Do yourself a favour by beating the world to the punch and taking advantage of South Korea’s fresh powder, exhilarating slopes and unforgettable culture. Ben Stower explores Gangwon-do ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Set to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea is two years from transcending its current international snow-holiday appeal. Fortunately, skiers and snowboarders still have a couple of seasons left to enjoy the country’s famed Taebaek Mountains and ski resorts without the massive crowds.
Snaking down Korea’s eastern side from Wonsan to Busan, the Taebaek Mountains cut right through the Gangwon-do region, which lies about a two-hour drive from Seoul. The high altitude (peaking at 1,708 metres) produces tremendous snowfall each year, which has quickly established Gangwon-do as South Korea’s finest skiing destination.
The Taebaek Mountains (also known as the Korean Alps) home more than 15 resorts, all of which provide lodgestyle accommodation, night skiing, family-friendly activities and more. These modern leisure complexes boast English-speaking ski schools, pristine pistes and the age-old après-ski tradition.
Korea’s home of skiing
Yongpyong Resort is one of two official hosts for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it is already a crowd favourite. With about 2.5 metres of snowfall each season, Yongpyong’s 28 groomed runs provide the ideal environment for powder hounds.
The resort’s gargantuan size and 15 cable lifts ensure it never feels crowded, and there’s a wide range of options for skiers and boarders of all abilities. The opening hours alone cement Yongpyong as a skiing haven, with skiers and snowboarders seen carving powder as late as 2.30am.
Experienced snowboarders can find a worthy challenge on Mount Balwangsan’s super-advanced runs, which offer steep inclines and tight chutes from the 1,458-metre summit. Here, Dragon Peak delivers the right ingredients for high-flyers with jumps, rails, boxes and jibs, while the Englishspeaking school runs group and private lessons for both beginners and those looking to polish specific skills.
The accommodation varies from multibedroom villas to budget-friendly hotels. Yongpyong also boasts Asia’s largest ski complex, Dragon Plaza, which features spectacular Korean and international restaurants, along with more hotels and entertainment, such as karaoke and 10-pin bowling. For great views and authentic Korean barbecue, catch the Rainbow Gondola to Dragon Castle restaurant; for a little alpine pampering, head to Dragon Valley Hotel’s fabled Finnish saunas.
Skiing lessons at Yongpyong Resort
Family-friendly snow delights
With lifts running from 8.30am to 10pm, High1 Resort is an all-day extravaganza that dishes up spectacular terrain down three impressive mountains.
High1’s beginner, intermediate and advanced runs are all positioned close together, so families with skiers of varying experience levels can still carve the powder together. The 4.2-kilometre valley course is an excellent starting run with plenty of width, gentle inclines and length. The Terrain Park features three levels of difficulty, along with a half-pipe for fearless trick technicians.
The Mountain Ski House is a one-stop leisure complex for gear, gondolas, arcade games, food and a ski school for kids. But if your odds are better at the tables than on the slopes, Kangwonland Casino is your playground with 200 table games, including black jack, roulette, baccarat and poker, along with slots machines.
Those looking to splurge on accommodation should consider the five-star Kangwonland Hotel. Budgetsavvy snow junkies can find affordable rooms at High1 Hotel or Valley Condominium, both of which place you right on the slopes.
Phoenix Park Ski Resort
A cinematic holiday setting
Introduce yourself to Phoenix Park Resort by skiing or snowboarding down the 2.2-kilometre panorama run. There are 22 groomed runs, 12 of which have been internationally recognised and will host the freestyle skiingand snowboarding during the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Amateur freestyle addicts can practise their aerial and ground tricks on the Extreme Park’s half-pipe, table-tops, rails and jumps. Meanwhile, newbies can benefit from expert instruction at either the adult or child school. Experts can test their limits against moguled courses and intimidating black runs.
Although Phoenix Park delights adventurous snowboarders and skiers, it’s best known for its majestic setting and appearances on popular Korean TV drama, Winter Sonata. The resort’s cheerful village resembles a tiny metropolis encircled by towering mountains, and the snow rarely stops falling during winter.
The village comprises a five-star hotel, condos, villas and a youth hostel, all connected via an underground passageway. Everything’s close at hand including a smorgasbord of restaurants and leisure activities.
Wherever you stay in Gangwon-do, be sure to try chimaek – a uniquely Korean après-ski delight of crispy fried chicken and beer. Though not the healthiest option, you’ll have more than earned it after a day taming the Korean Alps.
Flight Centre Hong Kong specialises in tailor-made travel experiences, the widest choice of airfares and unique products, and 24-hour emergency assistance. To book your getaway, call 2830 2776, visit www.flightcentre.com.hk, or drop by the retail stores in Discovery Bay, Central, Happy Valley or Wanchai.
Lead image: Skiing in the Taebaek Mountains