Written by E.J. Jones
Photographs courtesy of Joy Rako and Erlo Brown
You have been feeling it for weeks now. That cool autumn breeze, and with it, a nip that hints at Korea’s frigid winter on the horizon. Most people probably do not think about skiing or snowboarding or anything related to snow until the fluffy white stuff begins to cover the ground. Then there are addicts like me who think about it year round, who dream of it in our sleep. Despite my love for snowboarding, I tend to procrastinate on buying my season pass until it is too late to get the significantly reduced price of the early-bird sign-ups for most resorts. Well, guess what? This year I am ahead of the game. With my season pass to Welli Hilli Park Resort purchased for just 270,000 won – a fraction of the 640,000-won full price, all I have to do now is wait for the snow. If you are reading this and kicking yourself for not looking into purchasing a season pass sooner, never fear. There are sure to be great deals still around if you get on it now.
Perhaps you are not a fanatic like me, but you do enjoy taking a couple of trips to the mountain every season and you are wondering where the best places to go are and how much it will cost you. In general, most resorts I have seen run between 65,000–90,000 won for one adult day pass. On top of that, if you do not have your own equipment, you will have to dish out about an extra 20,000–30,000 won for ski or snowboard rental, plus another 15,000 or so for clothing to keep you dry and comfortable in the elements. This does not include food or bus fare to the resort! As you can see, skiing and snowboarding are expensive (and these are prices you will see everywhere, not just South Korea). Luckily, you can save a ton of cash by owning your own equipment, purchasing a season pass, or joining an all-inclusive trip with a tour company such as Enjoy Korea or Wink.
As for which resort to choose, there are many options. Having lived in Korea for three years now, I have had the opportunity to visit multiple resorts, including: Muju Deogyusan Resort, High 1, and Phoenix Park. There are many other resorts besides these to check out as well, but those I have just mentioned are some of the best.
Muju Deogyusan Resort
The first resort I visited when I came to Korea was Muju due to it being the closest in proximity to Gwangju compared with other resorts. By bus, it takes roughly two hours to reach the resort (faster if you are lucky enough to find a buddy with a car), and I have heard rumors that there is a direct bus that can take you from Gwangju straight to the mountain, although I unfortunately found out about this service too late to make use of it. What I experienced at Muju was a lovely, family-friendly resort with decent snow and nice, long trails. There is also at least one really nice spa at the resort for soaking in the hot tubs after a frigid day on the slopes. In addition, there is a great shopping area for those friends not so keen on spending all day in the cold. For me, the biggest drawback to this resort was that there was not much of a free-style terrain park, which is a must for me. Also, the cost to stay in the resort’s overnight accommodation was quite pricy, in my opinion. On the flip side, the resort actually has two peaks which means, for the person who just wants to cruise, there are more than enough trails to keep one busy for a good couple of days.
High 1 Resort
High 1 was the second resort I experienced in Korea. I found out about the resort upon joining two tourist organizations called Enjoy Korea and Wink, which organize ski and snowboard trips for foreigners each year (they also organize other similar types of trips with other activities year round). I highly recommend taking one of these trips if you are new to the area and want a hassle-free way to enjoy the slopes at a discounted rate and also meet some new shred buddies along the way. Last year I remember paying less than 200,000 won for a two-day trip that included riding, bus fare, equipment rental, and accommodation! As for my experience at High 1, I found this resort to be a big step-up from Muju for my personal tastes. They had a huge park, super-friendly staff, and modern facilities. Since this resort is further away from Gwangju, I would stay with a friend in Seoul on Friday night, and then we would take the resort bus for two hours to the resort from there. I actually bought a pass to High 1 last year for under 300,000 won, which paid for itself in just four trips. My time at High 1 was pleasant, and I highly recommend it.
Last year in the middle of the season, my friend in Seoul discovered a snowboard club online. This club is one a foreigner would normally be unlikely to find, unless their Korean was very good since all of the information was in Korean. The club consisted of about 50 or so members (all Korean) who went to Phoenix Park every weekend. The best benefit of joining the club, aside from having a ton of people to ride the slopes with, was that the group had reserved a chunk of rooms in the accommodation across the street from the resort, allowing members to stay overnight for the insanely low price of 20,000 won! The freestyle terrain park at this resort turned out to be even better than High 1, with plenty of features and great variety. Phoenix Park will host the freestyle snowboarding and ski events for the 2018 winter Olympics happening in February this season, so unfortunately, their main terrain park will not be open to the public (at least this is what I have heard). Because of this, I have decided to try out a new resort this year called Welli Hilli, which has a free shuttle bus from Seoul that takes about two hours to travel to. Fingers are crossed for a terrain park that is comparable to Phoenix Park Resort.
There you have it, a little bit on skiing and snowboarding in South Korea. As I mentioned earlier, there are many other resorts in Korea to try out. An important one I have not mentioned yet and of which I have heard many wonderful things is Yongpyong, reportedly the largest and best resort in the country. It takes three hours to reach this resort by bus from Seoul, and much longer from Gwangju. Unfortunately, like Phoenix Park, Yongpyong is hosting part of the winter Olympics and will be partially closed to the public this season. Whatever resorts you choose to visit, skiing and snowboarding are always an amazing time no matter where you go, so long as you are well prepared and take a couple of friends along for the ride. There are various Facebook groups I recommend connecting to, which will be helpful in finding the best deals, events, and like-minded snow enthusiasts like myself, so be sure to search for these. See you on the slopes!
Eden has been living in Korea since 2014 and enjoys reading, writing, snowboarding, and enchanting the locals with her violin when she can manage to find a spare minute away from her editing responsibilities at the Gwangju News. Eden became managing editor in September 2017.