Lifts & Terrain
Madarao Ski Resort Terrain
The Madarao Ski Resort in Japan is a mid sized resort that is an excellent all-rounder with some terrain for everyone (with the exception of extreme terrain).
The Madarao Mountain Resort
has a slightly unusual layout. A small sunny beginner and intermediate zone drops down from the Madarao Kogen hotel and village to the main “base area” where there are a couple of large restaurants. The main part of the Madarao ski resort rises up the opposite side of the hill, which is subdivided into two sides that are somewhat clunky to get between. If you drop below the single chair on the lookers’ right side of the resort, the painful transition to get back to the other side involves a long trail, a very slow magic carpet ride, and then a bit of skating. Meanwhile further up the mountain the switch from lookers’ left to right involves a big long flat trail, aka a snowboard trap.
Interconnected with Tangram
For an additional fee it’s possible to get a combined Madarao-Tangram lift ticket. This enables access to a Tangram lift that services the Powder Wave II area of Madarao without having to traverse off the Madarao number 13 lift.
Circus is a small resort that is ideal for intermediates. Strangely their approach to off-piste riding is much more conservative than Madarao. They’ve started allowing tree skiing in dedicated areas, but most of it is “out-of-bounds”.
It sounds impressive that Madarao has nearly as many lifts as courses, but we’re not about to break out a Powderhounds’ best ski resort in Japan
trophy for the best ski infrastructure in Japan. Madarao is somewhat indicative of the bygone bubble era (ie the bubble has burst!) and some lifts are generally non-operational. It’s possible to access all the terrain but a degree of zig-zagging may be required. Two of the chair lifts are detachable quads that serve a few of the main intermediate runs. Otherwise most of the fleet consists of slow double chairs (or romance chairs as the Japanese call them) so there’ll be plenty of time for romance!
During peak times such as between Xmas and New Years, queues can develop at the base lifts, especially the lifts up to the Madarao Kogen Hotel
at the end of the day. Otherwise Madarao has a reputation for being reasonably quiet.
Madarao has night skiing on some evenings off two of the lifts.
The lift tickets are reasonably priced and the passes for kids under 12 are very inexpensive. Lift tickets come in a variety of configurations including the combined Madarao/Tangram, 4 hours, single ride, and night skiing passes. Of particular note, they sell a Season 6 Day Pass where you can ski any 6 days of the season at a very discounted rate. Madarao Kogen accepts credit cards for lift tickets which is something you can’t take for granted in Japan!
Lift tickets can be purchased as part of a Madarao ski package
Madarao Snow and Weather Conditions
There isn’t an official statistic for the average annual snowfall at Madarao but it’s estimated to be about 10 to 13 metres, so snow volumes are excellent and there are plenty of Madapow days.
The resort also does pretty well in the snow quality stakes thanks to lots of north facing slopes. On the contrary, a top elevation of 1,350 metres doesn’t necessarily tend itself well to super dry powder during warm spells (Madarao is about 300 metres lower than the top of Nozawa Onsen
and 500 metres lower than Suginohara
, part of Myoko Kogen
, and significantly lower than parts of Shiga Kogen
). On the plus side, the short vertical puts the base area of Madarao higher than its neighbours, so it doesn’t tend to suffer from slops near the bottom during winter.
Like the other Nagano ski resorts
, the powder can be delightfully dry but as a general rule it’s heavier than what you’d find at the Hokkaido ski resorts
Ski Madarao - for the Beginner
Madarao has decent terrain for beginners. Never-evers have a little area in front of the Madarao Kogen Hotel, and from there novices can progress down the flank of the hill to the main base area and onto lift no. 5.
Madarao Ski Resort has a dedicated learning area for first –time snowboarders where the wet bums can enjoy running into each other without being disturbed by skiers. It’s located below the Madarao Kogen Hotel and next to the tubing magic carpet.
Madarao Skiing for the Intermediate
With only several blue runs, Madarao ski resort surprisingly doesn’t have that much intermediate terrain considering the trail statistic of 40 percent. On the plus side, a few of these blue runs have beautiful consistent fall lines which are fantastic for cruising or zooming. The easiest blues drop down from the Madarao Kogen Hotel to the base area, whilst those on the main face of the mountain are steeper. The inter-connected Tangram has various intermediate runs, so those who need more variety should get a combined lift ticket.
There is a small freeride park set up either side of the main blue run with the usual hits but no pipe. There may also be a jump or two set up in the tree zones, and the Sawa course is a natural half pipe course that’s plenty of fun.
Advanced & Off-Piste Skiing Madarao
Madarao has a few traditional on-piste black runs (ie open/cut) that typically mogul up. There is even a world cup moguls run if that’s how you like to get your jollies!
The specially created tree runs make up most of the advanced terrain. They have reasonable pitch with maximum gradients of 35-37 degrees and the trees are significantly thinned out in most spots (there’s too much glading for my liking but I guess it’s a personal choice) so there are lots of open areas where you can let it rip without running into a tree (OK you still might run into a tree!). During peak times (e.g. New Years and other holidays) freshies disappear in these powder zones very quickly, whilst later in January fresh tracks generally last a couple of hours.
These “off-piste” runs are named on the trail map, so theoretically they’re piste runs but you get the drift! They’re aptly named with Powder Wave and Powder Wave II having undulating terrain in places, whilst Powder Theatre is the place to show off to the spectators on the lift. My favourite is the Crystal Bowl because the snow quality is superb, the trees are a little tighter, and the top is steep.
Off-piste riding elsewhere is officially not permitted so you need to be rather discrete and sometimes a little bush bashing may be required. Fresh lines in these areas tend to last for a long time!
Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain
In-bounds there are no gnarly chutes, super steep slopes, or rock hucks to challenge experts, although most expert riders will be very happy playing in the powder, and there are a couple of man-made jumps in the powder zones formed by fallen logs.
Sidecountry & Backcountry
There is a little sidecountry out to the skiers’ right of the resort, although the aspect and snow quality isn’t ideal during warm spells.
The snow quality is superior further afield in the backcountry via a 20 minute hike/skin up the ridge to Mt Madarao. The upper slopes have a good pitch which mellows out to tree skiing amongst pines (this is rather unique for a Japan ski area). The egress is reasonably easy, although early in the season the bracken and creek crossings (and therefore route finding) might be a little hairy.
Head out to explore these areas with Nagano Outdoor Sports
. Aki Kitamura, the head guide and powder fiend, was born in Madarao Kogen, so he knows the area incredibly well and can tell you a few amusing stories. The tours are either half day or full day and can cover the sidecountry and/or backcountry. Rates are very reasonable and include safety gear. The tour season typically starts in early to mid January, depending on snow cover.