With integrity and hopefulness that there will still be some powder magic out there in the mornings after a festive rain and windstorm, we waited in line for first lifts.
The first sightings in four weeks of blue skies and the peak of Mt Yotei was an invigorating rush that motivated us instructors to drag our weary, beaten bodies out of bed early to ski perfect groomers.
The initial intension didn’t last long as we could still see un-skied powder on the side of the runs.
The last month there had been so much some mornings that even on the red slopes the knee-deep powder made it impossible to turn, with powder-enthusiasts choking whilst submarining between the trees.
This morning, race skis were not welcome. Ollie double ejected and flew like superman before disappearing into a powder swimming pool. I cried laughing. Sorry :’)
Work was getting quieter, which meant more time out there snow-shoeing with guests who wanted to enjoy something slightly different.
Wandering through the trees was a chance to reconnect with nature and appreciate how beautiful the silver birch forests can be throughout the winter. A meditative, calming experience.
If you weren’t breaking trail through 50cm of snow! Trying to keep a lighthearted conversation and facade of fitness whilst sweating and panting is tricky!
But my fellow snowshoers would always come away with huge smiles and snow in their pants, after having an hour of throwing powder around and making fresh snow angels.
New Years in Japan is a bigger deal than Christmas celebrations. Traditionally, families would spend time together enjoying an Osechi which is a selection of special pre-prepared foods like mochi, a bitter orange, broiled fishcake and omelette in a bento box. Originally, during the first three days of the New Year, it was a taboo for women to use a hearth and cook meals, except when cooking zōni (mochi soup).
The term o-sechi refers to a season or significant period. New Years Day is one of the five main seasonal festivals in Japan. This custom of celebrating particular days was introduced from China.
Mochi making is a traditional practice at New Years. Special sticky mochi rice is boiled and then pounded in a wooden stump with a large wooden hammer into it becomes a gooey sticky paste.
This mochi was topped with Kinako. Kinako is powdered roasted soybeans. It’s a common healthy Japanese flavouring which contains B vitamins and protein (great for you protein-powder fans out there).
The six of us decided to have a little food party of our own, and with Shunsuke’s (our legendary Japanese cooking Guru) guidance, we handmade gyoza (which are actually Chinese-originated dumplings)… 200 of them.
Missing the fireworks and torchlight ceremony which spelt out “18” for the New Year due to too much traditional sake drinking… We made our way to the little local shrine called Yamada Shrine. Hatsumōde is the first Shintō visit of the Japanese New Year. Generally, wishes for the new year are made, but a common custom during hatsumōde is to buy a written oracle called omikuji.
As the calendar flicked back to 01/01, and I turned 27, I rang the shrine bell. Thanking the Shintō Deities for last year’s life lessons and true friendships made, I prayed for the next year to continue my fortunate life safely, wisely and happily.