Saturday, January 1, 2011

Off Piste or Piste Off

Where do I begin? New Year's Eve day was a true adventure filled with intrigue, excitement, stress and a bit of frostbite. We awoke early to get onto the Ace family lift at 9:20am and do a few chicken bell runs before we met the group to head OTM to Annupuri (again). It was so fantastic two days ago that we wanted to repeat the experience. We took the single chair lift up to the top of the Niseko Village hill which had just opened that morning but it was freezing! Poor Benji, Sammy and Hot Socks who led the pack were shivering as we all sat silently on the single chair slowly up the mountain. Once we made it down to the Annupuri Gondola, we had a great time. The slopes were smooth and groomed and more of the group joined us. Even the last steep slope before the Gondola was easy and fluid. Here, we have Paula, Rosie, Little Miss Sunshine, Jacques Sock, Chili, Stewey, GQ and Hot Socks.

I made reservations at the Northern Annupuri Resort restaurant for the spectacular buffet where we sat and gorged ourselves on takoyaki (octopus balls), cherry tomatoes, fried chicken, mango pudding, lattes and of course, those famous cream puffs! The men drank their fair share of Sapporo Classic. Chili and his family joined the Stewart's family yesterday so our group grew to 17!

Lunch was so good! I drank three small lattes, lots of fresh fruit and 3 cream puffs! Everything seemed OK until we departed the restaurant.

After lunch, we realized that the Magic Carpet lift that would normally take us to Niseko Village was closed due to high winds. A group of us followed Jacques Sock and Mitchell Bear through the roped off section to traverse off piste to the Niseko Village Hill. When I got stuck on a branch and fell for the first and only time on the trip, Mitchell Bear and Joseph took Benji (age 8), Sammy (age 11) and Hot Socks (age 11) down to the Niseko Village gondola. We were a little behind but made it down there by 3:30pm, at which time the Gondola staff was using a bull horn to notify us to hurry up to get on the gondola. On our magnificent ride up, we felt relieved to make it only to be disappointed when the ski patrol roped off the connecting pathway stating that the path closed at 3:45pm. Little Miss Sunshine pulled her "indignant Mother" routine to explain that her young daughter was on the other side walking to Hirafu. The ski patrol responded by offering to bring Hot Socks back which was not the answer Sunshine wanted to hear. After waiting for 5 minutes, the three ski patrol firmly held their ground and refused to let any disgruntled skier or boarder through.

So, we had to go back down to the base of Niseko Village again but then took the scenic route through the Junk Yard and the narrow, cliffside beginner run. Jacques Sock found a family of five asking how to get onto a better run as they were struggling on the so called "green" run.

When we made it down to the bottom of the hill, we took off our skis and waited for the Niseko United bus to take us back to Hirafu. The first bus stopped at Niseko Village but couldn't let anyone on as it was completely full. We then received a call from Stewey asking where his kids were. We told them that Mitchell had Hot Socks, Benji and Christian while we had Ty Loveridege in our group. Stewey kindly offered to have Paula pick us up which was so great since the second shuttle was completely packed as well.
We received another call from Stewey to learn that Benji, their youngest son was "missing". We figured that Mitchell Bear had the three so they would be OK as he's an expert skier who can keep up with anyone.
When Paula dropped us off at the Powder Hound, we saw Hot Socks sitting alone on a snowbank as she explained that Mitchell Bear was taking Benji back home. It was a relief to know that the kids were OK and we waited patiently for Mitchell Bear's return...

I had never seen Mitchell Bear stressed but he told his story and it was a good one. He and the kids made it safely to the Hirafu side, down the chicken bell run to the intersection that goes either to the Kogen or the Alpen and the kids voted on the Kogen to do some jumps and go through the tunnel. Before he knew it, Christian was speeding down the black diamond while Benji followed. Hot Socks was slower so he waited on her. When he reached the Kogen base, he saw Christian but not Benji and eyed Hot Socks coming down the slope. A short while later, he saw Christian boarding the bus back home from the Welcome Center area and was on alert for Benji, who he saw as he frantically took the gondola up the slope. When Christian returned home alone without Benji, he told his father that Benji was missing. After Mithcell descended, he caught up with Hot Socks and Benji and proceeded to take three wrong buses before the right one came around. Being an au pair can be challenging for anyone and Mitchell Bear experienced it first hand. Luckily, we all made it home to go to the onsen, eat dinner and start the New Year's Eve festivities at the Powder Hound.
We invited the Nutting's, Loveridge's and of course the Stewart's to join the celebration.

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