• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Land of the Rising Snow

      May 17, 2013

      Mark Arendz - In the dawn of a new season, what better way to start the year off then to go to the Land of the Rising Sun. 
      The Japanese Para-Nordic team invited me to their early season on-snow camp in Asahidake. Every spring, Japan’s National, University and High School ski teams gather in Asahidake on Japan’s north island for late season skiing. Usually the weather is incredible, double digit highs and sunny. The skiing here lasts for quite a time because of the sheer amount of snow that falls. Asahidake competes globally for some of the biggest annual snowfalls. This snowfall kept increasing as I was there. Every day it was overcast and snowing. The smallest overnight snowfall was about 10cm, with a few days that were close to 30cm of fresh snow. Still, it was amazing skiing, soft but really nice trails and good snow. I was there in Japan with my teammate Brian, working with the Japanese team. As well as getting in some training with the Japanese team. 
      I was nervous about going to Japan. Culturally it is very different from anywhere else I’ve travelled to. In particular the food would be very different to what I knew. The customs as well were very unique to me; like when you have noodles in soup you are supposed to slurp them up. The louder the slurping the more you are enjoying them. This was a strange one to hear at first and getting the technique to slurp is quite another story.  The fact that I could be taller than almost everyone was going to be a little weird as well (that just doesn’t happen in Europe). Once I arrived in Japan, I settled down and relaxed a little about it all. It’s not like I’m a picky eater, I’ll eat almost anything. It just came down to trying the foods and not judging the food by its appearance or smell. There were some very delicious new foods I tried. A few new favorites as well. I’ve used hashi (chopsticks) before but not much. A goal of mine was to become a semi-amateur in the usage of hashi. Not sure whether it was because I’m not Japanese but some of the team were impressed with my hashi skills. 
      One of the most impressive aspects of the Japanese culture is the amount of respect everyone gives to each other. In every facet of life there is respect. In the cities you see respect of everyone’s space; you need it because when the population of Canada lives in an area that is less than half the size of Prince Edward Island, there isn’t much space. In the sports world there is tremendous admiration and respect towards the coaches. Even towards Brian and myself, the respect the athletes gave us as we worked on technique or training was unbelievable. Learning how the team trains in Japan was really eye opening and shows how dedicated they are. Everyone involved in the camp learned a lot. The team learned from Brian and I and we both in turn learned a lot from them. We had a lot of fun as well. Finding alternative paths to the stadium were quite entertaining in the boot deep powder. Some really good face shots into the pow made for a bundle of laughs. A few fun relay races with the entire team, coaches included matching everyone’s ability and pushing others. There were a few interesting legs on the teams, including double pole only, legs only classic, single pole double poling and legs only skating legs, with a few normal legs thrown in for good measure. 
      After a hugely successful training camp, Brian and I had the opportunity to hang around Tokyo for a day and a half. It was just amazing to see the sheer size of the city. This was most evident from the highest point in the city; the SkyTree. SkyTree (635m) is designed as a communications tower but additionally offers an incredible perspective of the city. We made it up to the highest point at 451.2m and looked out upon Tokyo. To look out upon a city that is home to 35 million people (the population of Canada) is mind blowing. Then to see the major highways and streets that almost tranquil. No one was driving on them. The scale and efficiency of the public transport is near miraculous. Don’t get me wrong there is traffic but it seems subtle. Then when you start walking at street level it is a completely different story. There are hundreds of people walking on the street or biking (one of the athletes that was guiding us around Tokyo said there were fewer bike accidents in the city then pedestrian accidents). This view of the people on the street may have been influenced slightly by the fact we were in the shopping and fashion district of Shibuya. Shibuya is one of Japan’s busiest rail stations and it holds claim to one of the busiest intersections in the country as well. Walking around the area was really fascinating, you seem to be walking out of the popular areas, turn the street and boom you are in another busy area with completely different look and feel.  
      It is hard to describe everything simply because of the sheer size of everything and culturally unique a lot of it was. I really treasured the opportunity they offered me, to come over and train with the team and be able to share with everyone, their experiences and beliefs on reaching the top. To experience the culture and the food was remarkable but I enjoyed every minute of it. I look forward to training with the team again in September when they travel to Canmore for a training camp, this time in my backyard. Hopefully I can show them the hidden gems of Canmore. Showcasing the fantastic training that can be had here in the Bow Valley. That isn’t the only time the Japanese team will be in Canmore this year either. They will return along with the rest of the World in December for the first IPC World Cup of the 2013-2014 season.  The Canmore World Cup will be the start of a very competitive season for me, concluding with my second Paralympic Winter Games. As I return to the mountains and get the training season underway. 
      Let the kick, glide and push for Sochi 2014, begin!