Located at an altitude of 1,382m in northern Nagano prefecture on the border of Niigata prefecture is none other than Madarao Mountain Resort. The average temperature in summer is approximately 20°C, whereas in winter it turns into a 100% natural-snow ski resort. Access is a breeze and takes approximately 2 hours from Tokyo (Haneda Airport) by simply hopping onto the Hokuriku Shinkansen before alighting at Iiyama Station for a bus ride to the resort. Its central location makes it convenient to also visit surrounding renowned resorts with both Myoko Kogen and Nozawa Onsen situated less than 1 hour away by bus. While many people opt to visit Madarao when the conditions are favourable during their stays in large-scale resorts such as Myoko Kogen and Nozawa Onsen, the convenient placement of Madarao combined with recent urban development that has seen more accommodation facilities and dining establishments have tipped the flow of travel to the opposite direction.
Mount Madarao sees plentiful snowfall owing to its location as snow clouds generated over the Sea of Japan bring the snow right to the slopes. The winter of 2022 saw a maximum of over 5 metres of accumulated snow. This overwhelming amount of snowfall means that lovers of snow sports can enjoy beautifully fresh powder snow for over half of the ski season. Madarao Mountain Resort is also home to 14 tree run courses that have been maintained to preserve their forestry glory for skiers and snowboarders alike to shred. The sheer number of courses surpasses that of any other ski resort in Japan. As the backcountry courses are located within the resort itself, it is possible to hit the tree trails and return to the resort without any headaches. These courses are also regularly patrolled to ensure that there are no accidents due to the forces of nature.
Many of Japan’s most prominent ski resorts are found within the grounds of national parks, which means they are subjected to restrictions that prevent ski resorts from working on areas outside of the resort’s management property. Madarao, on the other hand, has the advantage of being able to build and develop easily within the resort itself. They proudly promote their operation style as a place for powder-snow lovers and friendly towards backcountry fans. Those so inclined have access to untouched backcountry runs, making it popular amongst advanced off-trail skiers and snowboarders all around.
While Mount Madarao is far less at risk to avalanches, compared to adjacent mountains, thanks to its dome shape and mountain peak below the tree line, would-be skiers and snowboarders must still access the backcountry areas at their own risk as they are beyond the resort’s scope of management. NORTH Nagano Outdoor Sports offers backcountry tours based in Madarao Kogen for beginner-level skiers and snowboarders.
These backcountry areas can be reached on foot, via ski lifts, or other vehicles. As these areas are outside of the resort grounds (off-piste), they are not maintained like the resort trails and thus require special equipment to ski or snowboard on.
NORTH happily provides beginners to the sport with a relatively stress-free means to tackle these areas through their tours. Registering on an official backcountry tour will ensure you get the most out of these off-trail areas (Web: http://naganooutdoorsports.net).
Must-visits on any trip to Madarao include the sidecountry Powder Theater and Powder Wave 2, as well as the ridge-line Adventure Isle course that gives you access to NINJA where you can find DIY ladder jumps to show off your skills. The course itself is almost sideways thoroughfare to travel along the ridge, but traversing deep into it will give you the chance to experience an expansive view of the surrounding ski slopes stretching as far as the eye can see. A certain level of skill is required to tackle these sidecountry courses as they are off-trail, however, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the view at the end is well worth the trek.
There’s also plenty of fun to be had for the less-experienced, with a plethora of slopes filled with variety to cater to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The courses within the resort provide just as much snow action as those offcourse to ensure that skill is not a limiting factor.
Accommodation is conveniently located around these slopes. The Madarao Kogen Hotel (operated by Madarao Mountain Resort), which is located in the heart of Madarao Kogen serves as a local landmark, and is fitted out with a kids’ area where children can go sledding and participate in other snow-related activities to keep them happy and occupied. It also features a lounge, restaurant, gift shop, and a range of other facilities to add value to stays of all lengths. This includes a relax room, which features reclining chairs and massage chairs for you to relax and be one with nature so you can fully enjoy your stay at the resort. The hotel has fully-serviced natural hot springs so that visitors can unwind and refresh their tired bodies after a long day of shredding up the slopes.
The Madarao Kogen area also features a wide range of restaurants and bars to add a bit of delicious spice to any stay at the resort. There are also plenty of reasons to visit outside of the ski season, with summer bringing along with it the perfect conditions for camping, gravel biking, mountain biking, trekking, and more. While Madarao Kogen is home to outdoor fun all year long, make sure not to miss the amazing powder snow (affectionately known as “Madapow”) when the ski season rolls around once again.