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The International Writers Magazine: Ski Japan

A Fresh Powder Day in the Japanese Alps
Antonia Shaw
There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of silence…the sound of a fresh snowfall. That’s how I feel as I hurriedly jump out of bed and onto the chairlift taking me up to the top of Happo Mountain.
It’s an early start and the sun is still warming up, so the chilly morning air sharply wakes me. Wisps of breath catch in front of my face and a light wind blows down the back of my neck, but I don’t care, soon I won’t even feel the cold.


It’s late in the season, meaning that with the start of Spring comes sunny days and no lift lines. Perfect. We are moving fast but as I make my ascent I urge the lift to speed up, uselessly tapping my knees and fidgeting. I feel a childlike anticipation for the day that lies ahead.

I pass trees around me that have turned white overnight, yet somehow still look so Japanese with their web of branches and snow-tipped buds that are wrapped up until Spring. The terrain here is nothing like what you would encounter anywhere else; the mountains seem sharper and the snow undoubtedly deeper. There’s a reason why Japan is renowned for its skiing and I’m about to be lucky enough to experience it. The backdrop of the Japanese Alps starts to come into view and in crisp, clear definition I can see the craggy rocks jutting out through their white, snowy blanket.

To my right, a group of skiers fly down the hill, throwing up great waves of white dust. Whoops and shouts reach me at the chairlift and I cant help but let out one of my own in encouragement and acknowledgement of the fun they’re having. I stop myself from panicking that all the fresh lines will be taken by the time I reach the top – the mountain’s big enough for all of us and there’s plenty of snow to go around today. Besides, there’s barely a handful of tracks weaving their way from top to bottom like snail trails. I will get mine.

 Finally my chair docks at the lift station and I am plunged into momentary darkness before emerging at the top of the world. Below there is an undisturbed view of the valley and it’s ant-like villages. Above me, just the blue sky. Nothing but fresh, fluffy powder lies in front, looking like soft, marshmallow clouds waiting and inviting me to bounce across their surface. As I clip my board onto my feet and shuffle towards the edge, I stop to absorb the almost deafening silence before taking a deep breath. Time slows down, I point my board down the mountain and as I begin to float through the white gold, I disappear.

I wrote this piece about 3 days before the Earthquakes and Tsunami hit Japan and the atmosphere within the resort changed dramatically. Physically, we were not affected in Hakuba as we were about 250km from the damaged area, but there were certainly repercussions. Roads were closed and public transport was disrupted so much of the weekend crowd couldn't make it, leaving the resort looking like a ghost town. Although the winter season was already coming to a close, the news of what had happened basically brought a premature ending to most businesses. Being in a small town with foreigners from a variety of different countries, we were all subject to conflicting news reports from our home country and the majority of us left abruptly. In hindsight, we were vulnerable to the panic caused by mainly Western news reports, and now from the safety of the UK, I can confidently say I shouldn't have left. This piece highlights the beauty of the Japanese Alps, which I was lucky to have experience in its peak, and I would strongly recommend for anyone to visit Hakuba and the surrounding areas of Japan, to witness the generous, amazing people of Japan and to show support for a nation currently in need. 
© Toni Shaw May 2011
toni_als at

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