Feature: Trials, Tribulations & Triumphs

By Jorma Winkler

What a season! For a season that was originally forecasted to be one of the "warmest" winters in the decade, it sure turned out incredible. 

I myself am glad to have been able to snowboard practically every weekend from December to March! Having gone as much as I did (although still not near as much as I wanted, as I am sure everyone will agree, no matter how many times they go), I experienced a myriad of scares, thrills, and plain ol' good & bad luck.

Sad to say, the season started off on a bad note. On my first boarding day of the season at Shiga Kogen in early December I had a little "accident"... I cracked a rib. Pretty typical for snowboarders, right? Well, in this particular instance, how it cracked was a little unusual. It was on a small jump (off of a mound created by the lift poles), but because the powder was only about 20~30cm with NO base (remember? Early December, not much base yet...), anyway, on the landing, the board stuck into the dirt under the powder, and sent me flying. Still sounds pretty typical, right? If not for the helmet, it would have been a lot worse. Advice: always use a helmet! 

How did the rib crack? Well, let's put it this way, I'll give you some more advice... As soon as you finish drinking coffee from one of those STEEL cans (you know the can: it won't crush or bend no matter how many times you drive over it with your van), get rid of the empty AS SOON AS YOU CAN! Don't be a good citizen, and put it in your inside jacket pocket to throw away later when you find a waste bin because... (1) later in the day it will stick you in the ribs and crack one, maybe even two or three, and (2) you won't ever find a waste bin at a ski resort anyway! Yep, that's what happened! I think that coffee can was just tired of getting thrown around, and wanted a little revenge of its own, too bad it happened to be my ribs he took his frustration out on! Well, after the jump, I actually got up, boarded down to my buddy-in-waiting, lied on my back for a rest for a few seconds, leaned up, and a wonderful CRACK was heard, sending me back lying down.

After finally convincing my partner I wasn't joking, and that I really couldn't get up, he went and got the patrol. NOTE to all winter sportsman: when approaching anyone on the slope lying down, DON'T spray them with snow, they may not be just a gumby deciding to stop in the middle of the slope, but an actual snowboarder in a lot of pain! Yes, someone actually sprayed me, even with my board acting as a block to keep people "advised" of a man down! I yelled a few "sweet nothings" at that bastard in the air, but I guess he took offense, and came over and gave me a swift kick in the... you guessed it, ribs! Actually, he didn't, but boy that would have really been the cherry on the sundae if he did! Anyway, that was my first experience riding behind the ski patrol's snowmobile (usually I am in the front... being chased, circa: 1999, Dynaland, 6:00am, on a roped off track, true story... good ending... I got away). All I could think about the whole time on my back, was, of course "there goes the season!" Well, fortunately, I was leaving for a three-week vacation the following week for Hawaii, so I was relatively assured I wouldn't be doing any riding, giving me time to recuperate. I should have known I was going to have problems that day, since that same morning around 4am I cut my head open, banging it on a cabinet corner while getting ready to drive to Shiga Kogen... and you thought you've had some bad days.

Back from vacation, and feeling better! In fact good enough to enter my first boarder-X competition in January! Once again, a bit of the bad luck hit... my first practice run- AWESOME! I thought, "I am going to rock this competition." Second practice run- a small spill, but with some interesting noises coming from the rib area- can you say, "Snap, Crackle, & Pop..." Yep, the "old war injury" flaring up... Well, I didn't bow out of the competition, but needless to say, I didn't do so well either. Oh well, it was a good experience. It did give me enough of a taste of competition to try again later in the season. The highlight of that day, was my buddy winning, no, not the contest, but a brand new, expensive snowboard in the raffle at the end.

On with the season... This next bit, would have to be considered a triumph. My buddy and I did something that I have never done before, and would definitely recommend. Generally, I board with the same buddy, and our modus operandi is leaving Friday night to head off to wherever has the most powder in the Chubu area- Nagano, Niigata, Gifu, etc. I've got a traveling hotel, i.e. camper van that provides our wonderful slumber. Well, that and a bunch of beers, rum & cokes, wine, whatever's at the nearest conbini (remember, it gets a little chilly sleeping outdoors in the van in the winter without your wife and with your sweaty, not-so-great-smelling snowboarding partner). Anyway, this time we were at Myoko Kogen, and had an awesome Saturday of powder. Yet, rather than sleep in the van that night, we had planned to build an ice cave to hibernate in for the night. 

My buddy has this sort of experience, so I was the kohai here, being my first time. As you can see by the pictures, we made it into a home. We had sleeping quarters, an entranceway, and even a family room (albeit small: about a 1m x 1m). Outside, we had a veranda, a table and chairs, as well as two separate kickers less than 5 meters away! It was surreal, to say the least, sleeping in the ice, literally. It is SO quiet inside. The wind was howling outside, but barely a noise inside. It also turned out to be warmer than my van (whether that was the beer or my halluci... I mean, imagination, I am not sure). It is truly amazing what can be done with snow!

Early March, and the season is nearing the end... and yet, another trial! This time, not the ribs, but the ankle. I was coming off of a small drop into what looked like nice powder, but it turned out to be a small bowl. Slamming into the far end of the bowl, stopping my board, but not me and my momentum. The full force of my body being slammed into my front left foot, ulp! I tried to shake it off, ride some more, but the pain continued... When I finally took my boot off (which really acts more like a brace, with the amount of support it gives), I could barely walk. At that point, I realized I just might have a problem. Hmmmm.... do you think so? Can't barely walk and an incredibly swollen foot... you tell me if there may be a problem?! After a few weeks of hobbling around and no boarding, I had some x-rays done. Turns out I tore some ligaments! I thought, "At least it was at the end of the season..." I also figured in a few weeks I would be fine. Well, here it is, a few MONTHS later, and I am not fully recuperated. Turns out torn ligaments take a LONG time! Also, a recommendation here: invest in a brace! I only recently did, and it makes a big difference. The doctor didn't mention anything about it, but get one, especially if you've had a bad sprain! 

Well, so as not to finish this on a trial, but rather a triumphant, I'll conclude with this last story. Although, I thought after the foot injury I wouldn't be boarding any more, it turned out I was wrong. I had a short trip scheduled to Sendai at the end of March, which I figured I'd bring along my board "just in case" (who am I kidding here... during the winter season my board and I are like twins connected at the feet!) We took the ferry from Nagoya (so as to be able to bring my traveling ryokan with us of course), and arriving at Sendai port, we were greeted with wonderful white, cold, beautiful SNOW! Loads of it! And, oh yeah, my friend was there meeting us as well... But the snow! I thought the powder season was done for me, nope, not at all. 

Next day: Zao! Weather: incredible! Snow: POWDER! Lots of it! This time, I thought that was definitely our last powder day of the season. Was it? Well, we drove up to Iwate-san in early April for what we thought would be late season slush. Turns out, not only were we blessed with the entire Hachimantai Youth Hostel just for the three of us, but about 30 to 40cm of fresh powder! I even met some of the crew (and a few pros) from TransWorld Snowboarding doing a photo shoot off one of the biggest kickers I have seen, not to mention it was at the edge of a five-meter drop. Now I know where they go to get those awesome shots in the magazine. I even had to ask the pros, "this is the beginning of April... why all the powder?!?" Actually, I really didn't care why, since it turned out to be a perfect ending to a wonderful season mixed with trials, tribulations, but even more so, triumphs!