Madarao: the next big, little resort
There’s not much need to duck ropes in Madarao. Why? Because unlike a lot of Japanese resorts there simply aren’t that many.
In skiing as in life, you tend to look for quality over quantity as the years roll by.
While the Chamonixs, Revelstokes and Whistlers of this world have their lengthy charms there’s a lot to be said for the small, uncrowded ski hills that pack plenty more in their size suggests.
- I’ve been to a few good ‘uns over the years such as Whitewater in British Columbia and Moiwa in Hokkaido.
Now I’m happy to add another little fire cracker to the list: Madarao.
Located between Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen, Madarao has just a 440m vertical drop; a little more vert than the major Australian resorts (and less than Thredbo).
So – the obvious question. Why would you go all the way to Japan to ride here?
With 15 lifts (if you include the Tangram side if the mountain), somewhere between 10-13 metres of snow most seasons, some wicked tree-skiing and a liberal back/sidecountry policy, it more than makes up for its modest proportions.
And it is mostly fall-line vertical too. Somewhere like Nozawa appears huge in comparison but when you take out the closed-off areas and then factor in all the cat tracks which cut through many of the groomers, Madarao actually stacks up pretty well.
The roped off areas are certainly far fewer in Madarao than many other places and this is in part due to the resort management who champion the free-riding brethren.
Riding with 15-year resort veteran Toru Hiraoka, I get a pretty good idea of what is on offer; and despite being one of those types who quickly forget where they’ve been this place is pretty simple to get your head around.
You can do your warm-up runs of the Super Quad and then choose your poison.
We sneakily hit the Tangram side in hope of some left over pow and weren’t disappointed; darting in and out of the tree-lined faces to the base as school groups kept to the piste.
While there’s a bit of debate about sidecountry v backcountry, the out of bounds tree-skiing off the Giant chair fits pretty obviously into the former. It’s advanced rather than expert tree-riding and superb after a powder day. The trick is to ride the beech until they start changing into pines and you’ll know it is time to cut a sharp left back to reach the groomed end of the green run Shirakaba. Again – it’s pretty obvious on the map but even if you go too far you’ll just end up in the car park.
To dip your toe in at Madarao, I’d suggest basing somewhere at Nozawa or Myoko Kogen and do a day trip; if you find out it’s for you perhaps then make your next trip a multi-day stay on the mountain where there’s a decent range of hotels and facilities.
A full-week could be a bit of a stretch but if the powder comes with it, you’ll be just fine.
- Unlike for instance the Vail model – you may as well just by day tickets in the whole region. It affords maximum flexibility in terms of resorts and you don’t get huge savings on multi-day passes
- Aki’s for coffee and snacks (Aki is another local legend who is having some downtime this year after doing his ACL)
- It’s worth getting Tangram on your pass (an extra 500 yen per day so 5000 yen) as there’s some sneaky good runs there. The area seems to be more frequented by groups so there’s a decent chance of getting some early powder
- This season there were 8 return buses a day from Iiyama (the main connecting JR Line station to Nozawa Onsen and a number of other resorts) to Madarao
- There are two return buses daily from Akakura/Myoko Kogen to Madarao and another two from Nozawa Onsen – making day trips easily done and inexpensive (add up to $A20 or so on top for buses depending on where you are coming from, the trips are in the 20-45 minute range)
- I stayed at Mon Aile (which is fairly entry level but perfectly serviceable) but there are a range of places to stay at different price points. The Madarao Kogen hotel does a good dinner buffet.
The Snow Gauge was a guest of Madarao Resort/Deep Powder Tours.