The new Korean wave

Korea skiing

Easy on the wallet. Easy-to-access slopes. Easy-going people. Korea makes quick winter breaks a doddle.

Let’s speak plainly here: Korea is not the destination of choice if you want monstrous amounts of vertical and snow deep enough to drown in. It is relatively cheap though – no minor consideration in these times – and if you need a quick last-minute fix for your powder habit, it can be less hassle to book and access than Japan, with a scattering of resorts within an hour of Seoul.

Use these handy boltholes and even a weekend break is long enough to fit in some action alongside city-based partying – or else switch it around and tour Seoul by day and hit the piste at night. You should make time for some après ski for sure though as a big bonus of skiing here are the people: welcoming and always up for a drink.

Making waves
There are plenty of hills about in Korea but few of the skiable ones are much over 1,500m and the snowfall is patchy thanks to the wave-like weather pattern which the locals call the samhansaon. This sees periodic shifts in weather with three or four dry, cold days followed by a similar number of warmer days.

This doesn’t make for the most reliable snow conditions and all the resorts supplement nature’s bounty with a little manmade white stuff at times. The result is slopes that are usually well-groomed if lacking in deep drifts of natural powder.

The other wave to note is the ‘Korean wave’ or hallyu. This is not some radical, new addition to a terrain park, but the locally produced film, TV and music which has swept over parts of Asia in recent years. It’s relevant here because it has fuelled a surge of interest in locations used in the shooting of hallyu drama series, including the resorts of Phoenix Park and Yongpyong. Unless you share their interest in saccharine daytime soaps, you’ll want to avoid any obvious gaggles of non-skiing Asian tourists.

Etiquette among the crowds on the slopes is different to that in the west too. Watch also for your board or skis getting scraped in the queues – people tend to bunch up too close. Many are more comfortable unclipping for a lift ride anyway and you might consider joining them if you fear your gear might come in for a battering.

As for dealing with the crowds in general, the best advice is to do everything but your skiing or boarding at the weekends, and maximise your time on the slopes on those precious weekdays when there’s a little elbow room to be had. If it’s the school holidays then be warned: negotiating the slopes can be like playing high speed Frogger.

Resort A-Z

Bears Town Resort
Slopes: 11
Lifts: 8
Hours: 09:00-23:00
Full-day lift pass: W58,000 until 16:45

Most northerly of the resorts and therefore often the coldest too. Just 40km from Seoul, it is served by free buses. Contact KS Tour, tel: (82-2) 741 2202. www.bearstown.com

Daemyung Vivaldi Park
Slopes: 13
Lifts: 10
Hours: 08:30-23:00
Full-day lift pass: W78,000 until 23:00

Close to the western edge of Gangwon-do, this park has a good value day pass that extends all the way up to closing time. www.daemyungresortresort.com

Gangchon Resort
Slopes: 9
Lifts: 6
Hours: 09:00-22:30
Full-day lift pass: W53,000 until 16:30

A smallish place just an hour by car or bus from Seoul, en route to the city of Chuncheon. www.gangchonresort.co.kr (Korean)

High 1 Resort
Slopes: 18
Lifts: 9
Hours: 09:00-22:00

One of the new breed of resorts with activities extending to mountain biking in the summer and, uniquely in Korea, a casino. Access is made easy with a dedicated ski train from Seoul. www.high1.co.kr

Hyundai Sungwoo Resort
Slopes: 18
Lifts: 19
Hours: 08:30-22:00
Full-day lift pass: W61,000 until 16:30

Having built Korea’s first superpipe, Sungwoo is now reaping the rewards and has been chosen to host the 2009 FIS Snowboard World Championships in January. www.hdsungwoo.co.kr

Jisan Forest Resort
Slopes: 8
Lifts: 5
Hours: 09:00-23:00
Full-day lift pass: W53,000 until 16:30

Jisan has a somewhat European air thanks to it keeping more of its tree cover than most other Korean resorts. Around 40mins from Seoul, this is another place served by free shuttles making it very convenient for the odd day – or night – on the slopes. Jisan Travel, tel: (82-31) 644 1242. www.jisanforest.co.kr

Konjiam Resort
Slopes: 11
Lifts: 9
Hours: 08:30-tbc

Just opened, this close-to-Seoul resort is perhaps a window on where Korean ski resorts are headed with North American-style condos offering more space and comfort than was the norm for local skiers in days gone by. www.konjiamresort.co.kr (Korean)

Muju Resort
Slopes: 30
Lifts: 15
Hours: 08:30-22:00
Full-day lift pass: W72,000 until 16:30

One of the largest resorts yet sited well away from the others in the south of the country.  The 6km Silk Road route is the country’s longest. Like Yongpyong, Muju hosts a yearly Fun Ski & Snow Festival. www.mujuresort.co.kr

O2 Resort
Slopes: 30
Slopes: 16
Lifts: 6

Only opened in December, this resort has an ambitiously large number of rooms which is probably not encouraging for those looking to have some piste to themselves. www.o2resort.com (Korean)

Oak Valley Snow Park
Slopes: 9
Lifts: 3
Hours: 08:30-24:00
Full-day lift pass: W55,000 until 16:30

A small but relatively new resort with condo-style accommodation giving close to ski-to-your-door access.
www.oakvalley.co.kr

Phoenix Park
Slopes: 21
Lifts: 9
Hours: 08:30-22:30
Full-day lift pass: W58,000 until 16:30

A mid-sized resort due east of Seoul, in an area that gets some of the country’s largest dumps of snow. A big hit with fans of the Korean wave dramas who come on pilgrimmages to the locations used in the shows. www.phoenixpark.co.kr