I was lucky enough to score the spring break opportunity of a lifetime. The quintessential college spring break model of going to some beach in Mexico for a week need not apply. The plan was to fly to Japan, meet a best friend, and ski for a week, then head to Bali for a scuba diving certification course before reuniting with the rest of the group for our project symposium. Unfortunately, getting to a ski village in Japan from Indonesia is much easier said than done. First, I had to take a short early morning flight from Yogyakarta to Bali. The next step, following a disparagingly long layover, was from Bali to Singapore, in whose airport I would be spending the night. My flight got into Singapore just after midnight, and my next leg to Tokyo wasn't set to leave until 9 the next morning. But out of all of the airports in which to spend the night, Singapore has (for the last 16 years running, no less) been rated to best place to post up. So after checking out the butterfly garden, the 24 hour free movie theater, the three story tall slide, and the tranquil koi ponds, I decided to find a place to blanket up and get some shut eye. Everything was going well until I was woken up by an armed policeman and his four assault rifle-wielding counterparts asking to see my boarding pass. I guess that Singapore takes the threat of people spending a free night in their comfortable airport very seriously. In a cloudy delirium I rummaged around until I found it and handed it to him. He grunted approval and summoned his team to the next sleeping passenger. This 30-second encounter easily ranks among the top most surreal experiences of the 8 months of PacRim so far.
After another bout of unrestful sleep, it was time to board my flight to Tokyo. I managed to book a flight aboard a famed Airbus A380, the double-decker plane that is the largest passenger airliner in the world. It’s a big plane, but it’s also a quiet and comfortable one. The 7 hour flight to Tokyo went by smoothly, and I finally arrived in the country where I would be spending most of my break. I was able to get through immigration and meet my friend Hallie Holland pretty easily. She was nice enough to bring all of my ski gear over from the states! From the arrivals terminal, we met our shared cab driver and strapped in for our 5-hour drive west to Hakuba Valley, the place where we were to ski for a week. The drive went by relatively quickly, as Hallie and I had a lot to catch up on. We eventually got to our destination around midnight. It was a little bit confusing, as we were slated to stay in a small hotel room at a place called the Phoenix. The place that we were checked in to was indeed the Phoenix, but instead of a hotel it was a house. A really nice house. A house with three bathrooms, a full kitchen and heated floors. We were sure that there was some kind of mistake, but learned that because it was the low season and we were some of the only people scheduled to be staying in the hotel that week the manager had decided to move us out of our itty bitty room that we were supposed to be in, and into a massive luxury chalet. For free! After over 40 hours of straight travel this was just the kind of good news that I needed to hear.
More good news came when I was told that the storm that was depositing snow when we rolled in was a big one, and that it would be sticking around for a few days. The Hakuba Valley is home to 10 different ski resorts, and we had vouchers that would get us in to any one that we chose. The next morning we opted for the largest, called Hakuba Happo One (oh-NAY), where the alpine events for the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. The mountain was big, and the skiing was pretty good, although it was hampered by both the bad visibility brought in by the continuing storm, and due to the fact that off-piste skiing (skiing without a plowed or marked trail) is straight-up not allowed in the majority of Japanese resorts. It was a good first day of the season, and allowed me to get my skiing feet back under me. The storm kept dumping overnight, so the next day we decided to head a little bit further up the valley to a ski hill called Cortina, which is known locally for its tree-skiing and powder. The place is small, but the trees, called "self responsibility areas" on the map, more than make up for the size.
That day was absolutely crazy. I have never before been to a ski area where mountain staff have to shovel out a track for the lift because the snow is so deep. Growing up watching ski movies has shown me that out there somewhere that kind of biblical powder exists, I just have never thought that I would be able to ski it. It's like having a childhood idol and then getting to meet them when you're older, only they're even cooler than you had ever hoped. And then there are the trees. The trees on a lot of Japanese mountains are deciduous, unlike the evergreens that I grew up skiing in. This means that you can look much further downhill, pick your line, and let the skis run much easier and faster than in the trees that I am used to. Those first turns were eye opening, and proved to me that yes, indeed, that ski movie snow is out there. As if that weren't good enough, there were hardly any people on the mountain. I got to take lap after lap of some of the best trees of my life until the day was done and my legs were set to give out. That certainly was one day for the books – until the next day, that is. The storm kept pounding the valley, and we skied Cortina for the next two days as well, with each being as incredible as the last. Those three days on Cortina were easily some of the best ski days that I've ever had.
The storm finally let up on the fifth day, and the sun quickly emerged to melt away much of the evidence of the last amazing week. So, Hallie and I decided to try somewhere new for our last ski day. Hakuba 47 and Goryu are two resorts that each take up a separate side of one mountain, but a ticket for one will get you into both. They were much larger and taller than Cortina, but were limited to more crowded on-piste skiing. After almost a week of being completely under snow siege, the sun shone through and we were able to see all of the amazing mountains around us. They were positively breathtaking. It was perfect to end the trip with a nice spring day of shredding. Those five days of skiing comprised my entire 2014-2015 ski season – the shortest season of my life, but easily among the best.
After those amazing days, it was time to say goodbye to the amazing Japanese snow and our wonderful hospitality. Hallie and I made the journey back to Tokyo, from where she would be returning to the U.S. and I would be moving on to Bali through Singapore. This meant another night in the Singapore airport. Thankfully, this night was devoid of any startling by armed policemen. I finally arrived in Bali, sleep deprived and looking forward to anything but airplane food. I found my way to the place where I would be staying for the next few days while I did my dive course, and promptly spent the afternoon napping and trying to recover from the previous 10 days of travel and skiing. The next day was the first day of my class. I spent the morning learning theory and rules and such, while the afternoon was spent in the pool putting some of those skills into practice. The following day was in the ocean! We went up to the northeastern part of the island, to a place called Amed, for my first ocean dives.
Everyone seems to say that you never forget your first few breaths deep underwater. And they were right. It was a completely new sensation unlike anything that I've experienced before. The new medium was nearly impossible to describe, and the sensation of being able to move in three dimensions instead of just the usual two on land is one that is not easily forgotten. Over the next two days and four ocean dives I was able to see shipwrecks, lionfish, amazing coral gardens, an operational submarine, and a shark, among other amazing sites at a deepest point of 60 feet. And on top of all of that, it feels like flying when the current takes you. At the end of those three days, the powers that be decided that I passed, and I emerged with an Open Water dive certification. It was an absolute nonstop spring break, packed full with travel and exciting activity. It was completely exhausting, but every single second was worth it. In the end I would say that I had the ultimate ski to sea experience. I went from skiing the legendary powder and trees of Japan one day to learning how to dive in one of the scuba capitals of the world the next. Seeing as it's the last spring break of my collegiate career I'm pleased to say that I went out on one helluva bang.