So last weekend I went skiing.
"I?" I hear you ask, not "we" as in with the family?
No, this was an 'I', along with 3 teachers from the school and 19 kids in the 'school ski club'. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it was not, in fact it was a jolly good weekend jaunt, there are several reasons for this.
Firstly it was the ski club, which means it wasn't an unruly mob of kids but a bunch who had done this twice before this year so were used to the whole caper, this meant that they were not quite into the silly bugger mode as might be expected. Secondly I didn't have to pay for anything as it was a school trip and I was 'staff' so shinkansen tickets, accommodation, lift passes (and the odd enormous gin and tonic after the kids had gone to bed) were all covered by the school and parents of kids on the trip. Also the kids knew how to ski very well, so we didn't have to worry too much about them hurting themselves by accidentally falling off something inappropriate, like a mountain (however it did mean we had to worry about them attempting to break the sound barrier whilst racing their mates). And last but not least we stayed in a great place called Canyons, which is essentially a cheap & cheerful outward bound centre, the sort of place that for some reason generally does not exist in Japan so is run by a bunch of crazy New Zealanders.
It's weird but ski places in Japan are extremely po-faced and serious, a place to go to ski, have a bath and sleep, missing out that important 'get shitfaced in the evening' bit after the bath. I don't know why this is, but trying to find an open izakaya, let alone a bar or karaoke place, after about 7pm at a Japanese ski resort is next to impossible. Well it was until Aussies realised this and started opening bars especially in Hokkaido, but not in Gunma, where we were, but luckily the Canyons place we stayed at had a most convivial bar that required propping up on a Saturday night.
However before we got there we had a day of skiing to get through. As I said this was the ski club so no beginners here, but they were there to improve so had lessons. The kids were split into groups and taken off with an instructor and as a responsible adult I went with one of them. Now it has been a while since I last ski-ed, I think it was with Steve on his last trip with the high school he worked at, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, so I knew it would take me a while to get back into the swing of it. So we went up the first lift and then a second, then the instructor stopped, had a quick explain of what he wanted us to do.
Quite straight forward so off we went - the first slope was quite shallow and we all cruised along. Next bit, stop, explain again, off down a steeper bit and zoom, off they all went and quite an alarming pace. Of course I was last to go as I had to make sure I was following up if anyone fell over or got lost, and as the rest were quicker than me by the time I caught up with the group the instructor was saying "everyone got that? Right, let's go...". And off they went. This carried on for about 45 minutes until, coming down on a reasonably long run into the main starting area, the last of the kids who I was following disappeared over the lip of a hill and by the time I'd got there had completely disappeared...uh oh. To be fair there were a lot of people down there milling about waiting for lifts, but I lost them totally. Ah, slightly embarrassing, outrun by a bunch of kids.
Oh well, luckily I found another of our groups and tagged along with them, figuring we'd probably meet again at some point and the kids were with an instructor so probably weren't in too much danger. And meet up again we did about 30 minutes later - cue much bullshitting on my part about how I had to find Mr L to discuss something... no, I don't think any of them believed me either...
After that I had to speed up, but of course the more confident I became so did the kids, so they were always far out in front of me, but I consoled myself in the knowledge that it wasn't a race. No, that came in the afternoon and on Sunday. We set up a slalom course and Saturday afternoon was practice for the big race on Sunday. Naturally the steepest bit of slope was found to set up the course and whilst skiing a steep slalom course is tricky (believe me), setting one up is even harder as you have to stop, drill into the snow and screw in poles with a big corkscrew type thing. Anyway that done the kids all set about the course, some better,some worse, but none quite so bad as yours truly. I figured I had to have a go, but soon realised that a slalom course is extremely down. This may sound obvious, but when you ski you tend to go across slopes more than down, until you get better and are confident about more downness than acrossness. I only fell over twice, but one was a real headfirst-into-the-snow wipeout - must have looked good from above, judging by the mirth.
So then on Sunday (after a Saturday night ski and aforementioned g&t) the kids spent all day racing down an even longer slalom course to see who could record the overall best three times of the day. More wipeouts from the kids this time, but then again they were really going for it and it was very icy in the morning. In the end we had various champions but the biggest winners were that we didn't have any injuries and managed to get all the kids back to Tokyo in one piece and with all their gear.
I was knackered by the end of it, but will definitely be back next season.