Last updated 24 August 2022
Snow was falling steadily at Nozawa Onsen. It hadn’t eased since our arrival, four days earlier. It was after a slight delay from our shinkansen experience we finally made it to this traditional Japanese ski village, in the Nagano prefecture four hour’s drive northwest of Tokyo, I was with two of my sons, Mr 18 and Mr 13, my other Mr 13 stayed home with Dad.“I don’t like skiing Mum,” he said adamantly. The Nozawa section of the holiday was timed to meet up with friends. Always more fun if you can ski with others – and have adult company apres ski!
An earlier blog post Japan Ohayu Gozaimasu on my imminent trip to Japan indicated how excited I was to be finally visiting the land of the rising sun. Mr 18 had graduated high school two months earlier and I figured this could be our last holiday together. Tokyo, Nozawa Onsen and Kyoto were on the list. I’d done plenty of prior planning, organising numerous activities, including a sumo tournament in Tokyo, on the last night of the sumo season (and did I work hard to secure those tickets!)
But things don’t always go to plan do they?
It was early Monday morning. Curious about the day’s weather conditions, I asked the boys to take a look outside our tatami room window. Plenty of snow had fallen overnight, the trees near the lodge entrance were covered in thick white clumps. This would be our fourth day of skiing. I wasn’t sure if should I ski today or have a rest day? My Aussie friends had departed for Tokyo that morning, to fly back to Australia. So it was either go back to the village and chill on my own for the day, or ski? I decided to ski and spend tomorrow, the last day in Nozawa as a rest day and wander about the village, maybe try a different onsen.
Because I was too busy skiing, I’d only tried one of Nozawa’s 13 onsens.
After dropping my lads off at Hikage Nozawa Ski School for lessons, I had what seemed to be a great idea. The boys had missed their lesson two days earlier because we couldn’t find the ski school (because as newbies we could not find the ski school on time!) My great idea was to ask the ski school if they’d consider me doing a make-up lesson for the lessons the lads missed. I figured why not try to improve my ski technique and fill in two hours while the boys finish their lessons? (And the Scottish side of me wanted to re-coup some of the money outlaid for the lesson the boys missed!)
The ski school’s policy is if you miss your lesson, you do your money. So to convince them to over-rule their terms, I resorted to “talking up” my writing status, saying as a travel writer I may feature the ski school in a future travel story. It took a few moments and a lengthy discussion with the manager, but the ski school agreed, provided I paid an additional 6,000 yen, I could do a private lesson. Cool I thought, this should help iron out any of my bad ski habits. I quickly told my lads as I passed them readying for their lesson, I’d meet them back at the ski school at the end of their lesson.
Rookie mistake number one!
I met my ski instructor Dougie, who hailed from Northern England. He was a youngish guy in his 20s working in Japan for the ski season. We chatted in the gondola on the way up. He asked about my ability level. I told him I’m a cautious skier. With one bad knee (result of an ACL reconstruction 25 years ago) I’ve learnt to get through each ski day, I take it easy, minimise risks trying not to push my body too hard. May sound boring, but my conservative approach allows me to indulge in my love of skiing!
We skied a green run a few times and Dougie suggested a few tips to improve my archaic style. He asked if we should try a red run.
“Sure” I said. “As long as I can put in some turns.”
Green runs are my comfort zone, I have a fear of going too fast as I feel out of control. But I thought hey, I’m with an instructor, what could go wrong?
Rookie mistake number two!
We were about to enter a trail named the “challenge.” (The irony of that name will become apparent.) Snow began falling, reducing visibility. My glasses underneath my goggles were fogging up, but I recognised Dougie in the distance, waiting for me. I took off attempting to pull up next to Dougie, instead I skied past him building up speed. As my pace increased, so did my anxiety. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I struck a bank of deep powder. My skis stopped instantly in the deep powder, but my body kept going – forward! Basically, I face planted head first into the snow. The only issue was my feet didn’t release from their bindings.
Locked into those restrictive ski boots, something had to give. It was my knee which twisted awkwardly as I fell forward then sideways. I heard a sickening “cracking” sound as I hit the snow. Locked into those restrictive ski boots, something had to give. Sadly it was my knee.
This ain’t good I thought as I turned over to sit down.
Dougie skied over and asked, if I was ok and if I could keep skiing.
“I’m not sure,” I responded. “Just give me a moment.” (Maybe a little time would allow me to recover?!)
We removed my skis and Dougie grabbed my hands helping me to stand. When the weight shifted on my left leg, I screamed, the pain shooting through my body.
There is more to the story, but I will leave that instalment for another article. In short, it was an interesting journey, being assisted from the mountain and meeting Dr Katagiri at the village clinic.
An x-ray revealed I’d fractured the top of my tibia bone: a tibea plateau fracture. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was a nasty break.
My Japanese lesson
From that moment, my world temporarily un-hinged and my journey for the next four days in Japan was not the journey I had imagined or planned for.
There is a time and a place for adventure. But this was one instance I wished I had stayed within my comfort zone!
I’ve posted what I’ve learned from my injury journey on my lifestyle blog. To read Seen better days follow this link and scroll past PART ONE: Japan (the above story) to PART TWO: Back Home.
I also wrote about my experience for Australia’s WellBeing magazine