Having been home in a tropical country for 24 years, nothing got me more excited than experiencing the beauty of the four distinct seasons of a temperate country and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to journey among all four in the best place possible, Japan.
I first set foot in Tokyo, Japan in mid-November. As the last leaf fell back to the earth, the cool winds greeted; winter has arrived! The temperature plays around 0 to 5 degrees Celsius but the cold didn’t stop me from experiencing its full glory.
The first thing I asked the locals when I arrived was “Does it snow in Tokyo?” but their answer would be “Not usually.” Only then I realized that snow is very rare in Tokyo, almost close to none. However, it can be fully enjoyed in its neighborhoods. Since snow didn’t come to me, I set out to chase it instead.
Winter wouldn’t be complete without the backdrop of a white wonderland and there’s no better way of enjoying it than snowboarding! Admit it, you’ve once dreamt of sliding through the slopes of fine, powdery white snow and just like you, it’s one of my most sought-after activities in Japan.
A popular place to enjoy this extreme sport is in Nagano, a snow paradise in Japan. Nagano is surrounded by high mountains known as the Japanese Alps and it constantly has large amounts of snow fall every winter making it an ideal home for winter adventures. In fact, Nagano was the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. This place is no doubt the ideal place to satisfy your winter cravings.
From Shinjuku, we embarked on a night bus that took us to one of the most popular ski resorts in Nagano – the Ryuoo Ski Park. We arrived at around five in the morning and it was freezing cold! A few drops of snow fell randomly from the sky but we couldn’t see anything much because it was still too dark. While waiting for the ski resort to open, we first had our breakfast at the park’s information center. When the sun finally broke in, our adventure began!
As I came out of the open, what greeted me was the carpet of snow extending as far as my eyes can see! The frozen mountains, the sturdy trees with dangling ice, the snow-covered roofs and the thick pile of ice resting just beneath my feet gave me chills of excitement. Anyone who would see such a beautiful scenery for the first time will surely be astonished just as I did!
Of course, it’s not enough to just gaze on it. As I have said, snow is better with a board. Before going through the main course, we first had to be in full gear. A snowboarding jacket and pants, boots, bonnet, a pair of thick gloves, goggles and of course the snowboard is all we needed to be fully equipped.
All of these can be rented on the park’s rental service so there’s no need to bring anything when you come here unless you have your own equipment. Lockers are also provided in the rental shop for utmost convenience.
When we finished gearing up, we immediately went up to the skiing area. We stayed at the easiest slope for a while as we needed a lot of practice before doing the real thing.
Sure, you can opt for a group lesson and learn from a professional instructor for an extra cost or you can simply watch videos on the internet for essential tips before the day of your trip and apply what you have learned just like what I did. Whether you’re feeling cautious or adventurous is all up to you.
After watching a handful of snowboarders in real time, I decided to make my first descent so I rode the lift to the top of the first slope. And voila! After a few tries, I finally made a descent slide. Eventually, I moved up to a higher slope and each slide is as enjoyable as the first.
One skill you should master before getting all confident would be to know how to slow down or stop on snowboard.
There will always be people around during your trip which means the slope is not all yours. Naturally, most of the people will be flocking around the easiest slope so your first board wouldn’t be just about learning the basics but also about avoiding the scattered skiers or boarders on your way down.
You might even get hurt if you get too aggressive but if you become a slave to your own fear, you will surely not learn. Just always remember, it’s all about the balance. It might be difficult but it’s not impossible to learn it the first time. I can attest to that because I was a first-timer myself.
At first, your knees could freeze and you’ll stumble a lot of times, everybody does! But believe me or not, it’s one of the best experiences you could ever have! Just don’t be a scared y-cat and try to genuinely learn the sport and you will definitely have a sense of achievement by the end of the day. However, if you’re one of the few travelers who only have a limited time with full-pack vacation schedule and would rather reserve energy for the next day, it’s always fine to take it easy.
When going to the park, one must not miss riding the world’s largest 166-seater ropeway which takes visitors to an 8-minute treat of spectacular vista all the way to the top of the mountain.
From the SORA terrace which sits at an altitude of 1770 meters on top of Mt. Ryuo, you can marvel over a breathtaking panoramic view of the mountain ranges covered in snow. Oftentimes, clouds spread all over the summit like an ocean of fluffy cottons and witnessing such a beautiful natural phenomenon up close was utterly mesmerizing!
While on the top, you can add spice to your experience by running around the snow, making your own version of snowman or by simply lying on a powdery snow bed!
The best part is to eat a delicious hot meal at the Sora terrace café located at the top of the mountain while overseeing a great view of the mountainous region outside the glass-walled building and find thrill as you look at extreme athletes boarding from the summit itself.
There’s a lot of other activities that you can do on the park but for us, sightseeing and snowboarding was enough and beyond worthy for a day trip from Tokyo. After all, we didn’t want to rush everything.
If time permits, I’d definitely come back to this place and try more challenging slopes and other activities the park has to offer.