Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pitfalls of a Romantic Idea

This is the little cottage that we stayed in when we went skiing in Hakuba two weeks ago. Hakuba is known for its good snow quality outside of Hokkaido and has a high concentration of ski resorts, the most famous of which being Happone, where the 1998 winter Olympics was held.

Our friends Tomoko and Robbee, both avid snowboarders, are big fans of Hakuba and make at least one trip there per season. Under their influence, and the disappointment in Hokkaido last year still fresh on our mind (we had no snow in Hokkaido, if you could believe that), we said yes readily when Tomoko suggested a long weekend of skiing in Hakuba. I was even more thrilled when I found the above cottage on the internet that allows dogs. I have always wanted to stay in a cottage deep in the snow, have after dinner drinks around the fireplace (never mind I don’t drink and this particular cottage has no fireplace) and talk with friends well into the night. So it was decided that we would drive to the cottage on Thursday night so we could enjoy three full days of skiing.

First lesson: when traveling in rural areas, don’t trust your navigator, even if it managed to pinpoint the place with the phone number.

When we arrived at the spot where our cottage was supposed to be, there was no cottage in sight. Instead there was a ski shop. Lucky for us, the owner was still up and directed us to where our cottage was (3 km away). What happened is that the number listed was for the ski shop/reception area for cottage. Who would’ve guessed that the reception and cottage would be miles apart?!

Second lesson: oil heaters are your friends.

Twenty minutes later, we finally found our cottage. After climbing up a mound of snow with a couple of footholds carved out, we found ourselves in the living room of a VERY VERY cold cottage. We fiddled and waited for half an hour before concluding that the main heater was broken. This left us with two little oil heaters. If you have ever been in rural Japan in the winter, you would remember that unique gas smell. In Tokyo, you can usually find this type of oil burner in outdoor dining areas in the winter, in the shape of huge heat lamps. We had to make a decision: leave the heaters on all night long and be reasonably warm and face possible gas poisoning, or turn them off and face the consequences. We imagined what the headline of the local newspaper would say to describe the unfortunate ski accident “Five Bodies Found in Cottage, Four Human and One Dog” and decided to be cold and alive.

I spent half the night trying to warm up my body and when I finally fell asleep and woke up in the morning, my nose was freezing and I could see my own breath. Meanwhile, Robbee and Tomoko had resolved to bury themselves under piles of blankets so high that I didn’t even see them when I first woke up. Libby was probably the one that fared the best, curled up in her own little corner on a folded futon.

Third lesson: oil heaters give you headaches.

Second night, we got a third heater from the cottage owner and conquered our fear of death by gas poisoning. We kept all three heaters on all night. The heaters and the tabletop burner for our nabe dinner made the cottage very toasty, even on the verge of overheating. We had a nice night’s sleep, but Robbee and I woke up with pounding headaches, presumably from the gas smell and lack of oxygen.

Third night, we kept all the burners on and turned on the exhaust fans in the kitchen and the bathroom. The cottage wasn’t as warm as the night before, but no headaches, and we could even smell the wood. Finally, some kind of balance!

All those lessons learned will come in handy someday I am sure, but I am not eager to test them out any time soon. Which is why, for our next and final ski trip of the season, I chose Naeba Prince Hotel, a mammoth structure of a chain hotel that will not be missed by any car navigator. Sure, it will just be a standard hotel room and we won’t be able to bring Libby, but at least the inside temperature will be substantially higher than outside. I think it will be a good way to end the ski season.

For photos of this trip, click here.


Hsin said...

Haha... just chalk it up to the whole Japanese experience. You've never really experienced a Japanese winter until you're stuck in the mountains in a cottage without heating in February. We're envious - we've been here two years and have yet to do a fraction of what you've done.

Lynn said...

Trust me, you didn't miss much! If I didn't like skiing so much, I suspect we would've cut our trip short and escaped back to the comfort of our home the second day, like we did on that ill-fated camping trip last summer.