We're not quite Olympians, but we tried.
(Sara) We wanted to go skiing, and what better place to do that than where the 1998 Olympics took place. We took a train from Tokyo to Nagano, then about 1 1/2 hours further into the mountains into the area of Hakuba. This is where the downhill and ski jumping events at the Olympics took place.
We checked into our wonderful ski lodge, the Mominoki Hotel. It's a very cute ski lodge, with wood fireplaces and plenty of hot cocoa, or for everyone else but me, hot tea. They have a ski rental shop attached to the hotel, so it was very convenient. While I have been skiing a few times before, Todd had never touched a ski before in his life. We decided that he needed a professional lesson, one preferably in English! We quickly found out that all of the group lessons were full. However,Todd was very lucky in that someone had cancelled out of a private lesson, so he was able to get a 1/2 day lesson, in English no less. (His ski instructor even happened to be a nurse... just in case...) We rented our ski equipment that night so we would be ready to go in the morning!
We awoke and hit the mountain! I took off from the lift that was almost adjacent to our hotel. I had a ski area map, however, unlike in the United States, they don't have green circles, blue squares, and black diamonds to symbolize the degree of difficulty of the course. So, at every fork on the ski mountain, I had to get my map out and start comparing Japanese symbols. I was hoping not to make a mistake and go down a black diamond! I did ski about 100 feet or so of the Olympic course, just to see what it was like, then I went back to my beginner and intermediate runs. It was a really great day for skiing.
Todd, on the other hand, had a "like to forget" type day on the mountain. He spent the morning trying to conquer the mountain (aka, learn how to stop) and the mountain eventually conquered him. He states he'll never ski again, but I think I just might manage to get him back out there some day.
AAAHHHHH...THE WONDERFUL ONSEN
(Todd) Yes, I had a hard day on the slopes and barely learned how to stop, but Sara neglected to mention the hotel's onsen which made me forget all about my lack of ski legs.
After a cold, 3-hour long ski lesson, what better way is there to relax than an onsen? An onsen is a natural, hot spring bath. we were lucky since we had one attached to the hotel. I wasn't leaving Japan with at least trying it out. Since you're not allowed to bathe with any clothing, there was a mens and womens area. This picture is not one I took; it's from the hotel's website. The other guests might have been a little miffed if I brought a camera in.
Since the water is perfectly clear, it's hard to see where the water is in the photo. Well, its the bottom half of the pic. It's about 3 feet deep, really hot and soooo relaxing.
I walked into the changing room (yes, in the mens area) and there is a spot for your shoes and another row of shelves with baskets for your clothes. Judging by the number of shoes, there were only a few others inside. Before you're allowed in the onsen, you need to rinse so that the water stays clean. Some rinse quickly so they can soak (like me), but some bring soap and shampoo and literally bathe.
The area had 2 places to soak. One was inside and the other was outside. I decided to stay inside at first, because I didn't feel like freezing. After a few minutes of relaxing in the perfectly clear, warm water, I decided to venture to the outer bath. It was pretty cold, but once you get in the bath, you almost forget you're outside. It was a real treat after a rough day.
(Sara) We headed in to our lodge and packed up our belongings. For the next day, we'd have 5 trains and 2 planes to get us back to the United States of America. We had an awesome time in Japan, but I sure was looking forward to coming home!