Ski Yongpyong! (스크 용평!)
The Two Crabs have two shared passions in life: traveling and skiing. So when we landed our Korea assignment, we were psyched because Korea has 1) snow and 2) ski resorts! South Korea has a young but growing ski industry, no surprise in a country that is about 70% mountainous. In 2018, South Korea's Pyeongchang County will host the 2018 Winter Olympics!
Last Monday, to avoid the weekend crowds, the Two Crabs took a day off work to hit the slopes. So we waxed up the skis, packed the Jeep Wrangler and hit the road to Yongpyong, by far the largest and most built-up ski resort in Korea and the main venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Location & Directions: Like most of Korea's ski resorts, Yongpyong is located in Gangwon Province. Yongpyong Resort is located about 127 miles east of Seoul. Leaving Seoul at 7:30am on Monday morning, it took us about 2 hours, 15 minutes to drive there with zero traffic (on a Saturday afternoon, the same trip can easily take 4-5 hours due to Korea's infamous weekend traffic). The best route from Seoul is Route 1 to Route 50 toll road (W9,000).
Basic info & Price: Yongpyong has 31 runs and 15 lifts including one main gondola. Foreign visitors will be pleased to know that most of the ticket agents speak basic English, and all the piste maps, the resort website, and most of the signs are in Korean and English. Lift passes at Yongpyong come in a variety of prices and packages, based on the times you are skiing. We paid 66,000 won (about $62 USD) each for the 10am-4:30pm lift pass. Ski and board rentals are also available; we noticed that the basic ski rentals are sub-standard compared to U.S. or European ski resorts; if you're a good skier, shell out the extra bucks for premium equipment rentals.
Weather & Snow Conditions: On our ski day, the weather in Yongpyong was about 28F / -2C, or about 10F colder than it was in Seoul. The snow conditions at Yongpyong was a mix of natural and man-made snow. I would characterize the snow conditions as dry and frozen granular. If you've ever skiied in the Mid-Atlantic / East Coast, the snow at Yongpyong was similar to a good cold day at a Pennsylvania ski resort.
Terrain: Let me preface this by saying that the Two Crabs are advanced intermediate skiers; we've skiied everywhere from West Virginia & Pennsylvania to Austria, France and Italy. If you're used to skiing in the Rockies or the Alps, you may be disappointed. The terrain at Yongpyong (and most of Korea) is similar to those found at southern Pennsylvania resorts. Yongpyong runs are mainly beginner (green) and lower intermediate (blue).
The so-called "black" runs on the left side of the mountain would be an intermediate on the East Coast -- or a difficult beginner run in Austria! We didn't have a chance to ski the "double black diamonds" on the far right side of the mountain because they were closed for most of the day, but I imagine they would be similar to an East Coast black / Austrian intermediate. Our favorite run at Yongpyong was actually the "Rainbow Paradise" - a long, lazy blue run that's more than 5km long! If you want to stay away from the crowds, keep to the intermediate and advanced run areas.
One very annoying issue at Yongpyong: the ski runs are named for colors, and the colors don't match the run rating -- the "red" run is actually a blue rating; the "new red" and "blue" runs are actually blacks, etc! So if you're a beginner, make sure you examine your piste map closely before attemtping any runs that might be beyond your skill level.
Lodging: We were only at Yongpyong for a day trip. But lodging at Yongpyong, and at most Korean ski resorts, is very expensive. According to their website, average rooms cost $250-$500 per night! The higher end rooms can accomodate up to 6 people so it's best to go with a group and split the costs. There is also a youth hostel at the resort. The hotel rooms come in both Western-style rooms with real beds, and Korean "ondol" rooms where guests sleep on mats on heated floor.
Dining: There is no shortage of dining options at Yongpyong. The main ski lodge has a food court with many options from Korean to fast food. The mountaintop gondola station has a Western and Korean restaurant plus street food vendors selling everything from pretzels to churros. We had lunch at the "Green Snack" restaurant. The portions are huge and cheap. For less than $6, the Two Crabs shared a pork cutlet, which was similar to weinerschnitzel covered in a tangy sauce and several sides and a yummy soup. Tip: You mut order and pay at a separate desk and pick up a food ticket, then get in the food lines and hand your ticket to the cook. Nearly every restaurant had an indoor and outdoor seating area, but we were usually the only skiers sitting outside. The indoor seating areas at Yongpyong restaurants and shops are UNCOMFORTABLY hot, with the heat cranked up to sauna-like temperatures!
Apres Ski: From our first impression, Koreans have yet to discover apres ski. Although beer is sold at all the restaurants, we didn't see anybody else partaking. At lunch, the Two Crabs were the only skiers drinking beer. Later at the Gold Snack shack, we got some strange looks when, again, we were the only people drinking beer when everyone else was nursing their hot chocolate and tea.
Facilities: The main lodge and base gondola station (above), houses a lift pass ticket booth, ski and snowboard rentals, locker rooms, lockers, several snow sports shops and a ski/snowboard repair shop. Dining options include a main cafeteria with fireplace and several restaurants including a burger joint and Chinese restaurant. The Twosome Place coffee shop has indoor and outdoor seating. Lessons are also offered, including English lessons taught by native speaking instructors. The resort village also includes several other lift pass stations, an outdoor stage, children's play area and snow tubing area.
Bottom line: It's not Austria, but Yongpyong is a pretty good time. The Two Crabs will be back! A few more scenes from Yongpyong...