With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games headed to South Korea, many people will be exposed to this nations ski offerings for the first time. Why ski in South Korea? It offers a unique experience centered as much around the off-mountain activity as the skiing itself.
The culture of skiing in South Korea does not compare to the passion seen for the sport in other parts of the world. Where traditional ski purists focus on two key parameters, snowfall amounts and terrain attributes, South Korea has a different and unique value system. Things like distance to the slopes and off-snow amenities play a very prominent role. Extras, such as screen golf, bowling, water parks and of course – karaoke – are a huge draw for most of the locals. The emphasis on available on-site facilities is attributable, in part, to the prominence of novice skiers in South Korea.
A relative newcomer to the sport as a nation, the first ski resort in South Korea opened in 1975. But the sport did not really take root until 1992, when Short Track Speed Skater Kim Ki-Hoon brought home the gold medal in the Winter Olympics.
“This Olympic achievement led to a huge uptake in winter sport. People all over the country started deciding that they wanted to go skiing on their weekends and holidays. Korean people are like that, they love and adore anything popular – just like K-pop Music.”
Jinny Kim, local guide
Other key attributes that separate the ski experience found in South Korea versus those found in more traditional settings:
The peninsula of South Korea is roughly the size of the state of Indiana or the country of Portugal. Three-quarters of it is covered in mountains. The most prominent mountain range is the Taebaek Mountains that run down the entire east coast of the country and where the 2018 Winter Olympics will take place. With an average elevation of 3200 feet, they fall far short of traditional metrics for big mountain skiing.
Skiing is, by all accounts, a new hobby for South Korea and as such many of the resorts cater to the beginner/intermediate levels or focus on racing and competition. Back country and tree skiing – not so much. None, really. There are resorts that offer some more challenging runs, but, at this point, is not the real focus.
South Korea lies in an area where cold, dry air blows down from Siberia with little opportunity to pick up moisture. In other words, Mother Nature does not deposit huge powder dumps here very often. To overcome this hurdle they have devised some of the best and most extensive snow-making capabilities anywhere. Entire resorts are up and running with lots of artificial snow, groomed and ready for business.
In some respects, South Korea may be one of the best places anywhere for someone learning to ski or who merely dabbles with the sport as the weather is fairly mild, the terrain is amenable to novice skills and there are plenty of off-mountain options to round out the experience.