Sunday, February 07, 2016

8 Tips for Snow Survival in Sapporo

This past weekend The Mister and I packed onto a plane with The Aussies(TM) and flew up to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.  Specifically, we went to Sapporo, for their winter festival.

In the weeks leading up to this amazing trip (quick shout-out to KP2, who planned the whole thing!), we had many conversations around the dinner table with The Aussies(TM), where they would express their excitement at experiencing REAL snow, in REAL quantities, in REAL cold temperatures; all for the first time.  Meanwhile, I hail from a town which much of the US regularly refers to as “The Frozen Tundra.”  So while I can definitely see the appeal and beauty of snow (particularly when it’s sculpted by teams of artists into fantastical beasts!), I became really conscious of not wanting to be *that* person at the table.  You know, that person that’s like:

“ugh, this is nothing special.  allow me to quash your dreams of how fantastical this trip will be by telling you how easy it has been for me to maneuver my previous 31 years of existence in snow.  Why, as a child, I walked to school uphill both ways in ten feet of snow in temperatures approaching absolute zero…”*

You see where I’m going with that.  I wanted them to have the wonder, because snow is super COOL, guys (HA HA puns!)

But then I realized that being *that* person was a far better outcome than how much I may have failed my friends though not just giving them some helpful hints on… you know, how to be in the middle of all that wonder and NOT turn blue.

In tribute to my favorite frozen friends from down under, and for those who may be heading up to Hokkaido themselves for the remainder of the festival, I wish to present:

1.  Layers!
This is the cardinal rule of winter heat-regulation.  I wore nylons and fleece leggings under my jeans.  I wore two pairs of socks.  I wore gloves under my mittens.  The more layers of fabric and air pockets that the cold has to whip through, the better chance you’ll keep the closest layer to you the right temperature.  Note, however, that these layers can’t be constrictive.  Your blood stream takes the heat from your core to wherever it needs to go… unless those socks are too tight and then your piggies are gonna get chilly.

2.  TAKE OFF the layers (brown chicken brown cow), as soon as you go inside! 
At least take off the topmost layers.  If you let yourself start to sweat, as soon as you go back outside you will be colder than you have ever been in your life, because that sweat will freeze.  Next to your skin.

3.  Lotion.  
One of the times I laughed the hardest was while living in Texas:  We had a dusting of snow overnight, and in the morning, I watched a very exasperated meteorologist on KTAB explain to his audience that “snow is what happens when the water in the air gets so cold it freezes.”  
People were confused about that.  
And I just… whatever I guess can’t say I wasn’t confused by Texas’ ridiculous heat waves in the summer, so we’ll call it even.  But okay, the point of that is when the water in the air has been sucked out and made into snow, the moisture in your skin will leech out to replace the water vacancy in the air.  Maybe that is too much.  Let me sum up:
Winter air is DRY, and if you are out in it long enough, your knuckles and lips can crack and bleed from lack of moisture.  Bring lotion.  Apply liberally.

4.  Sunglasses.
The color black absorbs light.
The color white REFLECTs sunlight.  You know how snow is white?  Don’t burn out your retinas staring at the pretty sunlight sparkling off the snow slopes y’all, protect ‘dem peepers!

5.  Plastic Baggies can be your bestie.
I didn’t bring winter boots with me to Japan.  I don’t live in a place where that would be necessary enough times during the year to rationalize finding space to store winter boots in this apartment.  But you know what I do have?  Socks, sneakers, and plastic baggies.
Here’s how that works:
You put on a pair of socks.
You put, over the top of that, a plastic baggie.
Over THAT, you put another pair of socks to hold them in place.
Then you put those tootsies inside your sneakers.
The plastic layer between your socks will keep any snow that gets into your sneaker from getting to your foot.  You stay dry and warm.  Everyone wins.  Parents in my neck of the woods do this for little kids in the winter, and it works.

6.  MITTENS.  
Good lord Japan, where are your MITTENS?  I couldn’t find them in any of Nagoya’s shops (though I will admit I am cheap and refused to check camping stores for ¥4000 mittens)
I know there is a heightened finger functionality (heyo!) when wearing gloves.  But when you wear gloves, each of your fingers is sectioned off to fend for itself.  Have you ever seen those survivalist guides where they tell you if it’s too cold and you’re stranded outside to get naked and huddle together with your group to share the body heat between you?  Same principal for your digits, yo.  Get some mittens, or make them- in fact, I made a pattern (sized to print on A4 paper) and I’ll share it with you for FREE if you click [HERE] (it’ll go to a .pdf on my google drive), and those fleece lap blankets at the dollar store are just the right amount of fabric for a pair or two! 

7.  Use those heater packets sparingly.
Those little heat packs are GREAT if you really need them, but be sure you REALLY need them.  If they make you sweat, you’ll just be WAY colder when you take them out.  And don’t put them directly next to your skin, they’ll get too warm.  Make sure there’s a layer of cloth between you and that little pouch of chemicals.

8.  A note on traction.
Slipping and falling on your tookus is a real possibility in snowy conditions - particularly if you’re at a festival where thousands of people have trampled the snow on the ground to a perfectly flat, shiny surface.  I’m not going to say I’m perfect at this, but I am going to say if you use your brain, you can walk on stuff like this without boots that have bottoms resembling cleats.  Keep your center of gravity low.  Watch where you step.  Go slowly.  Walk on your ENTIRE foot.  You take a tip-toe and it’s over.  And if you fall?  try to go backwards.  More cushion on that end.

Do you have any uncommon tips that I forgot?  
Tell me in the comments!

today’s little language lesson
雪だるま 作ろう?

Yukidaruma Tsukurou?
(I had to.)

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