Skiing in Japan a Dream Come True

Madarao Ski Resort Japan -- Main sign against a cloudy sky
Madarao Kogen Ski Resort in Japan

Skiing in 日本 (Japan)

Years ago, I put up an article about the start of planning out a ski trip. It was not just any other ski trip but it was a side trip from a primary trip to the Philippines. The idea was to go to Japan and ski some of their incredible snow. Well, at the time work got in the way and then COVID got in the way. Finally though, I was able to get back to east Asia and yes a part of that trip was a ski trip to Japan!

A sign noting the border between Nagano and Niigata Japan. I endeavor to write a series of articles on this trip, covering both my time in the Philippines and in Japan. However, this first article is going to be on the skiing at Madarao Kogen on the border of Nagano and Niigata prefectures in Japan. I will publish articles talking about the rest of the trip discussing the non-ski aspects of the trip – both focusing on the experience as well as detailing the nuts and bolts of traveling in Japan and the Philippines.

The Usual Disclaimer

In this article I will be discussing goods and services. None of the mentioned goods and services were comps and I have no financial stake or interest (direct or remote) in any of them.

The Terrain

Madarao Kogen Ski Resort- - the mountain
As Good As It Gets

In general, I feel confident (well sorta) in most all “intermediate” terrain and in entry level black terrain. Of course we all know that terrain labeling does not transfer from one resort to the next. However, I thought Madarao Kogen was well suited to my abilities. The intermediate terrain I did ski felt good not too boring and not too scary. I did not get onto any black terrain (I’ll talk about this later) but my guess is it would have been similar to other black terrain I have been on.

I also stayed on the trails and did not venture into Madarao’s glades but the trails were interesting and consisted of the usual stuff. Cat tracks turning into nice wide and open runs. Wide runs you could really find some space on, and some narrow twisty runs. Unfortunately, I did not explore the mountain to the extent I wanted to but from what I saw, I liked it.

The Resort

Soba Ramen in the Madaroa Kogen Cafeteria
Slurp Away!

Madarao Kogen is what appeared to me to be a medium size resort. Guest services were good, the resort was run by Japanese staff who were conversant enough in English to serve an English speaking crowd. The rental center was fine and it was the usual drill, fill out some paperwork, present it, pay for it, find a pair of boots, and off you go. I rented boots, skis, poles, and a helmet. I had my own clothing along. Also, keep you paperwork from the rental and there are coinlockers available.

The rental center had a basic food and drink service available too. I did not try it at all.

The lifts were a mix of detachable and fixed grips. Most had safety bars and one lift I was on had a bubble which was nice to have (more later).

The resort had a large cafeteria hall for lunch. I thought the food was good and on my two ski days I had some soba ramen and a beef curry the other day. Both of which were good. They also had the usual western fare on the menu. One could also hit up the vendo machines and buy a nice can of Sapporo beer.

I confirm the general thing noted in much of the reading I did prior the trip the resort had a run-down vibe to it. It is being maintained but that is about it, I did not see any evidence of recent or future upgrades. I did hear a rumor though that a PE firm bought the resort and is looking to put serious cash into the place, time will tell.

What drove me to Madarao Kogen was their participation in the Indy Pass program. I had purchased an Indy Pass with this trip on my mind and I saw Madarao Kogen was a new join so my planning morphed from Hokkaido, to Aomori, to Madarao Kogen. I had originally planned to transfer to a resort named Togakushi but I canceled that and spent the ski days at Madarao Kogen instead.

The Skiing

Fog Obscured Birch Tree
The Birch Tree is 20 Yards From Me

So, now we get to it. How was the skiing? In a word – awful and this was NOT the resort’s fault. It was first and foremost me holding back. My right knee was giving me bother (this was a very sour note for the entire trip) and even my left knee from time to time would make a nuisance of itself. While I did have travel insurance with medical on it, I did not want to have to use that medical policy. Yeah, I don’t want to do it here either but since I was traveling solo I had no one I could trust to advocate for me in the event of a medical mishap.

However, the biggest drag was quite simply the weather. I got off of the bus and was greeted by raindrops. The whole while I was there it was warm, rainy, and abundantly foggy. Fortunately, on the two days I did ski I did get some skiing in where the fog had lifted – still on the second day by the time it had lifted I went down this one run and it had moguls built up and I messed up the first turn so I climbed out and proceeded down the run I had skied on a few times previous. Had I been at home, I would have proceeded downwards – I’ve done that before messed up turn 1 but gone onto making good turns.

Apres Ski

Mr Daruma's Bourbon Selection
Real Bourbon Whiskey!
Mr. Duruma's Awesome Salmon Sashimi
So Good! Salmon Sashimi

There was a nice little ski bar on the edge of the resort and yes I did stop and tip a few there each day after I finished skiing. The second day I inserted myself into a welcoming crowd of Irish men and one Chinese woman. We chatted amicably but then my beer emptied and it was time to turn my back. I enjoy being in ski bars!

I did enjoy the apres-ski scene but it was definitely low key. The hotel I stayed in had a bar and grill with a few items on the menu which were good. Of course their Sapporo was also good. I ate there two nights and the other two nights I was in town I ate out.

The best dinner though was at a place called Mr. Daruma’s and dinner was a helping of salmon sashimi and gyoza. I had sake with it and there was beer and they had good ole bourbon too which I did have (Bullit and Buffalo Trace was there).

I went to the town’s burger bar and I had a big chicken sandwich prepared with a definite Japanese flair. It too was good.

The dining and lodging scene for the most part was run by and for Australians. So, I had no language barriers to overcome. It was definitely nice, we could converse freely without worrying about the intricacies of the language (as long as we didn’t get too deep with our respective slang, idioms, and metaphors).

As I state above, the apres-scene was low-key as was the village. If you don’t ski there is nothing there to do, at least during the winter.

My Lodging

Hotel Madarao I stayed in a hotel that was about a ten minute walk from the resort. It was very basic but adequate, I was there to ski not luxuriate in a hotel. The place had a basic breakfast which was good enough for me.

Would I go Back to Madarao Kogen?

This is hard for me to answer. My inclination is to say yes. Especially now I am familiar with the resort I can go there with less worries and be better informed about where to go and the like. However, Japan has many ski resorts. I was seeing people on my X feed skiing in Hokkaido and let me tell you – they were NOT (they were in water, but that water was in a different state) skiing in rain as I was!

Basic Travel Facts

Getting There

Madarao Kogen was easy to get to and from downtown Tokyo and you can be there in about 2.5-3 hours. Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from either Tokyo Station or Ueno Station to Iiyama station. From Iiyama station purchase a bus ticket to Madarao and it is about a 30 minute bus ride.

Communication

While English is not well spoken there is enough to get by. The signs and announcements in the train stations are in four languages – Japanese, English, Koren, and Chinese (I’m guessing Mandarin, but I can’t say I know which version). Definitely take steps to keep your phone charged and connected.

A bullet train in Ueno Station
Waiting for the Shinkansen at Ueno Eki

Cell Phone Connectivity

I used the Airalo app and purchased a 30 day 20 GB eSim a few days before leaving Manila. When I got off of the plane I had data on my phone. There was no need to buy or rent a pocket wifi. There are other eSim apps out there, check them out and use the one that makes the most sense for you. I also carried around a charge pack to make sure my phone had charge in the event I need to use the map app (a frequent need) and the translate app (less frequent but it was critical in one story).

Money

There are 7-11s all over and they have ATMs you can use to obtain yen on your accounts. I had no problem accessing my home bank account on two occasions (and I will remember this the next time I’m in the Philippines). I also carried US Dollars and Philippine Pesos and only needed to use the dollars once (which were used to purchase Yen for a baggage fee) and that was at the airport on the way out.

More to come!

Good Stuff!

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