Why Ski Japan?
Only because it’s got THE BEST snow in the world! Add to this the awesome side of experiencing another culture, the comparably short travel time to get there and such lovely people and you’ve got enough reason to consider a visit.
This year we took the kids to Japan for a 2 week holiday in early March and cannot recommend it highly enough! The best bit is that it didn’t cost us much more than it would if we went to Falls Creek for the same time! Yup, seems crazy, but we picked up some good flights, got some good accommodation in Tokyo and found the awesome Kuma Lodge in Madarao to be our home away from home on the slopes.
The awesome Madarao Ski Resort – amazing snow, authentic village, easy access from Tokyo
We looked at dozens of ski resorts and accommodation options in Japan before deciding on Madarao and Kuma Lodge in Northern Nagano. Yep, near where they held the Winter Olympics so you KNOW the snow is great! Situated just a couple hours bullet train ride from Tokyo, Madarao has amazing seasonal snow falls of over 10m – that’s 3-4 times the season average of any Australian resort! Even though March is pretty late in their season we still had 50cm of fresh powder snow in the week we were there and it was SO GOOD!
The season usually runs from December to late March, with heaps of snow late in the season making Feb/March an ideal and well priced option for Australian visitors. Another reason we chose Madarao is because it is a relatively small and authentic Japanese village, so allowed us to combine amazing powder snow with a gorgeous Japanese village experience and fantastic dining options all in one place!
Kuma lodge – ski-in-ski-out and perfect for families
Kuma Lodge is the perfect option for a family stay – situated right on the slopes for ski-in-ski-out access and overlooking the ski school area to keep an eye on the kids. Kuma Lodge is owned by some of the few Australians in the area – who also have kids of their own! Perfect for families and couples, but we would also LOVE to go back with 1-2 other families as this boutique hotel with 9 rooms of varying size and setup would be amazing for a few families together.
We stayed in the triple room with an extra mattress on the floor and there was plenty of room for that and all our bags. Kuma Lodge have private or shared bathroom options (we had a shared bathroom and that was completely fine!) and great views of the mountains from just about every room. Kuma Lodge also has a number of relaxed common areas for when you’re not outside enjoying the snow, with a dedicated games room (including table tennis and tv with Netflix), snug reading corner and a large dining area for a delicious (included) breakfast before hitting the slopes! Our kids made friends with a lovely Singaporean group with 3 young kids and they all had such a blast playing together on and off the slopes.
The Kuma Lodge owners know ALL the locals in Madarao and are really cool about supporting the local Japanese people and businesses. Taka, the lodge manager, helped us work out what dining options would suit our family and even took care of booking meals at the amazing Madarao options nearby.
We LOVED the authenticity of the places we went for dinner including okonomiyaki (think Japanese savoury pancakes), Japanese BBQ, ramen noodles and the kids couldn’t get enough of the local gyoza (dumplings) too.
Madarao Ski Resort
Kuma Lodge opens directly onto the snow with just a 50metre walk across the road. From there you can ski down to one of the many chairlifts located at the bottom of the slope at Madarao Mountain Resort. Madarao is the perfect option for families with gorgeous, open beginner runs aplenty and heaps of fresh powder snow to enjoy. Combined with the neighbouring Tangram Ski Circus resort (accessible on one ski ticket), they offer some of the world’s best skiing conditions, PLUS two snow play parks for kids!
These safe, fenced-off kids play areas have magic carpet rides for the kids to get up the hill quickly and safely, real igloo’s (AWESOME), snowman making equipment, snow bikes (these were cool!), toboggan courses and our favourite the “banana boat” – pulled along a snow covered golf course on the back of a ski-doo!
The Madarao snow play park is just a few minute walk from Kuma Lodge, so if the kids get tired, hungry or cold its easy and quick to get back to the hotel!
Across the road from Kuma Lodge you’ll also find North Nagano Outdoor Sports where you can sign the kids (and adults) up for ski school with English speaking instructors. The owner Aki is a super cool guy, hires great instructors who the kids LOVED, is an awesome back country guide AND makes a mean espresso and pizza! Our kids learnt to ski with Aki’s native English speaking instructors and begged to go to ski school every day! This was awesome as it meant that mum and dad could enjoy the fantastic powder snow by ourselves some days, and on others we spent the time exploring the mountain together. By day 3 our kids were skiing blue runs thanks to the great ski instructors so we really enjoyed skiing together after that.
If I’m honest then I’ll admit that I didn’t go to Japan *just* for the kids to ski. I wanted somewhere the adults would also enjoy, which was another reason we chose Madarao with its 10m+ of annual powder-iffic snowfalls, the most tree-runs of any resort in Japan and plenty of intermediate/ advanced terrain, much of which remains ungroomed for full enjoyment! With ski lift tickets starting from just AU$26/day that means a week’s pass here is the same as a day pass back home in Australia!
Other activities for families at Madarao
In addition to the awesome snow activities, one of the highlights of a ski trip in this area is the close proximity to the snow monkeys. We took a rest day mid week and headed out on an easy half day trip from Kuma Lodge (yep, they will help you organise it!) to yet another fun day out for the whole family and seeing the very cool local monkeys chilling out in the hot springs!
While you’re in Madarao also be sure to visit a nearby onsen (natural hot spring spa) to give those tired muscles a soak. Kids are welcome at most too and they are a wonderfully traditional Japanese experience. We spent an or two in the Maradao Hotel onsen one afternoon – the boys went with dad because its single-sex onsen only! so I got some amazing relaxation time to myself too! BLISS!
Getting to Kuma Lodge, Madarao
Depending on what time you touch down in Tokyo, you can be on the slopes at Madarao within a few hours of arrival! With a new shinkansen (bullet train) service from Tokyo Central to Iiyama taking under 2 hours, its just a short taxi or shuttle bus ride from there to Madarao where the Kuma Lodge folks will meet you on arrival! Easy, quick and awesome! With so much going for it, what’s not to LOVE about the thought of skiing and staying at Kuma Lodge, Madarao? Our family had THE BEST time there recently and really feel it is the perfect mix of great snow, lovely little town, wonderful people and super easy and quick to access. Now is the time to start planning to ski Japan with kids – but be quick as next holiday season is nearly booked out already! So get booking and join us in enjoying it before all the other Westerners find out first!