story & images Matt Hull
You can look at trail maps all you want, and go exploring around resorts spending days looking for powder stashes, but nothing will get you more fresh turns than hanging out with an experienced local. As we struggled over the rubble at the end of a cat track I could just see Shimpei in the distance and heard in an excited tone, “Are you freaking kidding me? There are no tracks!” The sound of a local whose stash had remained secret until 11am.
Madarao and Tangram are two separate resorts that share a mountain. On the North-West face sits Tangram and on the North-East Madarao, the two resorts join at the top ridge which has the most spectacular view of Mt Myoko in the distance, do not forget your camera!
I arrived at Tangram around 9am, we were rolling in a convoy consisting of a little Honda and a big Nissan van, myself driving the Honda with three guests and Shimpei behind the wheel of the van with another four very keen riders.
Getting our goggles and gloves on we stood in the main building in Tangram, which is huge, especially for a Japanese resort. One building contains a hotel, several restaurants, an onsen, ski hire and retail shops the back of which has massive several storey windows that look out to the resort. Definitely a cool place to hang out and have lunch, however we weren’t there to snack on sushi, we were there to ride powder. Looking out the massive windows at the sunny powder covered mountain we had picked the day for it.
Even thought Madarao and Tangram share the same mountain they have very different views on tree skiing. Tangram have a strict no tree skiing policy that you are constantly reminded off over loud speakers while on the lift, Madarao on the other hand has several designated tree skiing areas that are really fun, and give you fresh powder lines for hours. Although Tangram doesn’t allow tree skiing, they do have several runs that they keep the groomers away from and this makes for excellent turns after a dump, so these were the first runs we took advantage of and we were not disappointed.
After a couple of un-groomed powder runs, our guide Shimpei who grew up skiing here, hurried us to the top chair which had just started spinning. Sitting on the chair looking up we could see the fresh untouched pow get tracked out one skier and boarder at a time, the chairs just aren’t fast enough. Sliding off the top of the lift Shimpei darted right, away from the crowds and down towards the end of a cat track that had a pile of snow and rubble that the Kassbohrer had pushed there. He side-stepped over the rubble and off through some pine trees, reluctantly we followed him.
As we rode clear of the trees we were presented with the most amazing untouched powder bowl: not a single track, not a person in sight, man I love skiing with knowledgeable locals.
The rest of the day is history, waist deep powder turns, sunshine and smiles from ear to ear, everything skiing and boarding is about, we had a few lift lines, and the frustration of looking down roped off areas that you know would be some of the best lines you would ever get, but as always with skiing the good outweighs the bad, especially if you get that one golden run with mates.
I’ve ridden a few days at this mountain including some that disappointingly had a dusting of snow on top of sheet ice, but you can’t win them all, you just need to plan your days and get out there as much as possible, odds are you will get that perfect day like us.
And you can take the kids for free (Madarao side only).
madarao mountain resort
snowfall 16m summit 1328m base 900m vert 428m
terrain • 30% adv/exp • 40% int • 30% beginner
includes plenty of patrolled off-piste, unusual for Japan
lifts 21 including 4 express (with Tangram)
day pass (2012) ¥4500 Madarao – Tangram, kids to 12 ski FREE
other stuff zipline adventure over slopes, onsen. Shuttles connect to nearby areas like Nozawa and Togari Onsen, so you can stay a few days here and easily ski different areas.
bookings not featured yet by many mainstream Japan ski tour operators, but local specialists www.japansnowaccommodation.com have great range of options there with some great specials on offer, especially for families.
Best place to stay by far is the Madarao Kogen Hotel with its impressive natural onsen on site
resort info www.madarao.jp/ski/en