This was our 5th Japan trip. The resorts we have been to previously discourage tree skiing. Whilst there was also the potential for rope ducking, the treed terrain in most of the other Japanese resorts we felt were not worth offending the local management ... what is the point to duck ropes when the terrain in the trees was so gentle that one had to aim straight to risk getting stuck, or has poor fall-lines resulting in significant traverse, or when the trees are so tight one had to stop every 3 or so turns?
We went to Madarao because of its claim of good Pow and tree skiing. The fact they have sections where the trees have been thinned out was also an appeal because we had hoped to find some terrain where we could link some good turns. Being our first proper tree skiing trip, having some thinned out sections of forest we thought would be a good thing.
In this section I'll focus on the general resort and cover the like/dislike in the latter sections.
The resort is reasonably well laid out for competent boarders/skiers. The two slopes from the Hotel down to the main restaurant are wide with reasonable pitch for beginners to learn on. It has a total of 3 courses that are suitable for beginners, and all of them reasonably long to learn on - i.e. if I was learning and falling over every 10m or so ... they would feel really really long and rather steep.
Tangram on the other side of the mountain is much much better setup for beginners, kids and family. Shiga Kogen also caters for beginners much better.
Apart from the tree runs, Madarao also had a good selection of groomed and un-groomed runs that are well suited for intermediate and up skiers and boarders. They're nothing too difficult and the steeper pitched runs are wide .. this meant there were always different line options, even on mogul runs.
Some comments on general layout.
The resort is very much designed to access the groomed runs. The ungroomed runs and the tree runs were added after the infrastructure was built. Powder Wave II, Powder Line are particularly difficult to get to. The access track is named "Adventure Aisle" for good reasons. During our stay, because it was over the new year period the mountain was reasonably busy. The track because of the traffic has turned into a chute about 1.5m wide that threads between trees, with a steep drop on the downhill side. Some of the more capable riders just hopped off the side into the "no riding zone" in this map http://www.snowjapanforums.com/sjimages/madarao-2013.pdf (which at the resort, instead of "no riding" was marked with skull and crossed-bones.
It should be noted that resort management here is pretty good, including avalanche control and rating. What this means is when they say an area has high avalanche danger, they mean it, and they DON'T CONTROL the areas marked "no riding". The run-outs of many of the "no riding" areas are flat or into a "hole". I would suggest anybody riding into the "no riding" areas to make sure they are competent is back-country riders and kitted out accordingly. Nobody will hear you if you get stuck in the valleys, or worse, buried by a slide. Ski patrol was very visible throughout the mountain, and split approx 60/40 skier/boarder. At least one person at the patrol base spoke reasonable English.
We stayed at Pure Pension, one of the local guest houses. They sold discount vouchers which we exchanged for tickets at the resort ticket office. A day pass was 3000 Yen.
Explore the various places available, as they all offer different things. Most staff spoke little English but were helpful nonetheless. There were some signs and menus in English, but don't count on it. The crepe store at the main resort base is worth a visit at the end of the day.
As of this post, the Shinkansen goes to Iiyama. Madarao is then only a short bus trip away.
We had plenty of fresh Pow during our stay. However, Madarao is not very high and therefore can experience freeze thaw cycles. This adds to the risk of avalanche and also can make the off-piste areas very unpredictable.
From 30 December, 2014 To 07 January, 2015
Snow condition on visit:
Fresh Pow most days
Things I liked:
We came here for tree skiing and Pow, and we got plenty of it.
It was mentioned in one of the review sites I read in preparing for this trip, that the trees were too thinned out in that author's opinion.
The thinned out sections were fun for the first couple of days. But after we got accustomed to the Pow (waist deep Pow took some getting used to) and became more trusting of our turns, we soon got bored of the thinned out sections. The "official" tree run areas are clearly marked with ribbons and arrows on the trees at the boundary.
As mentioned above, there is plenty of "out of bound" back country type terrain within the resort, which is where we went for the rest of our stay. It took a couple of days to understand the geography of the mountain, discover where the avalanche terrain and avalanche traps are, walk-outs routes (and preferably how to avoid walk-outs), etc. But once we figured it all out it we spent days making fresh tracks or follow our own (since hardly anybody went into those areas, for good reasons). Over the entire stay we met only 6 other riders in the "out of bound" areas.
Things I didn't like:
Nothing about Madarao we didn't like, but the access track to Powder Wave II could be vastly improved. The fact that the "out of bound" areas are marked with skull and crossed-bone was also a good thing as that was a good representation of the potential danger, but the fact that management didn't forbid people going in was good for us.
However, it would be really nice if Tangram and Madarao would combine into one resort, with Tangram opening up the treed areas like how Madarao has.
The treed areas in Tangram looked absolutely fantastic. Nice, long with consistent fall-lines. But tree skiing is strictly forbidden at Tangram. With all the runs ending back at the same base, for those thinking of ducking ropes there is nowhere to run ... Patrol will simply enjoy the excuse to run the trees and book you when you reach the bottom (All the tracks we saw in the trees seemed to be by Patrol doing avalanche control [ski-cutting] and assessment work).