Thursday, 26 December 2013

Things To Do in Rusutsu When You Don't Ski/Snowboard

I don't ski. 

Mostly, this has to do with the terribly traumatic incident that happened the first time I tried, aged ten, only to run a man over and then crash head first into a fence. I never found out what happened to the guy, but the look of horror on his face when I went barreling into him is something I'll never forget. (M & D don't ski either, because they never felt limber enough to bother learning.) 

So, with BB being the only person from our family hitting the slopes at all, the rest of us had to find other ways to spend our time at Rusutsu Resort. Thankfully, that wasn't very hard to do.

After we entrusted BB into the care of his snowboarding instructor, we made our way from the North Wing of the Resort to Rusutsu Tower, next to which the Activity Centre was located. Given the sheer size of the resort, this meant taking a monorail after trekking over to the South Wing. It's that big. 

On our arrival at Rusutsu, we'd been given a sheet of paper listing all the Winter Activities on offer, as well as their timings and prices. The sheer number of things available for guests to do meant that the font ended up quite small and the words were squished together like ants running across a page. Nonetheless, we managed to decipher it enough to see that they had snowshoe trekking, which we were interested in doing. There were one hour courses available, but we didn't want to get up to make the 7 am start time, so we decided to be more adventurous and try the 120 - 150 minutes option, which had a slot available at a more decent time. 

While kitting us out in sturdy boots and strapping us into the modern-looking snow shoes (D was almost disappointed we weren't wearing more traditional ones), our guide introduced himself as Katsu. "It's my nickname" he told us, likely aware that our owlish stares meant we were thinking about the deep fried cutlets. Once he deemed us ready, we set off immediately to tread onto the deep mounds of powdered snow surrounding the resort. In this kind of snow, Katsu-san informed us, there was no need for any special training - all we had to do was walk and keep going, simple as that. So we went forth, carving deep tracks behind us in the fluffy snow. 

He brought us on a long uphill climb, pointing out all the signs of wildlife along the way. The first thing we came across were fox tracks criss-crossing the otherwise pristine swathe of snow. Next came a hole, albeit somewhat snowed over: Most probably dug when the fox was hunting mice burrowed underground. He demonstrated what squirrel tracks looked like, and eventually we spotted some genuine ones up ahead. There was even a woodpecker's nest, although the bird was long gone by then. 

Up and up we went, until we hit the peak. From there, he let us choose if we wanted to go downhill the easy way or to take the perilously steep drop. Obviously, we took the drop, which turned out to be far less frightening once he showed us the trick of pressing our snowshoes in, perpendicular to the incline. From there, it was descending as elegantly as we could, which went fine until I tripped over the hem of my own coat. Thankfully, the snow was very soft. 

We were given a five minute breather to go "Have fun!", during which D & I half-heartedly tossed about some snowballs before hitting on a more novel plan. We decided we were going to liberate a tree that had been partially buried under the snow. 

Using our walking poles, we hacked away at the ice that had formed, unearthing branches that had been in danger of snapping. It was harder work than we thought, so when Katsu-san called us over to the tea area he'd carved from the snow just as we were getting winded, we quite readily trotted over. 

Katsu-san, who apparently also teaches igloo-making classes in the winter, had used a small saw and a shovel to construct a table and a bench for us all to enjoy a rather surreal tea. Mugs were set out for all of us, and as Katsu-san boiled the water, D magically produced a packet of sweet chestnuts for us all to share. 

It was a very civilized tea, for all that we were sitting in the middle of a forest as fat flakes of snow descended around us. We were offered milk and sugar with our cups of English Breakfast, and Katsu-san also took out a bag of biscuits for us to enjoy. 

As we sat there chatting, Katsu-san taught us the best way to pack snowballs out of powdered snow ("You must warm it a little with your hands!"), and used the ones he made to put together a cheery little snowman centre-piece for our table, complete with a knitted cap he dredged out of his pack. 

Once we were done, we cleared everything away as Katsu-san disassembled our tea area, so when we left it looked almost as though no one had been there. The walk back was a little tougher even if we were now going downhill, because we walked into what, in my experience, felt very much like a blizzard. All that snow really stung. At the end though, all of us were very pleased we'd survived, and it had been quite a good workout. 

We also tried our hand at riding snowmobiles, and went for the 50 minute course. I had a Wile E. Coyote moment when I first started where it seemed like the snowmobile had zipped off and it took a while for the rest of me to catch up. It was exhilarating to ride off the tracks left behind and carve my own into the snow, and as we ran through the various circuits over hilly terrain, I managed not to notice that my fingers were cramped and freezing. (That hit later.)

M and D managed to fall off their snowmobile towards the end while navigating a particularly tricky bit going up a slope, but the snow effectively cushioned their landing, and our instructor had them back on in no time. We left windswept and happy, but fairly eager to get back into the warmth of the indoors. 

The public baths that Rusutsu are spartan, and will get you clean and warm but aren't a luxurious must-do. Compared to the one located in the South Wing, Rusutsu Tower's baths are a little more interesting thanks to one luridly purple indoor pool and the option of an outdoor bath, but still. After a quick soak, we went to see what there was to do indoors, which was how M found the arcade. It was filled with UFO machines stocked with stuffed animals, and I had to stop her from spending another fortune trying to win one. It didn't help that she got her heart set on bringing home an Alpacasso plushie, the happiest and cleanest alpacas to ever exist. 

Me: We're terrible at this game! Also, they're rigged! Stop! We can buy one for you in Tokyo

In the end, I had to drag her away, but not before she managed to spend ¥500 for naught but heartbreak whenever the claw proved once again it had no grip. 

M & I wound up at the handicraft corner near dinner-time, and got to work making our very own Christmas Wreaths. The person in charge set up massive spotlights over the work table and handed us each a glue gun, then sat back as we ran wild with the spray painted pine cones, ribbons, and other bits of decor laid out for our use. A sample was provided to show us how well the glue gun worked, so we made the most of it. 

At the end, my finished product:

We didn't get round to fresh caramel making or horseback riding during our time at Rusutsu, but what we did try was good fun. 

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