Powder play in Korea

by Gil Coombe
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

Winter. For some that means it is time to hunker down inside with a good book, good TV, good company and good alcohol (though not necessarily in that order). For others, it means it is time to layer on the thermals, strap on those skis or that snowboard, and dash down the side of a mountain as fast as possible, then line up to do it all over again. In Korea, the number of people choosing the latter is growing each year; recent statistics indicate that there are around 6.5 million visitors to Korean ski fields annually, representing respectable growth considering that the country’s first ski resort (Yongpyong on Mt. Balwangsan) didn’t open until 1975. With the Winter Olympics set for Pyeongchang in 2018, the popularity of winter sports is expected to grow further; thus, if you are familiar with the fervor with which Koreans can take to a new trend, it is probably best to satisfy your curiosity sooner rather than later.

For a country that is technically 70% mountains, Korea is not exactly overflowing with skiing options, mainly due the relatively low natural snowfall (artificial snow is necessary to sustain many Korean ski fields) and uninviting, low-lying terrain that requires a great deal of development before masses of Seoulites and others can descend upon it. Korea currently has 18 ski resorts, most of which are subject to the type of crowding you would expect when supply cowers in the face of demand. Still, for those seasoned skiers who just want to shake the rust off, or for those like me who are looking to reprise a newborn-baby-giraffe-on-skis impression, finding a slope or two to visit is not too difficult.

The Korean skiing season generally runs from the start of December until March, so now is the time to get out, kit up, and hit the slopes. Pretty much any ski field you choose in Korea will have gear rental, lessons for beginners, a variety of food options, and other entertainment facilities. If you are serious about putting in the hours on the slopes though, it’s best to try a couple and choose the one that best meets your requirements, especially if buying a season pass is on your radar. Listed here are the five most promising options.

The Grandaddy:

Yongpyong Resort
Located three hours drive from Seoul on Korea’s east coast, Yongpyong is the biggest ski resort in Korea and where it all started on the domestic front. Forty years later, it is still going strong. With 28 slopes (at a combined total of 13.6 km in length), many of which are relatively wide and gentle, it is popular with newbies or tourists or expats just looking for that one-off quintessential Korean skiing experience. However, it should not be assumed that it is where all the neophytes congregate to take pictures of each other falling over; it has hosted a number of international competitions in the past, and will be the location for the alpine competitions in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In fact, 10 of the 28 slopes are listed as advanced or “super-advanced” (in addition to 6 beginner and 6 intermediate courses), and the steepest run average a 39o incline with a maximum of 56o. With a relatively high snowfall for Korea (~250 cm), it also has a longer than average ski season that stretches into April.

For the Family:

Elysian Gangchon
For those looking for something closer to Seoul and more family friendly, Elysian Gangchon can (and does) boast that it is the only resort that can be reached by the Seoul subway in Korea. (Although, given the rate at which the metro system is expanding, I expect that this record will be surpassed before you finish reading this sentence.) The trip itself is not exactly short (108 minutes from Seoul Station), so it may be better to go the express bus route, but it remains one of the most convenient options for families without a car. It has 10 slopes (3 beginner, 4 intermediate, and 3 advanced), with the longest measuring 1500 m and the steepest 54o.

Daemyung Resort Vivaldi Park
Popular among those in their 20s and relatively close to Seoul at around 45 minutes by shuttle bus, Daemyung Vivaldi Park Ski World is one of the most visited resorts in Korea, though don’t let the prospect of crowds scare you away; it is known to have good facilities for children and is very beginner friendly. It has 12 slopes (2 beginner, 5 intermediate, and 5 advanced) ranging from 210 to 880 meters, with the steepest slope a mere 28o. The slope names should clue you into the clientele it is now servicing (Ballads, Rock, Funky, Techno I & II). Daemyung Resort is also close to Ocean World, so make a weekend of it and hit the Indoor Zone to soothe the bumps and bruises the next day.

For the Expert:

Phoenix Park
Given the relative novelty of skiing in Korea, it is not particularly surprising that most resorts tend to cater to intermediate skiers and below. There is certainly a paucity of challenging runs for those skiers and snowboarders used to the big mountains and even bigger snowfalls elsewhere. The answer for some may be to look for locations that offer an interesting terrain park – a place to practice jumps and other snowboarding tricks – or simply those ski fields with the highest quality snow and the longest courses.

Located 700m up Taegisan Mountain, Phoenix Park is set to be the venue for the freestyle ski and snowboarding competitions during the 2018 Winter Olympics. It currently has 22 slopes open, with 12 at a standard approved by the International Ski Federation. Of these, 7 are listed as beginner slopes, 4 as intermediate, and 7 for experts; one of these slopes is the famous Panorama Course, where beginners get to start at the summit of the mountain and work their way down the 2.2 km to the bottom. Of particular interest to snowboarders is Extreme Park, which is equipped with a half-pipe, a tabletop, and rails for all the tricks you can think of, and which is always being reworked to better suit the clientele. And once you have your fill of skiing, there is always the nearby indoor water park, Blue Canyon, for a little off-season swimming to round out your active weekend.

High1 Resort
High1 Resort is often claimed to have the best snow in Korea and has been labeled the most environmentally friendly because of its construction and dedication to preserving the native trees in the area. It lies between 680m and 1,370m on Baekwoon Mountain in Gangwon-do, and offers 18 slopes of 21 km in total length, two of which are World Cup Ski Championship slopes and built for speed (the others: 5 beginner slopes, 3 intermediate, and 8 advanced). High1 also offers ski lessons specifically designed for those with disabilities and a terrain park that caters for different levels of ability.

An added bonus: if you have any money left over at the end of your snow adventure, you can blow it all at Kangwon Land Casino (and in the company of Koreans too, as this is currently the lone domestic casino where Koreans are allowed to gamble).

Please note: The prices and shuttle bus information below are subject to change, so it is recommended that you check the respective websites below or the Visit Korea website (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto) for the most up-to-date information. Korea Snow (http://korea-snow.com/) is also recommended as an excellent guide to skiing in Korea.

Yongpyong Resort
Location: 715 Olympic-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do, Korea
Website: http://www.yongpyong.co.kr/eng/index.do
Getting There:
1.A direct shuttle bus from Seoul is available via the Purple Ski Shuttle Bus
(http://www.purpleskibus.com/?RESORT=YP; KRW 34,000 for a round-trip)
2.Otherwise, Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Hwenggye (Gangneung; 2 hours 30 minutes), and then take a free shuttle bus from there.
Ski-Lift Prices:
Day pass (8:30-16:30): Adult – KRW 74,000, Child – KRW 59,000
Night pass (21:00-00:30): Adult – KRW 37,000, Child – KRW 29,000
Half-day pass (8:30-12:30, 12:00-16:30, or 18:30-22:00): Adult – KRW 59,000, Child KRW 47,000
Single pass: Adult – KRW 15,000, Child – KRW12,000
Seoul office (Mapo Station): 02-3270-1231~3
Enquiries: 1588-0009

Elysian Gangchon
Location: 강원도 춘천시 남산면 북한강변길 688 (남산면)
688 Bukhangangbyeon-gil, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do
Website: http://www.elysian.co.kr/global/eng/index.asp
Getting There:
1. Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Gangchon Bus Terminal, and take a taxi from there
2.Gyeongchun Railway Line to Baegyang-ri Station and take a taxi from there.
Ski-Lift Prices: (at the time of writing, the prices for this season were not yet listed; below are the prices for the 2014 season)
Four-hour pass: Adult – KRW 48,000, Child – KRW 34,000
Six-hour pass: Adult – KRW 62,000, Child – KRW 43,000
Eight-hour pass: Adult – KRW 70,000, Child – KRW 49,000
Night-to-dawn pass: Adult – KRW 40,000, Child – KRW 28,000

Daemyung Vivaldi Park Ski World
Location: 강원도 홍천군 서면 한치골길 262 (서면)
262 Hanchigol-gil, Seo-myeon, Hongcheon-gun, Gangwon-do
Website: http://www.elysian.co.kr/global/eng/index.asp
Getting There: 1. Shuttle bus from Sports Complex Station Line 2 Exit 6 (Daemyung Resort Bus Station; Reservations may be needed)
Ski-Lift Prices: (at the time of writing, the prices for this season were not yet listed; below are the prices for last season)
Full-day pass (8:30-17:00): Adult – KRW 68,000, Child – KRW 48,000
Morning pass (8:30-13:00): Adult – KRW 50,000, Child – KRW 35,000
Half-day pass (12:30-22:30): Adult – KRW 78,000, Child – KRW 55,000:

Phoenix Park
Location: Gangwon-do, Pyeongchang-gun Bongpyeong-myeon, Taegi-ro 174
Website: http://interface.phoenixpark.co.kr/global/english/default.aspx
Getting There:
1. Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Jangpyeong Bus Terminal (2 hours 40 minutes) then a shuttle bus to the resort.
2.A shuttle bus from Seoul is available during the ski season (information here: http://www.phoenixpark.co.kr/pp/intro/traffic_foreigner)
Full-day pass (8:30-16:30): KRW 53,000
Half-day pass (8:30-12:30 or 12:30-16:30): KRW 42,000
Night pass (18:30-22:30): KRW 42,000

High1 Resort
Location: 50강원도 정선군 고한읍 하이원길 500 (고한읍)
500 High1-gil, Gohan-eup, Jeongseon-gun, Gangwon-do (Gohan-eup)
Website: http://www.high1.com/eng/Hhome/main.high1
Getting There: 1. Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Taebaek via Shingohan Bus Terminal (2 hours 50 minutes) and then take a taxi from there (approx. KRW 8,000)
Ski-Lift Prices:
Full-day pass (8:30-16:30): Adult – KRW 74,000, Child – KRW 56,000
Half-day pass (8:30-13:00, 12:00-16:30, or 18:30-22:30): Adult – KRW 60,000, Child – KRW 46,000


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