsen, and apparently in many but not all, there are gender-segregated spring pools as well as a single pool that the genders can share. In this case the latter was outside, though Ali says there was also an outside women-only pool. Everything smelled of sulfur, and it's a good thing that I have enjoyed the smell ever since a high-school trip to [Yellowstone National Park]. The scene was ... perfect. Cold winter night, two feet of snow on anything horizontal, a rock-lined hot spring with sulfurous steam rising off it. Into the spring for a few minutes, sit on the side for a few minutes (washcloth decorously covering certain bits, and yes that's tradition not just my squeamishness), back in for a few minutes and so on. Eventually I got warm enough to sit in a snowbank and feel the snow melting under me.

Then we got out, went back to the room, and have been lazing about and trying to avoid tsunami coverage on the television. Fortunately every other station has some ridiculous drama in Japanese for us to MST3K. Time for bed.

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