Category Archives: Japan

If you’re looking for a value ski holiday with a difference, you need to read this!

Those that have followed us for a while will know that this year we are actively promoting Madarao in the Nagano Prefecture, Japan, as a family ski destination.  And before we go on, let us disclose that – yes – we are working with the resort and one of their accommodation providers, Active Life, and yes, we are receiving support to cover some of our expenses.

However, this is not your standard sponsored post about another basic accommodation provider in another standard Aussie-dominated resort; its more about the way Active Life are looking to differentiate from their competitors, in a quaint, relatively undiscovered resort.  So if you are a family looking for an alternative ski holiday, complete with FREE ALL DAY beginner skiing and snowboarding lessons and a FREE inter-resort shuttle bus, providing access to up to 6 nearby resorts, then we invite you to please read on.

Madarao Resort

But first, a little bit about Madarao. Madarao or Madarao Kogen is a smallish resort in the northern Nagano Prefecture. The resort is easily accessible thanks to the recent extension of the Shinkansen line through to Iiyama station, the whole journey from Tokyo to Iiyama taking just 110 mins.  The resort is famous for its champagne powder-snow, earning it the nickname MadaPOW, and its unassuming Japanese style. Until very recently, Madarao was very much undiscovered, and widely heralded as one of Japan’s secret resorts – largely untouched by westerners.  Although its would be a lie to say it remains this way, Madarao is still relatively quiet and on a quiet day, you can still pretty much have the mountain to yourself; and that means fresh tracks all day.  At just under 1400 m, Madarao Mountain is not big by Hakuba standards, but as a northern facing mountain it still receive around 10 m of very light, very dry snow, every year.

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Madarao Event

Madarao is an excellent all round resort with terrain for every kind of rider from first timers to advanced skiers or boarders. Madarao has a vertical of 440 m and dedicates 30% of its courses to beginners, 40% to intermediates and 30% to advanced skiers and boarders, providing plenty of options for all levels. The longest course is 2.5 km and the steepest slope is 36 degrees. Madarao is open from 8:30am until 5pm, with night skiing until 9pm, weekends and public holidays. On New Year’s Eve, you can also ski till midnight. Lift passes are also cheap at 4500 yen for the Madarao area, or 5000 yen for Madarao and the adjoining Tangram ski area.

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The tree skiing is easy in Madarao

Unlike some of the more famous Hokkaido resorts, Madarao is not a party destination, and nor does it pretend to be. People come to Madarao for the quality snow and the low key atmosphere, and although there are plenty of bars and restaurants, there are certainly no night clubs or noisy patrons. Having said that there is plenty to do in Madarao, from exploring the local architecture, the nearby town of Iiyama, or even visiting the region’s famous snow monkeys, located just a short bus trip away. As a part-time skiier, my wife commented that she just enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, reading a book by the fire, walking the cat trails and indulging in a bit of nature photography.

The snow

Having grown up skiing in Australia, we spent an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the snow, hoping and praying the weather would turn in time for our holiday. You don’t need to worry about that in Madarao, or anywhere in Japan for that matter – especially if you go in the depths of winter (i.e. January and February). Madarao receives a whopping 8-10 m of snow fall annually, most of which falls between December and Late February. In 2018, January and February were big months, with near daily falls of 30-40 cm creating ideal powder conditions. Not surprisingly, the resort is a powder-hound’s paradise and tree skiing is very much encouraged in a series of dedicated off-piste areas, where the trees are thinned (or gladed) to create open powder bowls with widely spaced trees.

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Great value for families

Family rooms at Active Life (accommodating a family of four) start at Y44,446 ($AUD556) per night and a double room from Y15,489 ($AUD 193) per night.  All family rooms come with their own ensuite while cheaper double rooms have shared ablution blocks.  Each of the Active Life hotels serve breakfast (either a nice continental style breakfast, with gourmet muesli, cereal, bread and fruits, or a hot breakfast, complete with bacon and eggs).  The drying rooms are large and efficient leaving you and your children’s gear dry and toasty warm the next day.

But forget about the price for a minute

What sets Active Life apart is their offer to supply FREE ski and snowboard lessons for any guest staying four nights or more.  Active Life offers 2.5 hour lessons for adults and ALL DAY lessons for children aged 5 to 14, making the lesson structure akin to kids club in Australia.  To put this in perspective, children’s lessons in the resort start at around Y12,000 for a full day lesson and around Y10,000 for a 2.5 hrs adult lesson.  Adding it up, that represents a saving of around Y50,000-60,000 ($AUD625-750) per child over a 5 day period.  That reduces the price of a family ensuite room to around $AUD256 per night, which is great value especially in peak season.  Let us tell you, it is very difficult to find family rooms cheaper than that anywhere, even if you were intending to buy your lessons separately.

For the more adventurous riders, Active Life also offers a FREE shuttle bus to six nearby resorts, Lotte Arai, Myoko, Nozawa Onsen, Kita Shinshu-Kijimadaira, X-Jam Takaifuji and Ryuoo Ski Park.  The shuttle runs Monday to Friday (to avoid peak times) between 28 December and 5 February, and leavs Madarao at around 7 am returning around 5:30-6pm.  There’s no fixed route.  Destinations are chosen based on the forecast and the best snow conditions at the time.

Lift passes are cheap at Y4500 and Y1500 per day for adults and kids respectively, OR, cheaper again at Y4050 and Y1350 per day if you book through Active Life.

Video
Check out our 2018 family ski holiday video compilation

Like what you hear? Why not join us?

Snowriders Australia in partnership with Madarao and the Active Life Group, is this year proud to announce our inaugural club trip, Powder Seekers 2019;  the first of what we hope will be a regular series of Club Skiing and Snowboarding adventures to Japan, Australia and other snowy destinations. Powder Seekers 2019, taking in Madarao and surrounding resorts, is suited to families and powder hounds alike.

Our accommodation is Xplore and Hakken by Active Life, Australian/Kiwi owned and newly renovated hotels just minutes walk from the chairlift.  Forget catching buses and taxis, everything in Madarao is just minutes away on foot, making everything super easy, especially with kids.

Powder Seekers 2019 is a CLUB TRIP, designed for friendly, easy going, like minded riders looking to experience Japan for the first time, or those looking to experience a new area with ample off piste skiing opportunities. As it is a club trip, guests will be free to ride on their own, or if they chose, ride with our experienced guide.  Members of the SRA team will also be available to assist with resort logistics, directions and recommendations (i.e on the best places to eat!). In fact, our friends at Active Life Group have already organised a welcome dinner 🙂

Places are very limited. For further information, please don’t hesitate to send us a message via our contacts page, or send us a personal message via our Facebook page.

The bottom line [$$]

We’ve worked really hard with our partners at Active Life  to bring you the best deal possible.  Remember accommodation costs include breakfast, FREE all day children’s and 2.5 hr adult’s lessons and FREE shuttle bus transfers to nearby resorts – all in peak season!  Such a deal is rare and new for the Active Life Group.

Here’s the bottom line:

Summary

  • When: 13-19 January 2019 (7 nights).
  • Cost option 1: JPY 108,424 [*2]
  • Cost option 2: JPY 311,124 [*3]
  • Cost option 3: JPY 235,303 [*4]
  • Costs include: 7 nights, breakfasts, lessons, shuttle bus (3 days), guide (min 3 days)
  • Payment due: 26/10/2018
  • Note, if you hold a Mt Buller Season Pass, you can ski Madarao free for three days, plus score 50% off further lift passes for the rest of your trip!

Exclusions

  • Airfares (costs variable).
  • Lift passes (~JPY 4,500/day; kids <12 JPY 1,500/day)[*6];
  • Gear hire (Skis, Boots, Poles) (~JPY 5,500/day) [*7];
  • Japan Rail Pass (Adults ~JPY 17,000; kids ~JPY 8,500);
  • Lunch & Dinner (costs variable, but budget options available);
  • Insurances ($AUD 150 per person [*5])

Fine print

  • [*1] – Guided days are supplied in the spirit of a social club event. As such Snowriders Australia accepts no responsibility whatsoever for injuries that may occur either within or outside resort boundaries, or any costs incurred as a result.
  • [*2] – For singles or couples. Basic accommodation in the newly renovated Xplore Hotel, with shared ablutions; 2 x single beds. Max 2 people.
  • [*3] – Family friendly accommodation with private ensuite in the newly renovated Xplore Hotel; 1 x queen bed and 2 x single beds. Max 4 people.
  • [*4] – Deluxe accommodation with private ensuite in the Hakken by Active Life Hotel; 1 x queen bed. Max 2 people, but 3 on request (extra costs incurred).
  • [*5] – Basic insurance. Guests intending to participate in guided days are encouraged to seek off-piste cover and carefully review the insurance T&Cs.
  • [*6] – Cheaper for multi day passes (more prices) e.g. 6 day adult pass = JPY 23,800.
  • [*7] – Cheaper for multi day hire (more prices) e.g. 6 days package = JPY 26,500

 

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Hakken by Active Life
Xplore
Xplore Accomodation
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A few local sights

How to deal with a partner that doesn’t ski?

I can hear the sighs form here. Yep, turns out your dream partner doesn’t ski or snowboard after all. So much for the famous speed dating meme huh…

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Despite your best efforts, he/she doesn’t share the same passion.

However, I am here to tell you it’s not the end of the world. I’ve taken my wife skiing a few times. She didn’t hate it, nor did she love it – she’s just not a snow loving maniac like I am.

After doing three successive boy’s trips in as many years, I asked my wife if she join me on a trip to Japan, along with our two children. The whole experience – as it turned out – was pretty amazing. I went skiing with he boys, and she enjoyed a well deserved break. A win-win, so to speak.

When we returned, she asked if she could pen a few words about her most recent experience; what she enjoyed about the trip and her recommendations for other non-skiing partners. This is what she said:

“I couldn’t go on a ski holiday, I don’t ski, what would I do?”

Many of my friends have said this to me in the past. As for me, I like skiing and I’m ok at it, but it isn’t a passion for me like it is for my husband. You see, I married into the hobby. I knew before we got married that he skied. We went on a few skiing holidays early on in our relationship but I didn’t realise how much it would feature in our lives.

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Ahh, solitude

Fast forward quite a few years and a couple of kids later. The family ski holiday my husband had been dreaming of was upon us. We packed the family onto a couple of planes, trains and a bus, and headed off for the ski fields of Japan, Madarao to be exact.

Madarao is a smaller ski village, which is fast growing. There are hotels, places to eat (traditional Japanese food and Western), a few small bars, a convenience store and all things ski related (hire, instructors etc).

Most people have different definitions of a good holiday – some are ‘action people’, some are ‘relax by the pool enjoying a cocktail and reading a book kind of people’, and then there are the ‘in between’ people. I am an in between person who loves to relax with a bit of sightseeing thrown in. If you are too, then a ski holiday could also work for you.

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The kids faces were priceless

How do you enjoy a ski holiday, share the joy with your family but also enjoy yourself doing other things?

My day would begin skiing with my kids and husband, when I needed a break I would wonder back to our hotel. Along the way I enjoyed the environment around me and loved taking photos. Not necessarily professional quality photos but fun photos. With the solitude and the head space, I found myself really looking at the things around me (I just don’t get time at home). I’d then head back to the accommodation to read my book and write.

Next to me was a window through which was a most breathtaking scene of white mountains and trees, looking at it was just blissful. I’d sit at that window and feel quite inspired. I could imagine other people sitting, reflecting, painting, doing a craft, jigsaw puzzle, anything really….. gazing out over that view.

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The view from my window

At lunchtime I enjoyed walking along the snow covered cat tracks to meet up at a restaurant with my family. Along the way I really enjoyed taking photographs and just loved the solitude and serenity of my environment. When the kids and my husband finished up for the day, we’d all go to dinner together, share in the adventures of the day whilst enjoying a drink or two. The kids would then be happily occupied with the in-house pool table, fuse ball table, darts and PS4 (thanks Active Life Madarao).

Prior to Japan, I also visited larger resorts. There I also enjoyed going to the day spas, visiting book and clothing shops (mostly winter, ski related clothes). I didn’t miss the day spa or shops on this holiday, I found the quieter environment uplifting and soul filling. I loved seeing the smiling faces on my children at the end of the day as they mastered the skill of skiing. But, mostly I felt happy seeing my husband have his dream fulfilled.

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10 reasons to take your kids skiing in Madarao, Japan, this summer

In late February 2018, my family and I travelled to Madarao, a small but emerging resort in the Nagano Prefecture, where we took our kids skiing for the first time. The kids aged 6 and 8 took to skiing like ducks to water, loved the culture and generally just loved the entire experience; from the trains to the food, to the endless amount of snow. 

Our holiday to Madarao in the Nagano Prefecture was seriously awesome – perfect even – and if you were to ask me should take their kids to Japan, my answer is a resounding YES. Here are my reasons why, with just a few tips and tricks thrown in… Continue reading 10 reasons to take your kids skiing in Madarao, Japan, this summer

Niseko Weiss Powder CATS: first tracks guaranteed

There’s no doubt that CAT skiing offers great value to riders looking for a new riding experience. It offers easy access to untracked powder, without hiking and without the risks normally presented by back-country skiing. It’s perhaps these qualities that have earnt it the tag ‘poor man’s heli-skiing’.

On a recent visit to Hokkaido (February 2017), we were lucky enough to give CAT skiing a try courtesy of Niseko Weiss Powder CATs. Niseko Weiss Powder CATs is an experienced adventure company operating out of the Hanazono Ski Area, in greater Niseko United. Although a lean season by Niseko United standards (they’d only received a lazy 8m of snow instead of 12m), the powder CATs adventure was an unforgettable experience and a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of the main Niseko skiing area, located just a few minutes away.

AA_Cat4 Continue reading Niseko Weiss Powder CATS: first tracks guaranteed

Review: 5 Days in Madarao, Japan

Small crowds, a ‘local’ feel, a variety of friendly lodges, lift tickets and food priced the way it should be and tonnes of snow, translates into epic powder days centred around a true Japanese cultural experience that visitors crave – all without those regretful stares from lift-queue’s, back up to quickly-disappearing fresh tracks.

Continue reading Review: 5 Days in Madarao, Japan