Madarao-Tangram in Nagano, Resort Review.
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Topic: Madarao-Tangram in Nagano, Resort Review.
Posted: Jan/28/2013 at 7:00pm
Madarao Tangram: Day 1 Review
So I got me some tickets thanks to SnowJapan and Madarao. Tangram gave me NOTHING! those guys can su... ha! One love! Jah rastafarai! Thanks for the freebie SnowJapan dudes!
Day pass is 4200 yen, whilst the madarao/tangram joint ticket is 4500. This is a no brainer to be honest. Unless you really really know that you are only going to enjoy madarao and are definitely lapping the only high speed quad in the whole place, then just get the all mountain. Its 300 yen more and it means not only more terrain to play on (and decent terrain at that), but more importantly it gives you a way up the mountain that avoids the crappy one seater tea tray bottleneck at madarao to get to the top. Easy worth it!
(teatray to the bowl up top, queue at 11.30ish).
Its also famed for its tree riding and to a lesser extent its snow, so preconceptions were rather on the mediocre side. Sure it might get some snow, but its a family place, its going to be pretty busy, and its really rather small if the vert is anything to go by. So er Naeba vs Kamui?
Not expecting the moon on a stick, but kinda want to see what the hype is about and whether there's something I'm not seeing in the stats and trail map.
(cruising the skiers right beginner path).
Here's the problem: I really don't think this mountain is beginner friendly.The whole resort has the makings of a bowl. In fact i'm fairly certain it is (If you pop over Tangram you'll see that its a massive bowl). And like a bowl this means steep descent often into flatish run out. And that's pretty much the case here as well. This means there's no real decent intermediate lines to break things up and give progressing beginners a way to get around the hill. More often than not, its super steep bumpy dangerous black diamond lines into a super soft flat absolute beginners line. This doesn't mean a beginner wont have places to play on; there are plenty of places to ride! It just means there's a real problem for beginners looking to explore the mountain and wanting to maybe hit up most of the sights. If you're an absolute beginner I wouldn't genuinely use any lift that takes you more than half way up the hill. And it's not a huge hill, so really that keeps you in a narrow band of the resort. Horizontally there's a fair bit to play on, but it doesn't really give you a MOUNTAIN to ride. More half a mountain, and mostly the bit without the awesome vista and sense of exploration we all want on our first few days learning to ride.
Getting back to riding though, the tangram area probably has the most beginner friendly terrain overall. The sheer majority of this area is green runs with only really the quad taking you into slightly more difficult terrain. Aside the pair lift on the madarao border, none of the lifts go into the top half of the mountain, meaning you can pretty much get on any base lift and enjoy yourself. The three main lifts (and the fourth lift over the far right hand side of the trail map) access all the beginners lines making this zone a great choice for people picking up their first turns. Its a fairly light gradient around the mid teens for the most part with a few steeper sections coming off them in places. I dont recall the top of the quad lift being that problematic even though its listed as a red run but theres a zig zag path cut into it to on the skiers left hand side to make it accessible for beginners. Again, so long as you only ride half way up the mountain (which is pretty much any of the lifts from the base), the whole of Tangram is pretty much your oyster.
To get back to Madarao, just take the furthest base lift on the Madarao border (lift 1). This line brings you down the Madarao Skyview course on a fairly nippy line and into one of the next big areas for beginners to lap: The crystal course, (serviced by lifts 11 and 12 and dropping into the Banff restaurant) is an excellent little area for beginners looking to progress towards carving. Its a bit steep maybe for absolute beginners towards the top of lift 12, but lift 11 should be straightforward for lapping and learning to get those first turns. Its also a great place for progressing beginners who to start developing their edge control a bit more. If you can turn, the two lifts are a great place to move forward, if you can't turn I'd just lap the bottom lift there until you feel comfortable to move on.
(the crystal course on lift 12 i reckons - since thats the tea tray across from it).
***At this point I have a small confession to make. I had no idea how the hell to get out of this area without taking the lift all the way to the top and coming down the lines from there. I dont think you need to do this however, since the trail map shows a small lift/tow rope/walkway next to the Banff restaurant. Im not sure what it is, but I just figured it was a restaurant - oops! Shows that one day on the resort isn't really enough to write a decent review****.
Anyways, assuming the walkway is still up and working, that's probably your best way back to the main resort area.
And once there you have only really have a couple more lines to play on: A few runs serviced by the number 5 lift, and the line skiers left serviced by the number 2 quad. I didn"t ride the line off the number 2 quad so can't tell you anything at all about it, but the champion course of lift 5 was a decent mellow pitch and interesting enough to keep you going. The lines looping further out though get pretty flat, so expect unclipping if you brave them.
Ultimately, theres a decent amount to hit up. And in total it does make up a fair amount of the mountain, the trouble is that it isn't really progression friendly and its often cut up by extremely difficult red/black lines. Overall, the best place by far is clearly Tangram for the diversity, space and terrain you can play on. Following that I'd just lap the two lifts on the crystal course and maybe look at that tea-tray and the associated cut line for the sheer terror of it and some cheap thrills. In all, plenty to hit up and you wont be going out of your mind with boredom, its just that there's a bit of a progression gap and a lack of diversity of its lines once you start feeling comfortable with your turns.
Every review of this place says its an intermediate area with predominantly intermediate terrain. But Im going to be honest. This is also not really an intermediate mountain. Well... not if youre kinda just moving into intermediate territory. If you're a strong intermediate rider its got a fair bit going for it and you probably should come here. But hand on my heart, i found the whole resort pretty challenging. Id put myself in that strong intermediate bracket now (6 seasons 120ish days lifetime, very happy on a bomb) and even I was reluctant to just let rip here. There's a few reasons for this, and I'm putting it down to these three or four things;
- First, it gets cut up, check the pics of some of these lines.
- Second, it gets COLD. This means if theres no freshies, its going to get pretty cruddy in a lot of the designated runs. Check the pics.
- Third, 60% of the whole area is ungroomed. And that pretty much means all the runs from the top, so north eastern facing, cut up, ungroomed, its going to get cruddy.
- Finally, it's pretty bloody steep once you get out of the beginners area. Its good in that moguls dont really stand much of a chance here, its often too steep to cut them in, but you will get moguls and they will make some of those lines bumpy and sketchier than you'd want if you like a bit of a charge. Again, just check the pics of the steeps.
Allegedly the resort had 20-30cms on it from the night before, but the place was shredded. Far more shredded than it really should be if there was a serious top up. The "groomers" were pretty icy as well making the running extremely fast and rather bobbly. This isn't an easy mountain to ride. It's pretty steep, but throw in the aspect and it gets also a little hard and bumpy. Intermediates WILL have fun, but its going to be hard won fun. You'll definitely feel like you've had to step up to enjoy it.
However, that being said, there are a few obvious lines out there for intermediates to hit up. For instance the giant course in the main area of Madarao, or maybe you'll just bomb down the crystal course and dial in your turns. There's plenty to lap and play with on the super quad, and given that its the only high speed lift in the whole area, you'll probably have a great day just riding it and maybe venturing into the more tricky areas like the powderwave 1 or the world cup MOGUL course. Should you head further up the hill (and why wouldn't you?) you'll find plenty to play on, but you ain't going to be riding this stuff easily. Its going to spank most intermediates because, (and i cant stress this enough), this mountain isn't really intermediate friendly. There are more playful and appropriate lines out there.
What makes a good intermediate mountain is a few things. For instance, a consistent relatively steep terrain in the mid 20s like the Skyline and R1. Also some soft trees like the middle of Akakan or the lift runs in ikenotaira make great slackcountry beginner/intermediate lines. Diversity and exploration also make a great intermediate line. If you can access almost all of the hill using the reds and greens, without having to ride to many black runs, its going to be a decent hill for intermediates. Finally, maybe a decent dump turning places like Ushikubi into fun mayhem or the top of Toomi on Goryu makes a great intermediate line.
The lines here on the other hand are... fun?... for intermediates but not necessarily suitable for them. Its hard to express this clearly, but i just didn't feel this mountain had a lot to offer a genuine intermediate rider. Its steep, its choppy, its icy and its not at all easy to get to grips with. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and it will help you push forward, but it's not necessarily what youd call "fun!" fun. You sort of need to earn your fun here. Same over at Tangram. The top lines are great fun, but they're not easy. Let the board run a bit and you're probably getting spanked over there.
If you're a progressing intermediate there's a lot to do here, but someone moving from beginner to intermediate is really only going to find themselves either cruising the softer lines at Tangram, lapping the crystal course and exploring some of the powder lines, (but invariably skidding their way down most of these runs). Which is great and all, and it can be serious fun! You wont have a BAD time here, but you'll just have a more SUITABLE time maybe elsewhere. This place in a drop is of course going to be hilarious, but once it gets a bit cold and icy its definitely going to feel like a lot of hard work for some of those turns.
If I had to give this resort a designation, i'd suggest that the people who'll get the absolute most of what this place has to offer are strong intermediate to advanced riders. Its very rare I feel confident enough to say a mountain "is a mountain for riders of X ability", but this one is ticking the boxes. Low intermediates or progressing beginners are going to feel this mountain is missing a whole stage of progression and that the challenges posed by the steeper runs are maybe a bit out of their depth, so they might feel restricted o certain lifts and lapping the same parts over and over. Whilst solid intermediates are going to find this place hard work and a bit of a slog for the goods. Progressing intermediates though will find it hard work sometimes, but the chance to hit up some serious tree riding or bomb down some tricky and complicated piste runs will certainly give them plenty of challenge to sink their teeth into. This is a great place for strong intermediates because the whole resort has a really nice consistent challenge to it that will keep you on your toes.
In a proper drop of course, all bets are off, but in the conditions we had yesterday, it was pretty tough to ride those runs. And those tree runs ain't soft like Kagura or even a lot of the Myoko stuff. They're steep and fast as hell.
Which brings me to...
I can see why BM loves Madarao. It's like someone designed powder wave2 and those tree runs off tangram especially for people to point their board down and just nuke. The trees in the respective powderwave courses are EXCELLENTLY spaced making it a decent run for progressing intermediates, but the pitch is pretty steep meaning if you love bombing your trees (which i kinda don't), then you're going to be hitting some atrocious speeds in here. This place is genuinely awesome for on piste tree riding.
Over Madarao side there are few ropes and few restrictions, so you have a BAZILLION lines to pick from. As i say, the whole top half reeks of a bowl. Get the tea tray up to the top, head along the ridge towards the 'adventure course' (beautiful view of Nojiriko by the way), drop in anywhere at all and BLAM! fresh lines all day. Alternatively head past the adventure course (a very narrow up/down/flat path taking you towards Tangram) and now you have the whole of powderwave 2 to play in. Honestly, its face shots all day even if the rest of the resort is cut to crap. "If you're good enough to rip it in there, you're going to have a good time." Alternatively you could head towards the high speed SUPER quad and just ride powderwave 1 all day. Its got a lot of lines for you to hit up.
(abandoned lift stanchion over at tangram - pity, there was once probably a decent lift up here meaning easy access to some great lines).
Tangram is more obviously a bowl, but there is a ZERO tolerance to tree riding here. People do get their passes pulled and ski patrol is VERY VISIBLE in patrolling the obvious exists. There's a beautiful looking area in the trees for example under the Tangram 1 lift, and i was just thinking about the line i was going to take on the lift when i looked across to see a ski patrol dude just standing exactly where you'd cut back into the resort. He was still there when I came back up the lift the second time. I was speaking to a couple of dudes from the UK who rode that exact line and said the only reason they got away with it was because a group of Japanese kids came out ahead of them and were busy getting bollocksed by the ski patrol. They ain't kidding. No skiing in the trees in Tangram. I should also add that I had my lift pass checked EVERY TIME i used the lifts. Tangram are pretty strict all over. Which is fine. Consistency and enforcement is good in a resort.
Tangent aside, the "groomers" on Tangram are PHENOMENALLY good. They're super steep, no ones riding them, and though some get cut up and even mogulled, they weren't unrideable trenches like you get on the mid 20s runs like Schneider and my beloved Ushikubi on Nozawa. You can also "flirt" with the trees a bit by ducking in and out of them to also break off the ice wall feel of it all. Overall, the Tangram piste runs are some genuinely fast, complicated runs that really will beat the crap out of any slip ups. The lakeview/kings slalom line is a challenging fun ride with almost no one else on it, whilst over the other side of the mountain you'll find the village line, which is cracking good fun to be honest, (but completely spoiled by requiring two lifts to lap it (one of which is tortuously slow - actually they both are... actually all the Tangram lifts are... actually, all the Madarao lifts beside the super quad are). Definitely worth at least one trip down it, but after you get the number 6 lift back up, you can decide for yourself if you'll bother having a second crack at it). Realistically, they're closer to difficult intermediate lines than advanced runs, and really advanced riders would really find those trees far too tempting, but once it gets icy, it's double black on all of those lines from the top.
All in all, advanced riders who like a bit of pow and a bit of a run in the trees down some pretty heavy steeps are going to love this mountain. As I've said throughout, treat it like a bowl and you wont be too far from getting what this place is about. You get to the top, you traverse to where you want to drop in, you drop in and blast down a pretty damn steep tree line with well spaced trees before being spat out into one of the open lines down to the bottom. Pretty easy and straightforward stuff. If you like your trees and you like face shots, this is probably a great place to come. Pick up the Tangram pass too and you can break up the tree runs with some fun bumpy ripping runs to the bottom. As far as Advanced riders go, this place is pretty much leaning towards you. The Naeba facade of the whole welcome area and amenities is pretty much the surface of this mountain. Look a little deeper and you'll discover the real heart of this place: steeps, trees, freedom to go where you like, and massive face shots.
"Part ONE!!!??!?", i hear you splutter! But yes, its just a quick first impression. Obviously I couldnt see everything AND enjoy myself in one day by riding fun lines. This trip was more of a recon mission to scope the place out and decide if it was worth adding to the list of places I actually enjoy. First impression is positive. Not ecstatic. It ticks a great many boxes it needs to, but it is ultimately a medium sized and borderline small hill...
I'd say at a push maybe its a decent place to hit up for a long weekend. Longer than that and you'll be taking in the incredible views of Myoko, Nozawa, Ryuoo, Togari, and whatever else it was I could see up there, and maybe feeling like a nice long 8km cruise down suginohara or skyline might be in order. Whatever it is, you'll start feeling like a bit of a change from trees and pow. It's got a sort of Kamui vibe, but not quite as interesting. Don't take that as a criticism though. If this is as close as I'm getting to Kamui, I'm bloody grateful its here at all. Its FANTASTIC that here in Nagano, I can even make the comparison.
For me, it's a 5 or 6 days a season type place. Which I shouldn't need to say still makes it pretty solid but it's not the sort of place you could honestly ride everyday for a season without feeling a little stuck and hemmed in. Its got BRILLIANT tree riding and (I'm assuming) some really good snow when it drops, but it's still kinda smallish top to bottom and though you wont notice this on day 1, and maybe even into day 2. By day three its going to be all you'll see and your mind will start longing to be elsewhere i think. So a few trips a season on a drop though and it's going to be one of your favorite little secret stashes that you can shock and awe your less informed mates by bringing them here.
I wrote elsewhere that it "out Myoko's, Myoko" in its off piste policy and its tree riding. It certainly delivers a cracking day or two and despite the lack of a decent lift taking you up the full length of Tangram (or madarao for that matter), Tangram really adds a tonne of value to the Madarao ticket. It's a small place, its only got 400 or so meters of vertical, but the sheer wealth of lines, and the complexity of its drops make it a seriously little contender for few days each season in the Nagano trees. It's not the worlds most complicated place to get your head around, and its kinda short, but each top to bottom run is long enough and steep enough to make you feel like you worked your ass off for it - and that's going to keep all but the hardest of the hardcore happy.
Even without the extra free ticket id be back here. It's the kinda place you come to for a change of pace from your main mountain. Again, like Kamui. I love Kamui, but I wouldnt want to be there for a whole season either.
Its not huge, but its got something unique and exciting for a day or two of buzzing about in the trees and on whatever line you want to play with. Its great fun, but its not soft or mellow cruising in the pow "fun" (which kamui sort of is), its a bit of a bitchy hill with a vicious little sting in its tail. Once you look past the bubble facade, you realise its not half as friendly and welcoming as you think. Its sorta mean and kinda difficult to ride when you get to the real heart of it. Every other resort has difficult lines of course. This isn't unique, but this place just has walls of them. Almost every line above 1100 meters is going to be a nasty 30+ degree pitch either on a chopped up smashed to crap groomer, or through some terrifying trees, and that's going to ultimately define your relationship to it. I loved it. Ill be back. It's a wicked little place.
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