March 17, 2012. I was panting very hard. Walking on top of snow and ice is not easy when you don’t have the proper shoes for it. We, all 6 of us, were on our way to Zaou Central Lodge, to check-in, change into our boarding attire, and have some much-needed breakfast. I was hungry, and geographically lost at that moment. I looked back to see if my friends were still following me and I was alarmed to see that we were missing three. They were further behind, taking their sweet time pointing their shooters at inanimate white objects that seem trivial to my earnest eyes. I wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible. I wanted so much to start boarding. Bad. After a few more minutes of wading through 3cm of snow, there it was, our hotel, in front of the gondola, less than 60 seconds away. Color me blown. I was ecstatic.
We had two 5-person room on the 3rd floor of the lodge. It was pretty decent. It’s your typical Ryokan(旅館, Japanese-inn) type room with the “tatami” floors, the exposed heater and the obligatory center-room table. On one of the corners there was a wooden pole connecting two corners, which could be used to hang clothes, which later-on we used to hang our wet snowboarding gears. At the end of the hall was the kitchen and the dining area, and just before that was the toilet. I checked to see if we had any western style toilets. I struggle with squatting while doing my thing. Fortunately, 1 out of the 4 stalls was my good friend Toto.
After changing into my gear, I went downstairs to the lobby to wait for everybody else to finish changing. That’s when I realized that I was famished beyond belief. I went to the lodge canteen with my new friend Carlo to go get something to feed the snakes. They weren’t serving anything yet, but, the kind woman at the kitchen offered to make us some Onigiris for 500 Yen. We agreed. When we brought the food to our table, she made us two humongous/ginormous Onigiris. I immediately ate mine, and for the first few seconds, it felt like water was being poured down in the middle of the Gobi dessert. It felt as if the food immediately disintegrated as soon as it reached my “breadbasket”. Yummy.
As I was about to finish my first Onigiri, the rest of the crew came. I handed them the other piece I have, and Carlo did the same. After exchanging a few more stories and banter, we set forth onto our adventure… Zaou. I could not hold back my excitement. We walked out of the canteen. It was “snow-raining,” which meant that while it was snowing, it was also raining. I took a moment to take in everything in front of me. The majestic mountain that is Zaou, the tiny lifts that ferry you upwards, the rest-houses, the people… And that’s when I realized it. The people, or the lack of. For a major ski-place, I have expected more than what I was seeing. Which meant only one thing, more virgin areas for me to explore. The thought made me explode in my nether areas. I don’t know what the sports-word equivalent for “nerd-gasms” is. But whatever the word is, I was having experiencing it at that moment.
We headed for the gondola, the name of which escapes me at the moment. I exchanged our tickets for 3-day lift passes, and the woman asked for 3000 Yen in return as warranty money, if we lose or decide to keep the cards for ourselves. Into the gondola and up we went.
The view was pretty much different at the top. Particularly the lack of it. It was snowing pretty bad. Even with my goggles on, I was having a hard time seeing things. I strapped into my board and descended a short slope, towards a connecting lift. We always rode the lift in pairs. In front was Varric and I, behind us were Faith and Devon, and lastly we have Carlo and Nadine, the beginners in the group.
After getting to the next spot, we decided to split into two groups. The beginners needed to practice more so they rode the easy slopes, while the more experienced boarders decided to explore the other side of the mountain. Everybody agreed to this arrangement, and after going down the same slope one more time, we enforced the plan.