In February this year my family and I embarked on an overseas skiing trip to Myoko, Japan. With me being well, limited in my ability to say the least, requiring quite a bit of luggage (including a sit ski) and having specific needs in terms of accommodation and assistance on the slopes, was going to be quite an adventure requiring a lot of planning.
I did this planning and I’m happy to say we had a very successful trip, bordering on the best trip our family has had pre-or post accident. I have been asked a number of questions about this trip so I will attempt to answer as many as I can in this blog.
Why Myoko, Japan?
There were a number of reasons.
- The main reason was that the ski guide who really got me going at Falls Creek worked the northern hemisphere winter in Japan. To me this was the biggest anxiety about skiing overseas. I wanted to make sure that I could pick up where I left off from the Australian winter with a ski guide and knew how to help me.
- The next reason is travel. Travel from Melbourne to Myoko, Japan was logistically fairly simple. There are now direct flights from Melbourne to Narita, Japan and then it was a simple coach transfer direct from the airport to Myoko. The flight time is 10 hours, the transfer is then another 5 hours. This when compared to a trip to Europe, the US or Canada is simple.
- The next reason is the time difference. Japan is three hours behind Eastern daylight saving time. This makes it no issue with jetlag.
- The final reason is the food and culture! I love Japanese food and find their culture fascinating. There is nothing they would not do to help you which is fantastic when you’re in a wheelchair.
What about your accommodation?
- The first thing I will say is that Myoko is a traditional farming village so don’t expect the Hilton! The hotel we stayed in was run by a family and was probably built in the 1970s. I don’t think any update had been made to the decor since! To us, this only added to the charm of the trip.
- Obviously, being in a wheelchair we have special requirements. The first thing I will say is be prepared to make it up as you go a little bit. The accommodation we stayed in had steps to the front door but the entrance to the ski locker only had one step. So you can enter through the ski locker and then into the hotel. Then the toilet cubicle was too small for a commode. The shower was also a shared facility and was in fact an onsen (Japanese hot Spring bath). I am a bit lucky with my injury in that I can stand and take assisted steps. This means a small staircase is a possibility. What it also meant was I could use a small toilet cubicle with a portable toilet seat. I asked for photos and dimensions of all of these spaces before I went to make sure that my equipment would fit. But I don’t see why the accommodation would not work if you were not able to take steps. For example, you could take your standard commode and just do your business in a bucket. There was no problem using the onsen to have a bath. You may need help getting in obviously, but it would be possible.
- The rooms were fantastic. Japanese rooms are sparsely populated with furniture making them easier to get around. They also include tatami mats which are great to lie on and stretch out after being in a sit ski all day.
Getting around the village
- This is where the wonderful nature of the Japanese people kick in. Where ever we wanted to go, our host family was happy to take us in the car. The village is quite small and easy to walk around, but difficult in a wheelchair given that it snows a lot almost every day and it is hilly. Myoko Snowsports stepped in here also and picked me up from the hotel in the morning and dropped me back there in the afternoon. This is the service you get when you pay for a ski guide all day!
- Eating at restaurants is where you will experience the wonderful hospitality of the Japanese people. Often at the restaurant you have to sit on the floor. I was helped out of my wheelchair and propped up neatly using cushions against the wall. The key is to embrace their culture and respect it. There is no way in the world you should put a wheelchair on a tatami mat. So take your shoes off and get lifted on the floor so you can sit with everybody else. Trust me, it is fantastic. The food was amazing and cheap!
Travelling with your equipment
- The first thing about travelling with a disability is that the equipment you require is free! Don’t let an airline attempt to charge you for your excess baggage. So your commode and in my case sit ski is exempt from excess baggage. I had a bag made for my commode and I took my sit ski on a skateboard so you could push it around. The only problem I had was the sit ski was too large to go through the security scanner at the oversized baggage counter. I had to push my sit ski all the way to the gate, through customs and everything. I am now getting a bag made for the sit ski so that I can pack it in a small way to fit through the security scanner.
- Once I was in Japan there was no problem with my equipment. As I said before the Japanese people are only happy to help you and they moved my equipment around with no fuss whatsoever.
- I travelled with one carer and packed accordingly. All of my ski gear could be carried with my sit ski on the skateboard. All of my clothing was packed in the commode bag. So my only luggage was the sit ski and the commode bag.
So what was the snow and skiing like?
- Firstly, the snow. Myoko gets on average 13 m of snow per year. To put that in perspective, Mount Hotham receives about 2 ½ m per year. In the week that we stayed over there we received almost a metre of fresh snow and had one day of enormous fun falling over in half a metre of fresh powder! Skiing in powder on the sit ski is almost impossible, but a lot of fun with a ski guide on the back.
- The lift tickets are about half the price of Australian ski fields. I purchased my lift tickets, accommodation and transfer to and from the airport as a package with traveljapan.com.au
- The lifts themselves were excellent. The nice thing about skiing in Japan is the lack of wind so it was very pleasant to be warm even though the temperature was below zero. Most chairlifts had hoods on them, some of which could come down over the top of the sit ski making it even warmer. Other hoods had to be held up so they didn’t come over the chair. Most lifts could be used and there were plenty of runs of different levels you could go on with the sit ski. I even spent one day at a neighbouring resort where I was bundled into a gondola. I was assisted into one gondola, then my sit ski came up in the following gondola. I then loaded into the sit ski at the top. There were only a few lifts that were not suitable for the sit ski.
- If you want to know what the snow was like, I think the video and photos speak for themselves!