Face up in three inches of fresh powder, ice melting on my wide eyes and frozen nostrils, I become conscious of the fact that I’m just taking it in, relishing in the experience of being so laid out that I can barely comprehend where I was a dozen seconds before. There is a special pleasure in being splayed like a bomb’s components, one glove six feet away, a pole peeking out like the mountain’s broken bone, one ski still stuck on my foot and another hiding away. Look how nice I ate it, planks down backwards, feet overhead bicycle kick, remember what it feels like to get electrocuted? But here I am, every flake a saline drop from a bottle I left in the car overnight, and I think This is the Glory of Niseko, that numbed by the cold and excruciating pain, I consider the fact that I’m conscious and here’s the way the world turns, pushed along on the wind.
How many departures from real life involve physical pain? Here, Japan has comically appointed me as an ambassador from a place I hardly deserve to be from to visit a place I barely belong, in the northern reaches of a country that only made up my dreams from the age of fourteen to eighteen, ass-kicked on the slopes, and it’s all so clear. Of course the flight is Xanax-addled, because do I really expect to be comfortable with this activity I’ve shockingly been participating in for nearly a decade now? With the pills I accept the fact that my consciousness is only what it is, and being sort-of-asleep is fine even if I miss the drink cart and grab an apple juice when I come to. Welcome to Hokkaido, barely as cold as half of what you’ve experienced, and twice as bad as anything you can still recall, dear self, and prepare for war: the planks are coming, and down peaks you assuredly will slide, first-timer, and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
The day after I’m buried things improve with the tightening of my forward-facing leg muscles: a maximum slope angle of nineteen degrees tries my patience but gives way to an average around half, and some indulgent hot-dogging, beginners my slalom poles and snowboarders moving targets like Frogger trucks. With each suit-up clarity is refined: these pockets have zippers, these bindings attach to control the ankles, these pants have two sections to prevent snow’s entry, this resolve is what you make it. Gazing down from what just as well is the top of the world into hell’s frosty abyss, I swallow my tongue and careen down at at fifty-five thousand miles per hour, pirouette all fucked into the Black Swan Face Plant and feel more invigorated than a fresh 7up. By the time my lift pass expires I’m ready to be done forever, a glass of whiskey and soda alternated between table and mouth to give way to the hotel bar’s Street Fighter Zero 2 and holy shit if I could have angled these skis like the forward down down-forward+punch.
By the final day here of course I’m out again for some forsaken reason, resolved against abuse but propelled defying reason, bruises still fresh plummy and my back all spazzed out like before, zipping down a horrifying but non-threatening off-map course to the side of the bunny slopes, over parking-lot caliber nature ramps and between trees, every word from my mouth Fuck Oh Shit or Yeah, an inner monologue externalized to the disdain of my personal awareness. As I coast out of the wanna-be forest past my lesson-taking ground-magnet brethren I exhale the biggest sigh of exhilaration since Altoids and slide to an angled stop as cool as fucking Akuma, two fireballs, no lessons, have a bottle of this.
In Sapporo for the festival I view sculptures made from ice and snow, and they aren’t really as great as they would have been the day before I left.
The worthy moments are those of unabashed indulgence: all-I-can-consume periods of grilled lamb and draft beer, fresh hairy crab boiled and cut just for me and served by adorable kimono-wearing twenty-somethings, warm hotel rooms. In and out of consciousness, beaten to a pulp before this train ride back to the airport I ask myself if what I’ve done was worth it, and consider the chips with which I bargain: money, time, composure, comfort, safety.
What isn’t worth the things you have gathered for the sole purpose of their elimination?