The best things to do in Madarao from someone who lives there year round

Active Life hotels General Manager Ben Howard first stepped into thigh deep powder in Hokkaido 2010. A decade later, and after trips to more than thirty of Japan’s most popular (and secret) ski resorts, he now lives in Madarao – the place he calls “the snowiest location on earth”.

“It’s like living in a snow crystal. You are surrounded by buildings of European design, and when you mix that up with 20 metres of powder snow and a fantastic range of venues to wine and dine, you get a very special winter experience.”

Active Life General Manager Ben Howard

Active Life General Manager Ben Howard

However, there’s more to Madarao than just Madarao, according to Ben, and although we can’t imagine getting tired of the resort’s endless supplies of “Madapow”, he insists that one of its most redeeming features is the easy access to other nearby resorts. He and his team have taken full advantage of this, offering a free shuttle service to one of 12 nearby resorts during the week.

“You have some of the best ski resorts in reach”, Ben explains. “Literally looking out from our hotels you can see Myoko to one side and Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen, Ryoo, Kijimadaira to the other.”

Of course, nothing beats access to the resort’s famously deep powder, and Ben – who’s lived on site at Hakken and Active Life Madarao – has benefited from being less than 300 metres from the lifts at both locations.

Here’s how Ben would spend a perfect day in Madarao


I love a traditional breakfast, so it’s hard to go past the set meal at Active Life Madarao, which includes eggs, bacon, salad and toast, as well as a self-serve bar for soups, coffee and tea and cereals. After a big snowfall, it’s all about the early start, so after a quick breakfast I walk straight over to the mountain and ski a lap down to the main lifts before they’ve even opened.

Active Life Madarao

Active Life Madarao


I’ve become quite greedy over thirteen Japanese winters, and usually only get out when it is deep – super deep.

Madarao Mountain

Madarao Mountain

Whilst most days it snows and there are fresh lines, Madarao has some steep areas and good backcountry for when it is ridiculously deep, and that’s when I navigate the back bowls and trees or traverse over to the Tangram’s steep and deep bowls to get blanketed.


For lunch it is hard to pass up Tirol. Nestled in the valley between the homeward lift and the front runs of the mountain, they offer a selection of giant-sized burgers and large servings of wedges that hit the spot.


On days I don’t ski through the afternoon, I really enjoy heading down the mountain to Iiyama (nearest station on the shinkansen) for a stroll down the Buddhist Altar Street and a stop at the small but stunningly beautiful Shonenji Temple.

If there’s time, I might also follow this with a 45-minute trip to Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples, or pay a visit to the famous snow monkeys at Jigokudani.

Japan's famous snow monkeys

Japan’s famous snow monkeys are within easy reach of Madarao


Soaking in a rotenburou (outside hot spring) is a perfect way to wrap up a day and soothe the leg muscles. The feeling of hot and cold is therapeutic.

Active Life Madarao has a private onsen with an outdoor pool that looks down the range when there isn’t a wall of snow.


The atmosphere in Madarao starts to liven up when it gets dark, and the streets start to come alive as the restaurants and bars are lined up and down the main drags.

Rudolf's Pizza, Madarao

Rudolf’s Pizza, Madarao

Rudolph’s Pizza is a personal favourite and Active Life’s Japanese Nabe Hot Pot is also a good option to warm the body with some local produce and goodness.


There are quite a few bars in the area and on a good night out it’s quite easy to find yourself exploring them all. Shaggy Yak and Drop Off Bar are located almost next to each other and occasionally host live music acts or jazz.

Active Life Madarao bar

Active Life Madarao bar


Naturally, I’m going to say Active Life! The rooms at our properties are large and the beds are comfortable. But there are plenty of options in town, ranging from pensions and small lodges run by Japanese or expats, to Japanese hotels and Airbnbs like Tonbi Lodge.