Madarao Tangram punches way above it’s weight: from terrain to facilities to location to value, it all just works. And even more so if you take a hike, like Shaun Mittwollen & Drew Jolowicz did for Snow Action earlier this year.
Rising from the rural plains of Iiyama, almost directly between the popular resorts of Nozawa Onsen and Myoko, the conical peak of Madarao is some form of a holy grail for powder aficionados.
Terrain on all aspects, widely spaced trees, huge snowfalls and encouraged off piste skiing. This is a special mountain which offers all the freedom for the artistic vision of sculpting turns of freshly lain snow.
Not here will you have your pass pulled for ducking the ropes!
Madarao, or Madapow as its lovingly known, is all about the fresh stuff. Light, dry, effortless and plentiful, with solid terrain to match!
This year I was back for a quick in and out. With only a day of riding we took advantage of some local knowledge from Aki Kitamura and Sean at North Nagano Outdoor Sports to maximise time in the white room.
A quick ascent, including a ride on the classic ‘pizza box’ single seater chair, and we find ourselves on the apex of Madarao. Light clouds drift over from the nearby Sea of Japan, and the sun pierces the sky above illuminating drifting ice crystals.
Outside the boundaries we trek, away from the hustle and bustle of the resort. Mechanical hums are quickly replaced with the silence of snow laden forest.
Below us an open bowl drops into the low cloud which hovers in the valleys. The trees are brilliantly spaced on these north facing slopes, and there are no people. Dropping in one by one we take turns sending spray into the light on the playful terrain. Although it hasn’t snowed significantly in a few days the northerly aspect has kept the quality high, soft compacted powder.
The bowl continues downwards leading to a series of natural halfpipes. We scoot over each one in search of playful features, eventually popping out onto a road that winds around the base of the mountainside. Just ten minutes stroll along the road and we are back to the lifts, ready for another lap.
After several laps of the side country its time to finish out the day with a lengthy backcountry line that leads well outside the boundaries, with a car pickup required. This top secret line takes a bit more effort to reach. More effort, more reward and the rewards are certainly great in the Madarao backcountry.
Steep open riding through wide forest chutes cascade off an undisclosed ridgline. The snow is completely untouched and its an awesome feeling letting the skis run, arcing huge turns as if skiing a high alpine face.
Despite the big vertical on offer we make quick progress down the gullies which deposit themselves into a moderately steep Birch forest. A classic easy going runout weaving at high speed through the trees and all of a sudden we burst into an open field with the road dead ahead, Aki waiting with the car. What a line to finish!
Thanks to Aki’s and the resort’s ongoing efforts, Madarao really is a powder playground that is forward thinking regarding access, safety and fun. Definitely one of the better places around to froth out on all that fresh japow, yew!
Aki’s enthusiasm and vision convinced his bosses to start opening up the tree courses that really started to put the place on the map as Madapow. They claim 13 now, the most in Japan. Overall they leave 60% of the courses ungroomed, with some perfect learner/progression areas at both sides.
The accessible back and side country is another big plus, and no one does a better job of showing it to you than Aki and his team at North Nagano Outdoor Sports business these days. They also do lessons for all ages, he has international instructors.
Madarao Tangram Resort news
What used to be a secret stash area known only to a few Mt Buller staff, who leaked up there as a result of Buller’s interchange relationship with Madarao, has become another in the line of Aussie favourites.
Aussie owned businesses are a sure sign of that, these now running the gamut from lodges like Chalet Madarao to restaurants, and the excellent Action Snow Sports International Ski School.
Another good sign is how Madarao Tangram is rapidly gaining ground as a family favourite. There are plenty of good reasons for that: the overall value; the relaxed unpretentious vibe; the easy to navigate layout; and the big range of activities – if you don’t find it on the Madarao side you likely will over at Tangram, which has the full resort hotel offering including a nice big indoor pool.
Iiyama City just down the road adds more to the equation, and the shinkansen station there certainly sped up the access – it’s among the most accessible resorts from Tokyo.
But there doesn’t seem to be any rush to build 6 star apartments here, it’s more a core keen skier and their families market who want to max their on-snow time including plenty of powder.
Right now Madarao Tangram is hitting a Goldilocks sweet spot, as in not too big, not too small, just right.
Snow fall that is often off the dial always helps. Madarao used to have a ticket office built on a big metal exo-skeleton frame they winched upwards as the season progressed. This was an ingenious answer to otherwise having to dig it out every few days!
It’s in a sweet spot geographically too, equidistant from Nozawa, Myoko, the snow monkeys and Obuse (famous for its sake breweries), all just 40 – 60 minutes away, so day trips for variety are easy.
Madarao Tangram Accommodation
To stay there are 3 main ski in/ski out hotels, the Madarao Kogen and Mon Aile at Madarao, and Tokyu Resort Hotel Tangram. They are all good, the Tangram Resort is the most fully self-contained facility wise.
TANGRAM: The Tokyu Resort Hotel Tangram is perfectly located at the base of the Tangram side of the famous powder ski area. It’s ideal for families, couples, or friends, after skiing relax and enjoy facilities like the large swimming pool and indoor/outdoor onsen.
Enjoy the amazing snow and relaxed style of Madarao Tangram at the resort’s best address. www.tangram.jp/eng/
MADARAO: At Madarao the iconic Madarao Kogen Hotel is a great choice at the top of the slopes with onsen, generous buffet breakfasts and dinners, and facilities including modern gear rentals on site.
For true ski in/ski out lodge accommodation Aussie owned Chalet Madarao (who also own Myoko Chalet) has a great location, restaurant/cafe bar on site, and can organise pick ups & trips to other areas, or combos with their Myoko property. Great value. www.japansnowholidays.net
Getting to Madarao Tangram
Take the Hokuriku shinkansen to Iiyama City, just 110 minutes from Tokyo on the fastest service. Then it’s only 30 minutes bus or taxi ride to Madarao, or 45 minutes to Tangram.
Direct buses from the airports are offered with Nagano Shuttle, or share taxis are available, but a JR Rail Pass is less than return on bus and it’s faster on the train.
Self-drive is great in this area too, there are so many resorts to ski. Grab a Nippon rental and go for it.
Madarao Tangram more info
Madarao Resort/Madarao Kogen Hotel www.madarao.jp/ski/
Tangram Resort/Tokyu Resort Hotel Tangram www.tangram.jp
Multi resort tours, Snow Sports School, lodge www.naganooutdoorsports.net
Snow Sports School www.actionsnowsports.com
Madarao Tangram Mountain Stats
• Summit 1350m, max vertical 520m Tangram/440m Madarao
• 14m plus snowfall
• 44 courses longest 2.5km; 13 Tree Courses; terrain 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, 30% advanced/expert
• 2 Parks, 2 kids parks, 2 snowmobile lands
• 21 lifts including 4 express quads
• Lift pass rates 2018-19 Joint Mountain Pass Day ad ¥5500, child ¥3000