Skiing YongPyong – South Korea

YongPyong is the largest skifield in South Korea and is hosting the 2018 winter Olympic games. We travelled to YongPyong mid-season (January) to review its facilities. YongPyong is located in the Baekdu Daegan mountains at an elevation of 700m and its average snowfall is only 200cm. The area receives very dry, cold winters courtesy of the Siberian winds. Snowmaking is required to make the piste reliable.

It’s a mid-sized field by international standards. The snow quality and piste layout is pretty average. It’s an easy short break from Seoul and if go to YongPyong with an open mind and you will have fun. YongPyong offers a great day on the groomers and a bit of insight how South Koreas enjoy their leisure time.

Trail Notes

The YongPyong resort consists of Dragon Peak, serviced by a long gondola, and a few surrounding hills where the majority of the beginners and intermediates hang out.

Dragon Peak has several advanced slopes (where the Olympic downhill will be held) and a great tourist day-lodge situated above the haze that envelopes the surrounding countryside. The runs that feed off the top of Dragon Peak are steep and narrow. The pistes cut through the forest were clearly designed in the days of short radius turns and most people carving will find them too narrow to complete a run without needing to check their speed at regular intervals.

The remainder of the ski field is tucked into a series of folded valleys and ridges. There are a couple of nice groomed runs on the lower slopes.

Planning you trip

Worth an excursion if you are passing through Seoul but not challenging enough to stay a week and definitely not somewhere to hang out for a season as the lack of off-piste is pretty limiting.

Accommodation is available in the resort’s own Dragon Valley Hotel, Youth Hostel and numerous private Condos. There are other (better?) accommodation options in nearby valleys.

Rental gear on the mountain is dire and inadequate to face the icy conditions.

Lift Passes: 72,000 won for lifts and gondola day pass

Official website: www.yongpyong.co.kr/eng

Facilities

The resort complex has two main buildings, one with a supermarket, a couple of pizza places/KFC/noodle shops, karaoke bar, ten pin bowling alley, internet cafe and the like. The other houses a big American style lunch area (think faux log cabin) with ski shops, rental areas, cafes etc. It was a place of real contrasts with ultra-modern high-pressure air guns so you could clean your snowboard/ski’s before going inside but only ancient rear-entry boots available for rental. Brand new bathrooms looked nice but stunk horrendously since toilet paper isn’t flushed in South Korea.

Access to and from

YongPyong is located 2-3hrs drive east of Seoul. Buses from Seoul depart Lotte Mart, Gate#4 of Jamsil Station (Subway Line 2). For further details review the official ski resort website.

Our Experience

Whilst in South Korea we were keen to check out YongPyong which is hosting the 2018 winter Olympic games. Our mission was to find out if it was the next big thing before it gets discovered (it currently receives pretty patchy coverage in ski/snowboard guides). Waiting at the side of a busy (suburban) road about 45 min subway ride from the centre of Seoul it was a big relief to see someone turn up with a snow board. We’d followed the instructions from the ski resort website but were pretty dubious as to whether it was just a bad translation. Our concerns faded as we got chatting to a friendly English speaking professor heading to YongPyong for a biomechanics conference who assured us that skiing was indeed a very popular sport in South Korea.  People appeared out of the woodwork and suddenly we were in a full bus heading for the mountains an easy 2.5hr express bus ride from Seoul.

On arrival we realised that the hotel we’d researched was actually in a completely different valley, so we jumped out of the bus and decided to wing it. The Dragon Valley Hotel is currently the only hotel (apart from a youth hostel) in the resort village (along with loads of condominiums and time shares). We were pretty lucky to find the hotel had vacancies and was priced at about a similar rate to the hotels in Seoul. Trip advisor had some pretty mixed reviews so our expectations weren’t high and this is definitely a hotel that has been worn to the ground. With scuff marks on the long dim corridors and threadbare carpet I could understand why one Trip advisor review likened the place to ‘the Shining’. Still you can’t complain when the slope is straight outside your front door.

The chill at the top of Dragon Peak is seriously biting – too cold for any action photos. We proceeded to demo the slopes. My prediction is that there will be some pretty quick times in the Olympics – the steepest slope was pretty much one blue ice sheet – very similar to NZ conditions. I struggled to maintain an edge on our dated rental equipment.

Back down on the lower hills we challenged ourselves to ski all the runs in the resort (this is a pretty good indication of field size) which we knocked off by about 2pm. On a sunny Monday the base area was pretty busy with loads of ski school groups. To get some space simply branch out and catch the lifts that aren’t directly at the base village. The majority of the skiers were beginners who liked to stick very closely to their group (often 30+). We encountered some hilarious safety signs with some pretty philosophical English translations.

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