Skiing Hokkaido is as much a physical experience as a state of mind. You start realizing it slowly as you get further away from the things you know. Driving on snowy roads on the “right” side, deciphering the place a convenience store should truly have in your life, and leaving your “modesty” behind at your first onsen are all rights of passage that we, visitors to this part of the world, share.
Then there is snow. Landing in Hokkaido during winter is not unlike reaching any other snowy place. Low angled light, cloudy skies, short days, and snow everywhere. But as you begin the journey into the mountains, you start noticing the falling snow. At times, just a flurry here and there. Then some heavier snow and as the day progresses you notice that it has not stopped. It has not stopped since you arrived in Sapporo. You have cleaned five inches of fresh snow off your japan-mobile with your morning coffee. Dusted off three inches in the parking lot after five hours on a hill, and another inch when you get in the car after your well honed post-ski ritual. You have done that every day you have been here.
You Doubt Yourself
The skiing is good, but you know that you have had good days everywhere. And the skiing tomorrow will also be good, and the next day, and the next, and the next.
After a couple of weeks of this, you cannot believe what is going on. It snows constantly in Hokkaido. And then you wonder why there are not more people here; you wonder why you did not come sooner; you wonder why you cannot believe it is this good every year and how are you going to swing another trip to this far-away place again – soon.
One day, you start noticing the faces of those that just got here through the lenses of your ski induced daze. The polite chat of a father and son – is the side-country accessible? Are the trees in Rusutsu good? Is Kiroro worth the drive from Niseko, did you do Yotei? Did you make it to Furano? You answer the best you can trying to keep your learned-bullshit-cool, when all you really want to do is scream: “you are in Shangri-La, do it all!”
A Fever Overcomes You
Then one day it’s over. You get up that morning and clean the 9 inches that fell the night before off. (In your head you wonder if you can get two hours on the mountain and still make the drop-off time for the rental and your flight to wherever; but you can’t – driving is going to be a white knuckle affair). And you realize that you have changed and that while you might never come back, this place is special and you are a little different. One day you might be back, maybe even next year with more of your crew, or maybe you will look at the map and find somewhere else that will change your life.