Madarao Mountain Ski Resort

Madarao Mountain Ski Resort, IIyama Japan

Madarao Mountain Ski Resort is one of Japan’s hidden gems. The resort is located in northeastern Nagano, on Japan’s main island - Honshu. It sits between Myoko Kogen and Nozawa Onsen – two of the region’s better-known ski resorts however much more heavily populated on a powder day!

Madarao (or Madapow as its been affably named) is the sleeping little giant within this region.

The resort is known for its light, dry powder “Madapow”, which it receives in spades ( ... about 13 meters per season ). Most importantly, Madarao permits skiers to venture off-piste, something that cannot be taken for granted in Japan. With 60% of its runs un-groomed—including some beautiful tree lines, the resort offers excellent value for powder hounds looking to avoid the crowds of the more popular westernised resorts.

Madarao is little known outside of Japan. The resort is rather quiet in comparison to its neighbours. Long lift queues and congested slopes are a rarity. As Madarao continues to build its reputation for powder (on a shoestring budget), this will inevitably change.

Weekend crowds are negligible - and during the weekdays it's possible to ski fresh powder all day long (without ever seeing a person). If you're lucky enough to score a mid-week storm its possible to get meters of fresh snow giving you "waist to nipple deep powder".

Lifts & Terrain

Mount Madarao peaks at 1382 m, offering skiers 440 m of vertical to play with. The resort is serviced by 15 lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads.

Beginners have plenty of ground to cover towards the base of the mountain. Beginner A & B, Utopia, and Shirakaba are all ideally suited to first-timers. More experienced skiers should head up to View Point, atop the No.13 lift. From there, skiers can access all parts of the mountain.

Crystal Bowl and PowderWave2 offer some of the resort’s best tree skiing. On the other side of the resort, WorldCup was previously used as a moguls course at the 1988 Freestyle Skiing World Cup. It sits alongside Powderwave, another of the resort’s gladed areas for tree skiing. 

Ski Madarao

By Japanese standards, Madarao is a mid-sized resort (small by USA standards). Skiers will only need a few days to get the lay of the land. However, guests can opt to purchase an all-mountain pass, allowing access to the adjoining Tangram Ski Circus resort. This ticket gives skiers access to 34.8 km of runs in total—just shy of Nozawa Onsen’s 44.5 km.

What you may think Madarao lacks in overall size and length of run, it will more than make up for in the quality and depth of the powder if you catch the right conditions.

The photo below was taken in January 2017 on Powder Wave II. Skier - Drew Innes during a 9-day storm which unloaded almost 3 meters of snow in 3 days.

Located on the northwestern side of Mount Madarao, Tangram Ski Circus offers a bit of variety for beginners and intermediates. The resort comprises 15 runs over 520 vertical meters. Experienced skiers won’t be challenged much by Tangram’s mellow groomers, however, one of Tangram’s five lifts (No. 2 Lift) can be used to access some of Madarao’s best tree skiing. Perhaps reason alone to spend the extra money. In addition to that convenience, Tangram has also opened up some decent tree runs that are worth taking a run at.

For a resort that attracts a predominantly Japanese crowd, Madarao employs a fairly to off-piste skiing, atypical of many Japanese-style resorts. This is perhaps one of its biggest selling points (along with the budget pricing). Madarao has embraced its reputation as a powder haven, opting to keep 60% of its slopes un-groomed. The resort not only condones tree skiing, it encourages it. Madarao has gladed much of its forested area, opening up some beautiful tree runs. There are also backcountry options for those looking to test themselves in the side/backcountry terrain with an experienced guide.

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