Skiing in Korea anyone?
When you think of your next ski holiday destination, Korea may not automatically spring to mind. However as the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics, perhaps you are missing a trick. What better way to combine some adrenaline-inducing activity with some cultural immersion or spectator sports at the Olympics.
We used AVIOS to book Club World flights to Seoul with British Airways and started planning our ski trip in spring 2016.
Planning a ski trip to Korea is a challenge. Your Rough Guide or Lonely Planet does not have an exhaustive section on skiing, and most of the information on Korean websites is limited. For instance, I struggled to find basic information, such as details of typical snow fall, season schedules and lift pass/rental costs.
It was therefore with fingers crossed, and a huge leap of faith that we forged ahead with our trip, largely taking solace in the fact that a country about to host the Winter Olympics must have some decent skiing!
Winter Olympics venues
The 2018 Winter Olympics will be spread across four locations in South Korea. These are Phoenix Park, the PyeongChang Mountain Cluster, Jeongseon Alpine Center and Gangneung Coastal Cluster. All the locations are located along highway 50 within four hours from Seoul .
Our Olympic trail
Over the course of ten days, we managed to visit Phoenix Park, the Alpensia Sports Park, and Yongpyong Alpine Centre. You can see ALL (not just the ski destinations) the locations we visited on our trip on our Tripcipe!
At the foot of Mt. Taegi, Phoenix Park Ski Resort is a two hour bus journey from Seoul. You can take either the ski bus (18,000 won per person for a return fare) from the airport or a bus from DongSeoul to Jangpyong (11,600 per person single fare). From Jangpyong, you can hop on the free shuttle bus to the resort which runs every few hours from the bus station. If your arrival does not coincide with the departure times, then grab a cab for around 17,000 won.
Although we paid more than the ski bus costs to travel independently to the resort, we found that the timings of the ski bus were designed with day trippers or weekend visitors in mind. We did not fancy an 8am departure from Seoul!
The resort offers 21 trails for all levels including some longer runs for every ability.
There is enough to keep you entertained for a few days of skiing and the complex also has a few restaurants, shops and a bowling alley.
Positives for Phoenix Park
We paid just 42,000 for a full day of skiing (48,000 less a 6,000 refundable deposit) for two. This is fantastic value but was discounted due to the closure of a number of slopes. You can find full lift pass and rental prices here.
I have always considered US resorts to be the pinnacle of user-friendly but this resort beats any I’ve skied in the States. There are lockers conveniently located by all the ski lifts to limit your walking. You need to pay a small charge of 1,000 won for these, although we left a jacket in one all day without paying, with no issue.
If you stay in the Phoenix Park Hotel and Condos, each basement also has FREE lockers where you can leave skis and boots overnight. From there, you can access the ski base directly, buy your ski pass, hire your equipment and hop on the gondola. Be sure to request your discount coupon in reception to save on passes and rental.
The main hall at the base of the gondola is designed for speed. Entering from the ticket offices, you simply hand in your ticket for rental equipment and within minutes are waltzing off with skis and poles. There were no queues at all during our visit although we did visit at the very end of the season.
As with resorts in the States, free water is the norm, allowing you to refill your bottles endlessly. This saves a fortune on what you can spend in Europe just keeping rehydrated.
As it was the end of the season, there were only a handful of runs open, but even if all were open, I would suggest a maximum of three full days to fully enjoy all the pistes.
The apres-ski is severely limited with a lack of pure drinking establishments. Restaurants are local, Korean cafes serving great, spicy food albeit with a limited menu. If you don’t like stew, you may struggle.
Moving on from Phoenix Park, we took a cab to Alpensia which cost 65,000 won for the 45 minute journey. Another option is to hop on the shuttle bus to Jangpyong and then take the bus to Hoengge which runs regularly throughout the day.
From there, it is a short cab drive to Alpensia but cab fares are not cheap in the mountains. I estimate that it may save around 30,000 won to travel this way but it is hard to say.
The purpose made town of Alpensia will conjure up images of Vail or Winter Park for those familiar with skiing in the Rockies. The twin hotels of the Intercontinental and Holiday Inn line the pedestrian plaza, with its myriad of restaurants and shops. These are more upscale than Phoenix Park, but with similar prices starting at around 7,000 won for a traditional Korean dish.
There are only six ski slopes in Alpensia so I recommend splitting your time between here and Yongpyong. The proximity to the hotels, its prestigious status as a 2018 Winter Olympics venue and the picturesque town centre are enough of a draw, even if the ski slopes are closed, as it is just a few minutes’ drive to the neighbouring resort of Yongpyong.
The town is picturesque and has a great choice of restaurants for such a small resort. It’s a perfect destination for a weekend ski break.
The accommodation is also of a high quality at a reasonable price. The rooms at the Intercontinental are spacious with comfy beds, balconies with great views and a large bathtub to soak aching thighs in at the end of a hard day of skiing.
The skiing is seriously expensive with prices for lift tickets and rental to make your eyes water. Food and drink prices are very reasonable however with a beer in the Intercontinental costing just 5,500 (although for some strange reason, a coffee costs 12,000).
Yongpyong Alpine resort
Just five minutes by car from the Intercontinental is Yongpyong ski resort, the daddy of Korean ski resorts, with the highest pistes and the greatest choice of runs. This comes with a hefty price tag of 218,000 (approx £170) for lift passes and ski rental for two which is vastly overpriced.
There is also no shuttle bus between Alpensia and Yongpyong meaning that you will need to take a vastly over-priced cab. Charging around 16,000 each way, these transfers add around £25 to the cost of your day out. You won’t be getting much change from £200 if you are paying for two.
That said, without a doubt the skiing is some of the prettiest I’ve done. There’s some fabulous long runs from the top of the gondola which snake around the mountain, hugging the cliff sides. Spectacular views entice you to stop frequently and reach for your camera. It’s no wonder they have had to line the entire piste with safety netting. There’s a lot to distract!
There are over 20 pistes to suit your needs, whatever your standard of skiing. Twelve separate lifts whisk you efficiently up the mountainside and there’s a selection of cafes dotted across the mountain. There’s plenty for at least two days skiing and you may even meet your very own ‘Peter’, a very friendly Korean from Jeju who became our unofficial guide/photographer for part of our day on the mountain.
Shimmering blue mountain ranges melt into bright azure skies underneath glorious sunshine and the quality of the skiing is on a par with some of the smaller resorts in Europe and America.
Discounts apply for multi day ski passes but there’s no denying, it’s a pricey destination.
Given, it was the end of the season when we visited hardly any of the restaurants were open and those that were had a limited choice of food. It may be wise to come prepared with your own food, if you can find something to your taste in the local supermarkets.
We also couldn’t find free water on these slopes.
Should you ski in Korea?
The resorts are much smaller than those you may be accustomed to in Europe or stateside and other than some steeper blacks, they are not technically demanding. They are however designed with functionality and convenience in mind. You will find few crowds, even fewer westerners (we saw no more than a handful over three days of skiing), friendly locals and tasty local cuisine. For this reason, I highly recommend a skiing trip to Korea.
More information for the Olympic Games
For info, the Games run from 9th to 25th February followed by the Paralympics from 9th to 18th March. If you do decide to visit next year, you may wish to avoid these dates, unless you especially want to catch the Games.
To find out a little more about the mascots for the 2018 Winter Games, check out this cool little video. Sadly, we did not find any real life mascots with which to pose!
What do you think?
Have you ever skied somewhere off the beaten track? I love trying resorts in different places and have my eye on returning to Japan. I am also keen to ski in Iran and China. How about you? I’d love to know if you have skied in Korea or somewhere different I should be considering.