Skiing in Korea

Skiing in Korea

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Skiing in Korea

Snowboarding and skiing in Korea hit centre stage during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. The Korea ski resorts also seem to have piqued the interest of some skiers and snowboarders who’ve been to Japan and are looking for the next unique snow destination. If you’re seeking a cultural experience then you’ll find it in spades, and like Japan, you’ll find plenty of the seemingly weird and wacky. However if you’re thinking that snowboarding and skiing in Korea will be akin to skiing in Japan then think again.

Most ski resorts in Korea are geared towards the domestic market and are not ideal for an international powder hound in search of a deep and secret stash. Unless you’re a beginner, snowboarding and skiing in Korea is mediocre at best. Perhaps that’s why the Korean company Lotte bought the Arai Ski Resort in Japan so that the South Koreans had somewhere decent to ski!

If you go to South Korea with your expectations in check and skiing and snowboarding is not your first priority, but rather the experience of other elements such as the culture and the food and all the kimchi you could eat, then Korea has some appeal.

Characteristics of the Korean Ski Resorts

There are 18 or so ski resorts in South Korea depending on what you count as a “ski resort”. There are a dozen main ski resorts, and only a few worth visiting if you’re not a beginner. Here are some of the common characteristics of the Korea ski resorts.

Firstly, the terrain is usually small in size, with a limited number of slopes. The “mountains” are mostly very gentle and geared towards beginners and beginner-intermediates. At the major ski resorts, you can book a lesson in English.

The runs are not very long or very high, with all the terrain being below the treeline. So far, this sort of sounds a bit like the characteristics of some ski resorts in Japan, well the non-westernised ones anyhow. One main difference compared to Japan is that at the Korea ski resorts you can forget about tree skiing due to the lack of snow cover off-piste (see below). So don’t have high expectations if you’re an experienced skier or snowboarder. You’ll find skiing in Korea incredibly lame.

You sort of wonder how the hell Korea got the Winter Olympics considering the lack of stature of the ski resorts in Korea. To put things into perspective, they had to specifically build the Jeongseon Alpine Centre for the Downhill and Super G events, and its existence is not ongoing because it’s supposed to be closed to allow for re-forestation.

Snowsports have become very trendy and the ski slopes in Korea are typically very crowded, especially those near the Seoul Capital Area with its population of 26 million. At least to counterbalance the small congested slopes, most of the base areas are incredibly well developed and have shopping centres and kitsch facilities (this is also common in Japan).

Some other similarities between Korean and non-westernised Japanese ski resorts are that night skiing is very popular, they are very safety conscious (if you ignore that problem with the reversing lift at Bears Town), and classic après ski is non-existent and is replaced with karaoke.

Snow at the Ski Resorts in Korea

Just because Korea and Japan are geographically close, don’t be thinking that they are in the same stratosphere when it comes to snow volumes. Despite it being bloody freezing during winter in Korea, there isn’t much snowfall. There’s definitely no lake effect because the typical winds come from the dry plains of Mongolia and China, and the mountains in South Korea are pretty low. The Korean ski resorts rely mostly or entirely on manmade snow, and they are incredibly proud of the snowmaking capabilities. The best ski resort in Korea for snow is Yongpyong, and it receives a meagre 2.5 metres of snow on average per season, and it’s not known if that figure is the combined amount for natural and artificial snow. With high ski traffic, the slopes at the ski resorts in Korea commonly become very slick and icy.

Winter is usually bitterly cold in Korea and the frigid temperatures seemed to be a common talking point for the commentators of the Winter Olympics. Despite the cold, the seasons are usually short at most of the Korea ski resorts.

Best Skiing in Korea

Gangwon-Do Ski Resorts

The province of Gangwon-do in the northeast corner of the country is home to the best Korea ski resorts. These are located in the Taebaek Mountain Range that stretches down from North Korea. These ski resorts are your best bet for finding natural snow.

Yongpyong is the largest and best Korea ski resort, although that’s not saying a lot. Opening in 1975, it was the first Korean ski resort, and in addition to having the best snow, the terrain stands out from its counterparts because it has some steep slopes by Korean standards. Yongpyong hosted the slalom and giant slalom at the Winter Olympics. Lift infrastructure is decent and the resort has plenty of amenities. Crowds are manageable, mainly because it’s a 3.5 hour drive from Seoul.

High 1 Resort is also decent sized by Korean skiing standards. It has wide slopes, many of which are named after Greek goddesses, and good lift infrastructure which includes 3 gondolas. The slopes are also relatively uncrowded because it’s 3.5 to 4 hours away from Seoul. High1 is renowned for a revolving restaurant and a casino (the only one that the locals are allowed to gamble at), and more people seem to be at High 1 to gamble than ski or snowboard.

Phoenix Park is where the freestyle events of the Olympics were held, and the terrain parks continue to be its main strength, which works well considering the resort pretty much relies on artificial snow. It’s very popular with snowboarders, and you can stay in a 5 star hotel or bum it in a youth hostel. Phoenix Park is about 2 hours from Seoul.

Daemyung Vivaldi aka Vivaldi Park is very hip with the young folk, which combined with its proximity to Seoul, makes it the most visited ski resort in Korea. Even with a couple of high speed lifts including an 8-seater chair and a gondola, it often has ridiculously long lift queues on weekends, especially for the beginner slopes.

Gyeonggi-do Ski Resorts Near Seoul

The ski resorts in the Korean province of Gyeonggi-do have the huge advantage of easy access from Seoul but have the downside of congested slopes and poor snow. These resorts are not known for offering the best skiing in Korea, but are good enough for single days if you commute from Seoul.

Bears Town is the largest ski resort and is mostly aimed at beginners with its wide gentle slopes.

Konjiam is 45 minutes from Seoul. Even though it has good lift capacity and lots of gondolas, it limits the number of daily skiers so as to not overload the slopes. The ski resort also has night skiing until 4am, which also helps to spread out the load.

North Korea Ski Resorts

Skiing in North Korea used to be completely off the cards for international travellers, but this is slowly changing, with a couple of ski resorts open to foreigners who can get the correct permits. The upside of this burgeoning pastime is that there are negligible crowds and you can have the slopes to yourself. Otherwise, the characteristics of skiing in North Korea are similar to that of South Korea.

Masikryong Ski Resort (aka Masik) opened in 2014 as the luxurious pride and joy of North Korea and it only took 10 months to build. They’d hoped that the resort could host some of the Winter Olympics events, but the resort (or the country) never made the cut.

Yangdok Resort opened in January 2020 about the same time North Korea closed its borders to minimise the spread of Covid 19.
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