Skiing at the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea

15th January 2015, by Abi Butcher

Skiing in South Korea - which will host the 2018 Winter Olympics - was a fascinating experience

Skiing in South Korea - which will host the 2018 Winter Olympics - was a fascinating experience

A curious thing happens in Korea when people come off the mountain. They “wash” their skis, snowboards and boots with high-pressure air to clear the snow from the equipment before they take it inside.

This cleanliness, consideration and orderliness will give you a taste of what South Korea is like — unlike any other Asian country I’ve visited — except when Koreans are let loose on the ski slopes. It would be fair to say they are keen skiers.

There are nine ski resorts in South Korea, and in 2018 it hosts the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in the north west of the country (not to be confused with PyongYang, the capital of North Korea). This week I was lucky enough to ski in three of the nine resorts — Bokwang Pheonix Park, YongPyong and Alpensia.

Pheonix Park will host the snowboarding and freestyle skiing in 2018, Alpensia and Yongpyong the Cross-country, luge, Nordic combined, biathlon, ski jumping, bobsleigh and alpine skiing, with more Alpine skiing to be held at JeongSun Jungbong and the speed skating, figure skating, short track, ice hockey and curling at Kwandong University. The area, in the Taebaek mountain range, is being hailed as the most compact competition in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Every morning ski instructors line up to warm up in South Korea

So what’s it like? Sadly this year Korea hasn’t had the best snowfall — like Europe. All three resorts we skied had relied heavily on artificial snow, with a 19cm base — normally it’s around 80cm. They don’t ski off-piste here – it’s a complete no-no in the ski resorts (though there don’t seem to be any rules on touring in more remote regions, as far as I could ascertain).

Yongpyong will host the downhill Alpine events in 2018

YongPyong, the largest resort in South Korea, has 32km of pistes with 28 slopes and will host the downhill on its blacks — Rainbow 1, 2, 3 and 4. The day I skied them it was cold and windy — so cold I’m afraid I didn’t want to stop and get my camera out — but they are long with a great pitch, some good ridges and will make for a great competition. It was a strange sensation being blown sideways on a chairlift on the way back up – they were the kind of conditions that in Europe would result in lift closures but the Koreans are dedicated.

Mountain lunches here are delicious. Bowls of steaming noodle soup, with or without meat, or pork steaks, rice dishes, plenty of vegetables. There are water taps and metal cups that you help yourself to from a sterilising cabinet — for free. Price-wise, the food is on a par with the UK, in many places cheaper — a bowl of basic noodle soup at Alpensia cost the equivalent of £3.

Evening meals are a joy, too — with Korean BBQs top of the list. Cook your own meat and fish on a hot stone in the centre of the table with endless accompaniments of vegetables, rice, noodles and the delicious kimchi – a fermented cabbage.

Korean children learning to ski in Alpensia

We stayed in the very nice Dragon Valley Hotel in Yongpyong which will host many of the visiting national Olympic committees as well as spectators. Renovated in 2013, it is part of a complex with spa, snooker hall, pizza restaurant, ice cream parlour (the Koreans love their ice cream) and children’s play area.

The skiing isn’t extensive here, but it’s a fascinating country. We twinned the trip with a few days in Seoul, which I heartily recommend, especially once the high-speed bullet train is in operation which will half the current three-hour journey time from the capital to the mountains.

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