In my previous article about whether or not it is worth visiting Korea in the winter, I mentioned skiing/snowboarding as one of the winter highlights. Since it was announced that Korea would be hosting the next winter Olympics, ski resorts all around the country have been sprucing up their image in preparation for it, meaning there couldn’t be a better time to come and try out winter sports here.
On my second sponsored trip with travel and tour group Adventure Korea, I headed off to Phoenix Park in Gangwon-do province, one of the skii resorts that the winter Olympics will be taking place in. We headed down early on Saturday morning, arriving at the resort at just gone 11. Our skii/snowboard hire had already been arranged for us, so we only had to pop into the hire shop briefly to pick up some ski suits and buy waterproof gloves/goggles before changing gear and hitting the slopes.
The resort itself felt very Korean in its jumble of nature and uniform urban landscape - snowy mountains were interspersed with high-rise hotels, and the soft white slopes were punctuated with large TVs and speakers pumping out K-pop. Whilst it certainly didn’t fit my ideal image of skiing down natural alpine peaks speckled only by unassuming log cabins, it certainly was handy to be able to nip into dunkin’ donuts for a hot coffee without having to walk more than a few feet away from the slopes.
I have only been snowboarding once before – also in Korea – and so I was still something of a novice at it. Luckily the tour included a free snowboarding lesson, so our tour leader, Seokjin, showed us the ropes on a baby slope. Phoenix park offers a range of slopes from beginner to advanced, and it is clearly a very popular resort as there was a lot of people there. The temperature was pretty cool at just -6 degrees, but once we started snowboarding we got hot very quickly. There were about 15 other beginners and so we all chose to try out the easy slopes together, taking the sky lift up to the top and strapping on our snowboards.
It wasn’t too hard to get the hang of snowboarding. After a few tries I could successfully stay on my board the whole way down, and since the snow was so light and fluffy it didn’t hurt too much to fall. The trip included four hours on the slopes, and the time seemed to pass extremely quickly. By the end, however, my group of beginners were all more than able to glide down the slopes with minimal falls.
When we had finished snowboarding we all met up at the bus again to carry our stuff into our accommodation for the night. We were staying in a hostel that backed right onto the slopes, so there was an excellent view from the windows. The rooms were bunkbed-style and shared between 8 people. They were also wonderfully warm, which felt great to go back to after being out in the snow for so long.
In the evening there was an option to pay an extra 25,000 won to take a night pass and snowboard again. At night the slopes are a little less crowded, and look really beautiful lit up by the flood lighting. We were also given the option to check out the on-site water park, with free discount vouchers from Adventure Korea. However, my muscles were aching quite a lot by this point, so I decided instead to check out the on-site jimjilbang (sauna) instead. For just 8,000 won I was able to soothe my aching body in a range of hot tubs and sauna rooms.
At night everyone got together to have drinks. The rooms were so big that they were perfect for partying in, and so the majority of people on the tour drank and partied the night away until the early hours. The next morning there was an option to go snowboarding again from 8-11, but most people decided to sleep off their hangovers until the bus came to take us back to Seoul at 1.
All in all it was a great tour, with everything made easy and simple, and some good opportunities to make new friends. Travelling around Korea can be quite a hassle for foreigners, as English is not widely spoken, but being part of a tour took all the stress out of organizing the trip, allowing me to simply relax and enjoy the experience.
Adventure Korea run skiing/snowboarding tours regularly throughout the winter months for the price of 124,000 won. This includes ski/snowboard rental, 1 night’s accommodation, afternoon pass on the slopes, lessons for beginners, and transportation.