My snowboard planted in a foot of powder in front of Yamaga Shogakko in Ubuyama. Arguably, this is the best place for snowboarding in my village.
Today I woke up late (10:00AM- I MUST be gettin old), and was shocked to see that 61 centimeters of snow (according to the news) had fallen over night, over the snow remaining from the previous storm. It was then that I knew that I had to dedicate today to finding some more spots to go snowboarding (last year I also went, but there was not quite enough snow to make it worthwhile). I spent 45 minutes debating under the kotatsu whether to go out for breakfast, or to go down into the caldera for groceries, since my fridge was empty. Instead, I decided to save time and get moving, went over to A-mart (this is NOT a convenience store, but a baser convenience store-like shop, with greatly hiked up prices) and picked up breakfast and dinner materials. That done, I cooked up a huge bacon, egg, and cheese sandwitch that seemed to be the best thing I had ever eaten in the cold of the morning, and set out at 11:10.
Phase 2. I thought long and hard about good spots to go, and drove around, scoping out the area. Since the roads were nearly impassable for the Wingroad, I decided to only board areas that I could reach on foot. I started out going boarding down by the logging road down by the swimming pool. This offered some stunning views of the clamshell terraced snow-covered rice fields that Ubuyama is famous for, and I stopped to take a few shots. Unfortunately, it was not steep enough to get sufficient momentum to cut through the fresh powder, and the snow was too thin in some parts because it was sheltered by the trees. As beautiful as this place was, I had to move on.
Despite the dangerous roads, I decided to jump in the car (this lead to some fun snow driving, more like sledding and sliding in areas) and to go to the steep hill next to the windmill. Unfortunately, some construction worker had the same idea, except instead of tearing down it on a snowboard, his idea was to use a backhoe to obliterate the hill and to flatten the surrounding area as part of the ongoing land development in that area.
So I began thinking... Blast! I live in the friggin' mountains! Are there no new places to explore? I could go to Hokubu and check out around Ikeyama and Yamabuki suigen, but the roads are under construction, and so I might not make it through safely. I want to go to Mt. Kuju, but the roads up there are impassable for certain... And then I remembered last year, when I tried to snowboard around Yamaga Shogakko. So I walked up the mountain and through the tunnel (screaming such gems as "Echo!" and "Hey you guys"- you know whats up), up the long driveway, taking the shortcut up the long set of stairs, walking in back of the snow covered gym and past the frozen swimming pool, up the hill in back of the school. It was really steep, but also really short. I bombed down around there a couple of times and rode down the zipline, which shot my ass with a sharp parabolic curve deep down into the arctic blue powder, just below the pure white surface. As fun as it was, it was not satisfying for the purposes of a snowboard safari. I thought again of the road leading up to the shogakko...
The middle of the road was cleared by the blade of a tractor, but off to the side was a long, 8 foot wide stretch of virgin powder with a skinny, treaded groove (made by one of the tractor's tires) running the entire 200 meters down. The grade was steep enough to be interesting, and the groove gave me a starting place to build up enough speed. The first ride down, I rode the groove like a record needle, and shot down with amazing speed. It was over within 30 seconds, and I was hooked.
I then started off into the powder, cutting back into the groove when the board would cut down and submarine, regaining speed. Eventually, I had groomed the whole length of the run, and practiced riding and jumping off of the long heaping margin of snow boulders separating my snow from the hard, steaming asphalt. I also practiced riding down on the backside of the board, slowly teaching my left foot to lead.
I spent a total of 4 hours climbing slowly up this hill, trying not to build up a sweat, and then shooting down. I could not stop myself from repeating the ride over and over, and despite the shortness of the run and the small area which I was confined to, I never lost interest. It brought back memories from one year ago, spending 2 hours on sliding my car around on the snow, doing donuts, finding out little secrets on how to make my car drive like it was not meant to be driven, and busting all manner of spins all the while blasting myself into a trance-like state with the help of DJ Shadow. Ah, the simple things in life are often the most enjoyable and addictive.
Occasionally a local would drive by and do a double-take, stopping to watch for a while and I will surely be questioned about this when I go back to work on Monday. Only when it got dark and cold did I retreat back to home. I reflected on a day well spent, while enjoying a hot bowl of garlicky kimchee miso based nabe (props to Jus for the original recipe. ah, the possibilities of future variations on this most excellent dish!).
As for snowboarding around Ubuyama, I can only think of two remaining spots to hit. I must remember to check out the construction roads that lead down to the dam, and the area around the Hokubu campgrounds and Higothai hana koen. I guess there's always tomorrow.
Ah, and just for the record, snowboarding in Ubuyama kicked the pants off of going to the Mt. Kuju "ski resort" (but most likely, hiking up Kuju and then boarding down would be a better ride). Let's take a look at the trade offs:
Yamaga Shogakko's steep driveway/road vs. Mt Kuju ski resort
Free (as opposed to 5,000+ yen)
Within walking distance of my house.
Fresh, virgin white powder.
No "Great Wall of Young People" sitting in the middle of the course talking on their keitais blocking the slopes.
No closing time.
Technically challenging areas.
Allowed to change or modify the course as I see fit
Kuju Ski Resort pros:
Speaking English ensures a crowd of awed people (maybe this is a con).
Cafeteria with decent food (but expensive as hell!).
500 meter long groomed "course".
Ski patrol (if I got badly hurt, I would have to crawl 1 km to my home).
Young people in abundance (this is important when you live in a demographic such as my current village).
Being the best snowboarder on the mountain (no, wait... thats the SAME as Yamaga. and sadly, this is not an exaggeration. yes, they were ALL noobs, albeit noobs dressed and equipped in the latest, most expensive gear.).
Close to the Kurokawa onsens.
And so, although I had a good time at Kuju last year (since I got fresh powder there, and the blizzard chased away everyone else off of the slopes), I would have to say that boarding locally was a much more enjoyable experience. Would've been nice to have a few snow bunnies along, and a cafeteria in which to sip on hot cocoa and to munch on a cheese burger and Snickers bar. But it was still a pretty good day.