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Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007
Beware roof avalanches and snow plows!
By AMY CHAVEZ
I was skiing in that famous Niseko powder snow up to my knees, floating on air, when I heard "Don't hurry love, you'll just have to wait. . . ." Ah, Phil Collins. My cell phone was ringing. I ignored it and continued skiing down. ". . . it's a game of give and take. . . ."
At the bottom of the mountain, I checked my phone to see who had called. It was my parents calling from the U.S. I knew they would call back so I hurried home, because the only thing I love more than fresh powder snow, is my parents.
"Hello! How is Japan? How is Niseko?" they said excitedly.
I had settled into a warm cup of coffee and was ready for a good hourlong talk. "Great! I said. I skied in two feet of powder this morning." At which point I heard a big boom outside.
"What was that?" Asked my father.
"Snow," I said. "Falling off the roof. It collects up there and slides off all day long. And all night long."
"Where does it slide off to?" said my father, innocently.
"Onto the front lawn. I suspect we won't be able to see out the front window soon. It snows 14 meters a year here and we've only had about 3 meters so far."
"Fourteen meters -- are you sure? That's nearly 50 feet!"
"That's right." Boom! Another roof avalanche came down outside. The slabs of snow gather speed as they slide down from the top of the roof, just like you did as a kid sliding down in a burlap sack on those fun slides at the amusement park. This snow is having fun!
"The houses here all have extremely steep roofs. If you don't, the roof will cave in from the weight of the snow unless you have someone clear it off regularly. There are even rules on how much land must surround your house so that the snow can't fall off onto the road and kill someone." My parents were mesmerized.
Suddenly I heard a rumbling like a tank and the house started shaking.
"What's that?" asked my mother.
"The kamikaze snow plow," I said trying to talk over the sound of the snow plow, which sounds more like a gigantic lawn mower. "These snow plows run up and down the street all day long. They have to -- It never stops snowing." These guys work by contract for the season, not by the hour, so they work as quickly as possible so they can go home. And come back out after lunch.
I watched as the kamikaze snow plower worked his vehicle back and forth clearing out a parking space in front of the house across the street. The guy pushed forward some snow with the plow shovel, then threw the behemoth vehicle into reverse, and tossed his head to the rear to see if anyone was in his way. Of course, no one was. Everyone yields to the kamikaze snow plowers. Back and forth, back and forth, the plower maneuvered his vehicle like a little kid with a Tonka toy, each time coming within centimeters of the other parked cars.
"What do they do with all the snow?" Asked my mother.
"They truck it out of town." Makes you wonder if we couldn't export that stuff to the European ski resorts who are really hurting for snow now.
"All the roads have become one way due to the snow piled up high on the sides. Each time it snows, the road gets a little narrower." Boom! More snow sliding off the roof. Ah, so much for the neighbor's dog.
"I dedicate a good couple hours a day to snow clearing," I explained. "Sometimes I can't even open my door in the morning because so much snow has fallen overnight. It takes a while to dig myself out of my house. Then, the next task is to find my car. The locals here must really love the summer. Talk about having some free time!
"And everyone does this every morning?" Said my father, incredulous.
"Oh yes. There is no choice. You've really got to see it to believe it. It makes for amazingly good skiing conditions though."
At this point, my father said, "Just a moment," and covered the phone with his hand. I could hear muffled voices in the background.
"Amy?" He came back on and said. "We're coming to Niseko. We'll be there in a few weeks."