Japan Life: Skiing in Niigata

When I admit that I’ve never been skiing, it’s normally met with jaw-dropped, wide eyed exclamations of “You what..? But you live in Switzerland..!?”

In my defence, I don’t *actually* live in Switzerland. While my parents moved over there five years or so ago, I stayed in the UK and my visits to Switzerland were twice, three times a year at best. I hold nothing against the Swiss when considering my options but frankly Geneva wasn’t exactly near the top of my must-go list.

Before my departure, I was fortunate to connect with one of our female MDs in the UK who spent a number of years working in our Tokyo office. In the run up to the Tokyo move, she became a source of guidance for me and introduced me to a number of people in the teams she’d previously worked with. As it turned out, in the same week that I would fly out to Tokyo, she’d also be flying out on business too so as you can imagine everyone was rather excited for her return. So excited in fact that the team decided to book a ski trip to Niigata prefecture – and by way of the introductions, I was invited along too!

Now, I’ll preface this story by saying I was very honest and upfront about my lack of skiing ability, explicitly stating “I have never skied before”. I did think I’d made myself clear.

Apparently not.

When I rocked up at Tokyo station in running trousers and leggings with my carry case of jumpers and nothing else to protect me against the cold but fierce determination, the analyst organising couldn’t quite believe me.

“What do you mean you’ve never been skiing?” he asked, astonished.

“Well, put quite simply, I have never skied before”.

Right then.

As a frequent commuter on the utterly terrible Southern service, I was blown away by the precision and mastery of train travel in Japan. No pushing, no shoving – just perfectly ordered queues, on time trains and enough space for everyone. Basically exactly how it should be. Having been on the bullet train for 45 minutes or so, we went into a long tunnel and I swear that tunnel was the equivalent of the wardrobe in ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ because the weather seemed perfectly fine when we went in the tunnel and we came out in 1 metre+ of snow and a blizzard. In my loafers and the same winter coat I wear in London, it would be fair to say I was not exactly suitably dressed for the occasion. Not even my suitcase of jumpers could help me here.

BEFORE

My introduction to skiing was somewhat of a baptism of fire. Yuki had hurt his leg the weekend before so, having foolishly said he wanted to take it easy, he was given the job of babysitting teaching me. A couple of ski lifts later, it was time to ski. Yuki’s teaching method was wholly practical, a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach. He pointed at the slope, motioned that we should go and with that we were off.

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Well, we were for all of about 15 seconds until, when my efforts to stop proved unsuccessful, I threw myself rather dramatically into a bank of snow at the side of the slope. Shoulder deep in powder snow, skis vaguely somewhere near my feet, poles goodness knows where. Yuki came over to retrieve me from the snow, helped me dust off and off we went again. To cut a rather long story short, the afternoon was basically a rinse and repeat version of that. By the time we called it a day, I had not made much progress. I was forced to accept the fact that this skiing business, while highly entertaining, was a bit trickier than I’d first thought.

BEFORE-3

Yuki was not very impressed with my attempts

Someone recently asked me if you have to drink at Japanese team events. The politically correct answer is “no”, however the reality is an overwhelming “yes”. Before dinner, a bunch of us were sent out into the blizzard tasked with sourcing supplies for the evening ahead. We came back with enough food for a small army and enough alcohol to keep us going for days (or so I’d thought…)

BEFORE-4

After a delicious (but rather small) dinner we all piled into the MDs’ room, threw cushions all over the floor and cracked open bottles of beer, wine, whisky, sake and whatever else we’d thrown in the baskets at the off licence. And so the stories and the games began…

In my Japanese class at university, my teacher quickly realised that the quickest way to motivate us was through the medium of chocolate. Consequently for the final two years of my degree each time I answered a question correctly in Japanese class I was rewarded with a mushroom. But not any kind of mushroom. きのこの山 (kinoko no yama – Mountain Mushrooms) are a delicious Japanese snack, made in the shape of little mushrooms with a biscuit base and a chocolate top. Someone had thrown a couple of boxes into the basket so when I mentioned this to Hikari, she decided that from then on she too would ask me questions in Japanese for which I’d be rewarded with a mushroom for each correct answer.

BEFORE-6

Out on shopping duty – and my beloved mushrooms

Contending with achy muscles, terrible visibility, worsening weather and last night’s sake still in my system, skiing on day two proved even more of a challenge. Not to be discouraged, I persevered and with a few helpful pointers from Niamh, within an hour or so, I had mastered skiing, turning and stopping.

There was only one problem. I could only turn left. Any attempts to turn right were met by massive disconnect between my brain and feet and ultimately me careering out of control into other people or snow. As you can imagine, I looked rather ridiculous skiing perfectly well one second, turning left… then stopping, turning my skis round and setting off again.

Accenture has ski championships in a couple of months’ time. I sarcastically said I’d be the perfect candidate. My remark was met with a room full of confused looks, shaking heads and a “not a good idea”.

Well there’s always next year!

BEFORE-2

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