On & off piste

Posted on February 18, 2013

ImageFresh off the piste and full of the joys of snow, I’ve just finished writing an article about my skiing adventures this past week in Japan … here’s a sneak preview:

Often referred to as Asia’s ‘Whistler’, Niseko lies in Japan’s remote and rugged northern island of Hokkaido. The scenery is alpine with a touch of exotic … think craggy peaks, primeval pine forest, cherry trees and bamboo.

Japan is the birthplace of geisha, samurai, tea ceremonies, sumo … and thankfully for skiers, the onsen culture. ‘Onsen’, I hear you cry?  Onsen are Japanese bathing houses … hot tubs that heal the body and relax the mind … they come with an established code of etiquette, the requirement to be completely naked for example … and are a wonderful treat for tired and cold limbs following a day on the piste.

Skiing in Japan is famous for its bottomless talc-like powder, zero lift lines, unbelievable food, amazing culture and the birthplace of night skiing.  Yes! The pistes are floodlit so when night falls, the lights come on, casting shadows on the mountains and making the runs resemble some 3D fantasyland.

Another distinct characteristic of skiing here is the cold, cold climes. Absent are the long lunches in the sunshine enjoyed on a deck chair in the Alps or the al fresco BBQ’s and beers of North America. Here, sunny days are a rarity. It just snows and snows and snows … the ungroomed pistes are nothing but fluff and visibility often nil.

Still, that makes for a soft landing right? Which brings me to my first point today.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight

Last week, I had the first big wipe out I’ve had in years. Literally years. And all I thought about thereafter is that I clearly never push myself when it comes to skiing. I am a self-confessed, overly cautious skier these days … sashaying at speeds not much faster than my mum, (sorry mum!!), but surely, doing a sport such as this when you have endless hours to just play around in the snow and enjoy that super soft landing, it’s exactly the sort of setting that you should push yourself that little bit more, find confidence and conquer fears?

I wondered why in other areas of my life, I’m so willing to raise the bar but clearly not this. And then it dawned on me. Throw in a fat, hairy goal and I’d certainly coil out of my safety blanket. Note to self for my next trip! Perhaps it is no co-incidence that the adage, fall down seven times, stand up eight, stems from an old Japanese proverb?

Every age & every stage

My second point is that skiing has to be the most ideal sport to enjoy in groups of all different ages and stages. This past week, we have neither the youngest nor the oldest in my family here, but still the greatest age gap, lying between my dad and my little nephew is sixty years. Yet we’ve all been enjoying skiing together and our vastly varying abilities just haven’t been an issue.

You see, skiing is unique in that success relies much on technique rather than how strong or fit you are. It is a predominantly non-competitive sport, focused on the individual rather than a team which means that participants are free to progress at their own pace. It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t interested or show little aptitude for conventional sports. It’s simply a great activity for young and old, fast and slow, able and disabled.

Work hard, play hard

As for skiing as a sport and not just a play in the white stuff, there are plenty of world-class ultra runners who enjoy long periods on the piste every year so surely, there must be benefits.

Indeed, it is a complete body workout, exerting every major muscle group from your head to your toes and toning your entire torso. It improves balance and coordination and is an excellent way to stretch and strengthen leg muscles. It also works your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes and is an excellent strengthener for your heart, improves your circulatory system and helps regulate good cholesterol levels in your body.

Because it requires a hearty helping of balance, strength and endurance, it’s definitely a great cross-training option that supports lots of other al fresco sports we do … the running, the climbing, the cycling, the hiking and so on.

And I guess the best part is that you can spend hours on the slopes exploring the trails and enjoying the endorphins but forget you’re actually packing in some great exercise. The creamy hot chocolates mid-morning, the G&T’s enjoyed in the hot tub, the après cocktails, the gourmet feasts for dinner … none need cause the slightest guilt-trip!

Still, I did enjoy some glorious runs on snow-covered trails to wipe the cob webs away by morning. Just couldn’t resist!

Enjoy your own time on the piste if a ski trip awaits you … and if not, Niseko definitely deserves a place on your wish list for next season …


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