Madarao

Honshu, Japan

Madarao Mountain Resort is a small resort that’s big on surprises. Whether you’re a tree-loving powder junkie or a family with first-timers, or anything in between, you will find Madarao a great choice. So it’s little wonder that Madarao in Japan’s Nagano prefecture is becoming increasingly popular.

Scout Loves

  • Powder skiers have absolute free rein in the gladed tree runs.
  • The slopes are uncrowded – especially on weekdays.
  • Relatively few Western tourists, though we think this will change.
  • Some great, authentic Japanese pension-style accommodation.
  • Madarao makes a good choice for families with young kids as there are decent facilities, everything is easy and convenient, and kids aged under 12 ski free.
  • The new Iiyama Shinkansen station– access from Tokyo is quick.

Scout Tips

  • Take a side trip to the authentic town of Iiyama.
  • The resort is small. Expert skiers will get bored after a day or so if there’s no fresh powder to play in. Equally, intermediate skiers who love groomers but aren’t into trees will also find the terrain limited. Madarao is the perfect place to combine with another resort.
  • English is spoken and there are English signs but you may run into difficulties.
  • Nightlife is non-existent and there’s no ski village – just a few hotels and pensions.
  • Although close to Myoko Kogen and Nozawa Onsen, there’s no easy way of getting to either resort for day trips, apart from a private taxi.

Scout Review

Madarao Mountain Resort (formerly Madarao Kogen) is no longer the undiscovered powder gem of just a few years ago. Although it’s less popular with Western tourists than nearby Myoko Kogen or Nozawa Onsen, its reputation as a powder playground is getting out. Although small, it packs a punch when it comes to quality skiing - or should we say, it packs a powder punch. This is thanks to the estimated 11m of snow it receives on average each season, straight from the Sea of Japan, as well as the fact that Madarao is one of the few resorts in Japan to actively encourage tree skiing, let alone glade tree. Sixty per cent of the courses (runs) are ungroomed and thanks to relatively thin crowds it doesn’t get skied out as fast as other popular resorts.

There’s no true village at Madarao – it’s really just of a collection of a few hotels and pensions attached to a ski resort.  There’s a tiny cluster of 2-3 restaurants about a five-minute walk from the hotel, but other than that your restaurant choices are limited to the hotel or your pension, or a trip into nearby Iiyama. So it’s a good thing that powderhounds and kids will be exhausted from all that skiing as there’s not much else to do at night, other than play a few pinball machines, eat dinner and soak in the onsen.

That said, unlike many other purpose-built resorts, there is a sort of friendly charm and warmth about the place. Plus it isn’t overrun by Western tourists so you’ll have a true Japanese ski experience. Madarao is definitely worth a visit and Scout wouldn’t hesitate to go back sooner rather than later, before the masses discover it.

Madarao Skiing

There are nine chairlifts at Madarao plus three magic carpets. The resort states they have 15 lifts, but one of them doesn’t seem to run (at least most of the time) and the number one lift that takes skiers up the hill to the hotel actually consists of three separate lifts all going the exact same length– two doubles and a triple! There are 26 ski courses of which about 30 per cent are beginner, 45 per cent intermediate and 25 per cent advanced. The resort has two “base” areas. The first is next to the Madarao Kogen Hotel where the ski school, rentals, ticket office and ski patrol are located as well as a few restaurants. The second base area is at the bottom of the small beginner run that goes down from the hotel and it’s where you’ll find a couple of restaurants and a few other facilities. The main part of the ski area extends up the mountain on the opposite side from the hotel.

Like most Japanese resorts there are several big mogul runs, night skiing (most days until 9.30pm) and a few terrain park features. The intermediate terrain consists of wide-open groomed runs and there is a dedicated beginner area. The most frustrating thing about Madarao is that, apart from the Super Quad Lift, you often need to connect several slow lifts to get in a decent run. In addition, the left and right sides of the mountain are split and it requires a magic carpet ride and a bit of pushing to get back to the main base area from the (looker’s) right side. The top lift, No.13, accesses the best advanced skiing and is a slow, old single chair.

But it’s worth heading straight up there on a powder day and lapping this lift as there’s some fantastic tree skiing on runs called Powder Theater and Powder Wave 2. Although it’s not very steep, the terrain has some fun rolling jumps through nicely spaced trees – and best of all you may even have it all to yourself!

Madarao is connected to another ski area called (rather hilariously) Tangram Ski Circus. For ¥2000 extra you can buy a combined lift ticket, which is worthwhile for all standards. Even though most of the terrain there is best for intermediates and beginners, advanced skiers and boarders can use their top lift to access some of the best advanced terrain on the Madarao side.

Madarao For Families

Despite all this talk of tree skiing and powder, Madarao is also an excellent choice for families with young kids who are just beginning.  As well as lift tickets for kids under 12 being free, there are plenty of green beginner runs including some accessed straight from the main hotel. Plus, there’s a childcare center with English-speaking staff (in the hotel) and a ski school (next to the hotel) with English-speaking instructors (for private lessons only), and a kids snow park that has sleds, tubes and a warming hut. It’s very compact and easy to get around.

Madarao Accommodation

There are two main hotels at Madarao and a bunch of fantastic pensions – some that cater to Western tourists and others that are a more akin to staying in a Japanese home, with little English spoken. The most convenient place to stay is the Madarao Kogen Hotel and only a few of the pensions are close to the ski slopes. Others will require a shuttle ride by the owner so be sure to select the location and pension carefully if you want to have easy access to the resort. There is a rumor that an Australian developer will soon build some condos near the base area.

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Resort Activities

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There are a few other non-skiing activities such as snow-rafting, snowmobiling (at Tangram), showshoeing, soba noodle-making and indoor climbing. There are tours of the nearby town of Iiyama that include cultural activities such as Japanese craft-making, sake tasting and a visit to a Buddhist altar. It’s also possible to do a half-day trip from Iiyama to see the snow monkeys. Scout Field Guides have more details.

Getting There and Around

Madarao is located in the northeastern part of Nagano prefecture. It’s about an hour from Nagano city and a 30-minute drive from Iiyama City.

The easiest and fastest way to get to Madarao is via the Shinkansen Asama from Tokyo to Iiyama (the very fancy station opened there in March, 2015). From Iiyama you can catch a bus or taxi to Madarao. There are also buses from Nagano station (1.2hrs). If you prefer a bus you can catch a Chuo taxi directly from Narita airport. It’s a shared mini-bus with departures based on your flight arrival time.

More details on transfer options, including prices are in Scout Field Guides.

There are several other ski resorts close to Madarao with the most notable being Myoko Kogen (30 mins), Nozawa Onsen (60 mins) and Shiga Kogen (90 mins) and Hakuba (2hrs). Unfortunately, no bus connects them. There may be buses in the future but until then catching a taxi remains the easiest way to get to Myoko Kogen for a day trip or to add on a few days.

When To Go

Madarao is generally open from early December till early May. The best conditions are usually from the end of January until the end of February.

Try to avoid the periods around New Year’s and Chinese New Year (February 8, 2016), which can be busy.

MAGAZINE
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