When it comes to ski vacations, the old adage of “Location, Location, Location” has never been of more importance.
With this in mind in 2015, Kuma Lodge owners Scott, Darrien & Nestor set out to locate a yet to be discovered ski resort, at least not by the western ski community, & we found ourselves in the far corners of Northern Nagano, in fact right on the border with Niigata prefecture in the heart of the Japanese Alps.
In a country with over 600 ski resorts, Japan has something for all skiers. Sifting through that enormous list was a challenge in itself, however, there were a few key elements we were looking for that would offer western guests the ultimate Japanese snow sport & cultural experience.
- Ski Terrain
- Village Life
- Western Influence
- Accommodation Location
- Ease Of Transport
- Cultural Experiences
Nagano & Niigata are widely considered to be some of the heaviest and most consistent snowfall areas in the world. Madarao & Tangram Resorts regularly record snowfall in the range of 10-14m during the winter months. The base is often 3m+ throughout the ski season. High snowfall is one thing, visibility and temperature another key part of any ski vacation. The further north you travel in Japan often brings with it heavier snowfalls and stormy weather. The trade off with that is poor visibility and extreme cold weather – aiming for a fine balance of deep snow, warmer temps and clear skies was the obvious choice for our Japanese ski lodge.
Many of Japan’s ski resorts are nothing more than a simple rope tow or basic chairlift, at the other end of the spectrum you have super sized resorts that are an amalgamation of smaller resorts to create vast ski area’s – often bringing huge crowds (Niseko and Hakuba for example). We felt the demand for a medium sized resort that offered skiers of all abilities access, however, kept the skier numbers to a minimum would be the ultimate scenario. Madarao & Tangram offer 21 ski lifts, dual mountain access & world famous tree skiing, side and back country access (rare in Japan) truly setting it apart from other medium sized ski resorts.
It is a fine balance. You need enough restaurants & bars to refuel skiers after a long day on the mountain, however, at the same time, we wanted a village that retained it’s Japanese authenticity and charm. With the focus more on food than a culture of drinking, Madarao & Tangram suits families, groups of younger friends and even older skiers that are wanting a quieter pace than many of the larger resort towns. Most of Madarao’s dining is within short (flat) walk of Kuma Lodge and in the centre of the village and many restaurants even offer pick up and drop off from Kuma Lodge.
Learn more about the dining experiences available in Madarao here.
Unknown to the wider western skier community when we purchased in 2015, Madarao & Tangram’s attractions are now just beginning to appear on the radar. The majority of western snow tourists are arriving from Australia and NZ, with some European and North American skiers taking interest in the easy access and high quality snow. Whilst the western market is growing, it is from a very small base. In winter season 17/18, it was rare to see any westerners on the mountain and we expect this trend to continue as the vast majority of skiers are inbound Japanese tourists taking advantage of Madarao’s proximity to Tokyo. With the annual Japanese skier numbers peaking in the 1980’s, the local market has shrunk – small school groups visit Madarao for lessons on weekends, leaving the slopes virtually empty during the week. The local village residence are mainly long term Japanese and they offer foreigners a rare opportunity to enjoy the real Japan, sharing their local delicacies and welcoming guests to their homes.
Kuma Lodge is positioned in an enviable location with far reaching views of the surrounding ski runs and mountain ranges and direct access to the ski fields. Ski-in, ski-out access for a Japanese ski lodge is surprisingly rare, with most accommodation options accessing the slopes via shuttle buses or a short walk. With Kuma Lodge our priority was convenience for guests to both the day/night time skiing and the local hot spring onsen bathing after a long day on the mountain. Surrounding Kuma Lodge are 4 excellent dining options within 75m of our door, with an extensive list of dining & drinking options within short walk or car ride.
Ease Of Transport
Key to why we settled on this region of Nagano/Niigata was the newly installed Shinkansen Station at Iiyama – which opened in March 2015. Previously a slower train/bus journey via Nagano, this new service had significantly reduced travels times from Tokyo and other parts of the country whilst offering visitors a stylish and comfortable ride direct to the mountain base. Madarao & Tangram are approximately 20-25 mins drive from the Shinkansen station and can be accessed via private car, taxi service or the resort shuttle bus which departs shortly after each train arrival.
For more on getting to Madarao, visit this page
The town of Iiyama is approximately 10km’s from Madarao and offers a wide selection of bars and restaurants with local specialities and international flavours. This region of Japan is famous for the water, rice, soba and sake quality, foreign visitors can access great food and even head out for a night of dancing or Karaoke. In case of emergencies, Iiyama is home to the local hospital, doctors and dentists amongst other specialty care. If the cultural side of Japan appeals to you, Iiyama offers a host of Shrines, amazing new cultural centre designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Kengo Kuma and everything else from 100 Yen shops through to boutiques. The famous Snow Monkeys of Jiraguyani Park are a short drive away and this is an ideal half day tour for a truly unique experience. Should you be in the Madarao/Iiyama area late January through end February, each year the igloo’s of Kamakura Snow Hut Village makes for a wonderful hot pot dining experience outdoors surrounded by snow covered fields.
About Kuma Lodge
Kuma Lodge is designed over five levels and we offer free parking for guests. 9 bedroom suites cater for up to 21 guests per night in comfort. Each room was thoughtfully renovated in 2016 and features comfortable western mattresses, excellent heating, hanging space for clothes and a private wash basin. Most rooms have uninterrupted views of Mt Madarao which makes for stunning sunrises and sunsets. We can cater for families with children if rooms need to be combined and some rooms include ensuite bathrooms.
In addition we have multiple relaxation area’s located throughout the lodge including a generous dining space (which doubles as a great workstation if required) seating up to 25 guests, a separate reading snug with leather sofa and floor to ceiling glass with a magical view and a large basement games room with a flat screen TV (includes Netflix), darts board, ping pong and deep sofa and chairs to relax in. Free wifi is included for all guests.
Our ski equipment storage room is accessed direct from the street front so it’s possible to ski from the door in the right snow conditions.
The lodge is made up of:
6 x King / Twin rooms
3 x Triple Share rooms
Prices range from Y20,000 – 30,500 p/n Dec – Feb including a cooked breakfast for all guests. Reduced nightly rates apply for March, please contact us for a quote today.