It might seem a bit of a strange time of year to do a post about skiing in Korea but rather amazingly the season only just ended here. There was even snow in Seoul last week.
When I first came to Korea I didn’t click that you could ski. I knew it got cold at winter but didn’t realise it got minus 20 and that most of NE Korea is a mess of mountains. This year Japan was definitely out of the question as I didn’t have a spare US$ million to pay for a trip to Nagano or Hokkaido so it meant I had little choice and Korea it was.
Now there are two ‘world class’ places to ski in Korea. The first and where the Winter Olympics are to be held in 2018 is PyeongChang with most of the skiing taking place in the resort of Youngpyong. I got lucky enough to go on two “work” weekend skiing trips there which introduced me to the Korean style of skiing: eat, ski, eat, ski, eat, drink, drink, drink, unconscious. Given that with windchill it can go below minus 20 there are very practical reasons for adopting this style of skiing. I actually really like Youngpyong and because the ski resort evolved organically it has some great Korean local food and the tastiest bulgoggi I have ever had.
However, the best snow is renouned to be at High 1 which in any other country would be a marijuana farm. It also has the only casino in Korea which locals are allowed to use which is a source of much excitement for Koreans. So accompanied by my two best friends from Shanghai who similarly didn’t have a spare US$ million to go skiing in Japan off we went on our Korean ski adventure.
Now one of the great things about Korea is that it is very practical. High 1 resort can be reached by bus and easily so. We started at 6:00am at Seoul’s Eastern bus terminal (Dong Seoul which is cutely dated) and got a bus straight there (to Sin Gohan and then a taxi up to the High 1 resort). Once there you can rent skis, snowboards, ski clothes, everything. We were actually on the slopes by 9:30/ 10:00am the same day. In the same vein there are copious lockers, changing rooms and even free hot springs to sup a beer after a long day’s ski/drinking.
Now I keep mentioning Japan and that is because the greatest ski holiday I have ever had is in Hakuba/ Nagano last year. Every day we were skiing in something like half a metre of fresh powder and spent our evenings consuming human sized bottles of sake and getting fat on homestyle Japanese cooking. Now from Youngpyong I knew Korea could compete on the food and the alcoholism but every Korea I had spoken to about the trip kept saying it had “the best snow in Korea“. Therefore, to put it mildly I was surprised when it snowed the entire trip and we were going down runs with fresh powder all day every day.
The resort itself is good for 2-3 days of skiing and I’ll go back there. However, the big problem was with its character. It was built on nothing out in the middle of nowhere. People simply didn’t live out in Gangwon province and no-one went there. So to overcome this they built a ski resort and a Casino. However, they are so new build and so planned that they are completely sterile. The architecture feels like a company town in Mid West American on a bad day. The food is a mixture of fast food outlets and lifeless chains. The Casino is probably the world’s most depressing place and makes Macao look classy and is 1/billionth of the size. If you are travelling to go to the Casino alone you will feel as though your soul has been hollowed out with a blunt spoon. See the picture above for the Casino at its most interesting.
And the food. Oh the food. KFC/ Dunkin Donuts was the highlight in resort. How I prayed for the character and old men and women of Youngpyeong. However, I can offer a little suggestion or tip which is that you can escape the resort if you are prepared for a little journey. You can get a bus or taxi to Sabuk and there is the normal array of Korean barbecue, juk and jiggae places. Which is a darn sight more exciting than the pre-processed crap at High 1 resort itself.
And if you haven’t been skiing in Korea can I just say two words: night skiing. This is not like in Europe where one slope is slightly open with some bad torches. This is entire mountains open, floodlit and beckoning you for one of the most evocative experiences of your life. Also worth going all that way for it.