I’ve got a problem, and rather than just let it smolder, I figured the best way to confront it is to go public
You see, I like the white stuff. I’d tried it a few times when I was in high school and college, but in the past few years I’ve developed the symptoms of a full-blown addiction. It was the stereotypical scenario. “C’mon, it’s cool,” said my friend. “It feels good and everybody’s doing it.”
So I did, and it was the beginning of the end. Before I knew it I was a powder hound. I found myself on the train, staring at ads for ski package tours, dreaming of carving into soft banks of virgin snow, slurping ramen in a mountain-top cafe sipping sake apreªs ski in an open-air bath. If you’ve been there you know: The pain of something being so close and yet so far is excruciating.
Although it’s only a seasonal habit, this year I knew I was in trouble when it was only early December and I was already hungrily eyeing “gurende guides” and pricing snowboard sets.
Naturally, one addiction feeds another. So I turned to the Web to help me in my search for an early season fix.
Another route was to browse sites that offer overviews of snow conditions. JR Ski Ski Ski (best accessed through www.jreast.co.jp) provides a quick-glance table of slope conditions, but more detailed info is available at Cyber Weather World.
To my horror, the Joetsu area, which straddles Niigata and Gunma prefectures, and even the Nagano area, had little snow on the ground and little in the forecast. Despite the fact that many ski resorts had “opened” in late November, I found very few within a three-hour radius (shinkansen time) that had all slopes running. Imaginary flakes began to melt on the screen. This was bad.
Just as I was about to break down and start looking into flights to Hokkaido (they’re not as expensive as you might think), I found Tom Boy’s ski site. As far as design goes, Tom Boy is not a pretty site by any means, but once you start schussing through the well-integrated links, you’ll soon forget about the dinky clip art.
The beauty of Tom Boy is that it is user-supported. Many Web sites for individual ski areas feature ski reports (and even live Web-cam shots to really get the juices flowing), but at Tom Boy the skiers themselves enhance the cold facts by providing frank assessments of their experiences — star ratings, average wait time in lift lines and detailed comments on the merits and demerits. Tom Boy has sifted this data into categories such as Latest Reports and Highest Rankings.
Eventually I found everything I was looking for on the Web: powder snow in the hinter regions of Fukushima Prefecture, attractive resorts that allowed reckless snowboarders (Urabandai Nekoma, Gran Deco), an accurate forecast for more white stuff (woohoo!), plenty of attractive penshion (ended up staying in a quaint log cabin establishment) and a shinkansen seat with my name on it (courtesy of www.jikoku.com/shinkansen.html).
The difficult part (or fun part, considering your mind-set) of planning a ski trip is juggling all the possible permutations: Do you want long, challenging runs, or short, gentle slopes? Do you need plush hotel accommodations or will a youth hostel suffice? Do you want to ski, without any boarders sloughing your powder away, or do you want to get radical on the half pipe? Are you going with the family (child-care facilities; chibi ski schools) or with that special someone (24-hour rotenburo)? Do you want to go for a day trip or do you have a whole week to burn? Or the really crucial stuff like, do the lifts have windshields, can you use your cellular on the mountain, and do they play J-Pop on the loudspeakers all day long?
Fortunately, for the nit-picky, several sites offer databases to fine-tune your search. You can specify whether you want cheap lift tickets, for example, or slopes that outlaw boarders. In a relatively short time, you can divine all this data and more on the Web. Sure, you might be able to accomplish the same with a printed ski guide or a knowledgeable travel agent, but if you use the Web’s resources intelligently, the rewards are significant.
At Surf & Snow, for example, the sukii-jo info is broken down into a variety of easy-to-understand categories (slopes for couples, slopes for hardcores, slopes with discount bundles).
The most useful service here is the tables of snow conditions (snow depth at the base, average snowfall, etc.) of ski areas which are, in turn, linked to further info, such as weather forecasts and accommodations in the area. (By the way, when searching for lodgings, beware of places which advertise the availability of karaoke and those which embrace college groups — that is unless you plan to party deep into the night. )
OK, now for the bad news, for certain readers. Although you can get by with a minimum of Japanese ability for many of the sites (you’ll need a Japanese-savvy computer), English information is sparse. Some ski area sites make an effort to convey the basic information, but the big umbrella sites listed here are pure nihongo.
If you just want an English-language overview of what’s available (actually, it’s only a fraction), try this world ski site: www.skiresorts.com/world/Japan/. If your Japanese ability is nil, you might consider ski-tour packages that cater to ex-pats, namely Beltop Tours, which offer tours to Hokkaido in conjunction with JAL Story. Even if you speak Japanese, these tours are worth looking into.
So there you go. Everything you need to feed a powder dependency syndrome. Race you to the lift.