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PyeongChang (Yongpyong)


A couple of hours east of Seoul is the peninsula's best ski resort - Olympically good, no less!

Yongpyong is the largest and best ski resort in the country. Simple as that. And unlike many of the other South Korean resorts which tend to have a narrow focus Yongpyong can appeal to all-comers. With 16 miles of groomed trails, 15 chairs lifts and a 2½ mile gondola to the very top, this is a resort worthy of your time.

Nearby is Alpensia...a much smaller resort, not linked but quite literally just up the road and around the corner - it takes five minutes to get between them, and then only if you are driving slowly. On the slopes there is less, but when it comes to the accommodation you have more choice. 

Notwithstanding their proximity, these are two very different ski mountains. Experienced skiers and boarders will want (need) to be in Yongpyong, whereas beginners and aspiring intermediates may be content with the six slopes of Alpensia.

Skiing in PyeongChang (Yongpyong)

In Yongpyong, three mountains create a natural amphitheater. There are 15 lifts, all in good repair (chairs) and with a pleasingly high capacity, meaning lift queues move fast. All the trails from the top nicely mesh together in to the expansive base area, where you’ll find a natural bowl of gentle runs coming together. Night skiing is extensive and operates until midnight. Yes...midnight. This achieves much – custom is spread throughout the day, taking pressure off the lifts.

Alpensia is a considerably smaller on-mountain proposition. There are only six lifts and six pistes – pleasingly named Alpha through Foxtrot. That’s ‘yer lot! With the longest run less than a mile, there’s not too much to get stuck in to. However, what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality and the trails enjoy a wonderful pitch for carving giant-G turns and the modern lifts whisk you back up in no time. The snow is perfectly-manicured in to immaculate corduroy and night skiing extends the fun until 10pm.

Off Piste

No. That’s it – a simple, unequivocal ‘no’.

Advanced

There are a few blacks and the pitch can be surprisingly acute at times. Head out to the Rainbow trails, which take you down the back from Dragon Peak, and we can guarantee entertainment. There’s absolutely nothing to hold your interest over at Alpensia.

Beyond this, it's going to be difficult to make too much of a case for any resort in South Korea. You’re here for an experience of somewhere a little different, for the après and to say you’ve been to South Korea.

Intermediate

The highest point, Dragon Peak, is accessed by a 2½ mile gondola. It takes just shy of 25 minutes to sit out the journey, during which we managed to eat our lunch most days, and from the top station you are rewarded with excellent views all the way over to the East Coast of the Korean Peninsula. Up here, you find some surprisingly varied terrain, with some moderate challenges. The Paradise trails (I-IV) drop out the back and are destined to be used in the 2018 Olympic slalom events - good fun, though we’re not convinced that we’d want to race our way down the steep pitch at the bottom. To get all the way back to the base area from the Dragon Peak summit, you take the three-mile plus Rainbow Paradise trail. Aptly named.

In Alpensia, get to the top, bomb down in a one’er, jump on the lift, head back to the top and repeat ad infinitum. Nothing too challenging awaits, yet the temptation to carve the most perfect giant-G turns imaginable on picture-perfect corduroy pistes is addictive. But before too long you’ll need to head back to Yongpyong for some variety.

Beginners

Many of the slopes are just about perfect – the terrain simply lends itself to those making there novice step, with wide (very wide) pistes, and gentle pitch at about 12 degrees. Trust us, that’s just about right. There are even a few English-speaking instructors around, to boot.

In Yongpyong, the Mega Green is 700 metres long and is the pick of the bunch. Once confidence is up, there’s nothing to stop you heading all the way to the top of Dragon Peak, to then take the Rainbow Paradise run all the way back. Three miles of continuous skiing is quite an achievement for a new starter. You’ve also got the Gold Valley slopes on the far left of the resort to play on – all bases covered.

However, Alpensia may be an even better mountain on which to make your first tentative turns. Nothing threatening awaits – you can see all the terrain in one single panorama from the bottom – and you’ll no doubt gravitate towards the Alpha slope on the far right for your first forays. A great ski school, with some English spoken.

Snowboarders

There are more boarders then skiers on the slopes. The Koreans have embraced boarding and the distinct lack of surface tows only increases the pleasure. On the whole, there’s more freeriding terrain in Yongpyong than in any other resort in Korea, with some excellent freestyle facilities thrown in for good measure.

Après Ski

After the sun goes down – and presuming you are not still on the slopes for the night skiing – the resort base at Yongpyong can be a fun place to be. There are several restaurants (including a food court) near the Dragon Valley Hotel – serving anything from pizzas, hot dogs and other baleful generic Western staples, through to a whole range of Korean delights. We particularly enjoy the Korean BBQ restaurant close to the water park, where you cook your own meat at the table. Nightlife focuses on these excellent restaurants, followed by a reasonably raucous bar (the Koreans like to party), and then everyone ends up at … karaoke. You know you want to.

At Alpensia, you’ll find a similar range of options, with a few more upmarket treats thrown in at the InterContinental Hotel.

It’s well worth heading out of resort for a touch of authentic Korea in the local town of Daegwalnyeong-Myeon. This is most definitely not a tourist town, instead it’s the real deal – provincial South Korea. You’ll need to do an awful lot of pointing and signing to get what you want, as they’re really not used to foreigners.

It’s also worth mentioning the water parks in both Yongpyong and Alpensia. We need no excuse to throw our budgie-smugglers on and dive in to the wave pools and down the waterslides.

Family Suitability

Okay – so won’t find anything in English. Therefore, kids will be your responsibility on the slopes, with few English speaking helping hands throughout the day. However, children are made to feel very welcome and the amount of off-mountain entertainment puts them in paradise – brilliant water parks, fun food courts, amazing amusement arcades, ten pin bowling and the such.

RESORT SCORECARD

Snowsure:  

Beginners:  

Intermediate:  

Advanced:  

Snowboarders:  

Après Ski:  

Families:  

Season:  December - March

Base elevation:  700 metres

Top elevation:  1,438 metres

Vertical drop:  738 metres

Number of lifts:  15

Number of runs:  31

Longest run:  5.5 kilometres

Access:  Fly to Seoul Incheon airport, which is to the west of the capital. To get to the mountains and the ski resorts it is then a three-hour drive towards the East Coast.

Suggested Itineraries featuring PyeongChang (Alpensia & Yongpyong)

The Korean Ski Week

YongPyong (PyeongChang) - DMZ-Seoul

Duration: 8 days

The best week possible in South Korea. Head to the ski resorts of PyeongChang during the quieter mid-week period, and then head back to Seoul for the weekend with a tour to the DMZ included.

from £850 per person (not including your international flights)

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The best of Japan & Korea

Japan & South Korea

Duration: two weeks

The ultimate Asian skiing odyssey! With three days skiing in South Korea and five days skiing in the resort of your choice in Japan, this itinerary also includes time in both Seoul and Tokyo. 

from £2,180 per person (including international flights from the UK)

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The Korean Ski Safari

High 1 - YongPyong (PyeongChang) - Seoul

Duration: 11 days

South Korea's two best ski resorts are combined in one itinerary, followed by a ride on the futuristic KTX train back to the exciting capital for a couple of days R&R before heading home.

from £925 per person (not including your international flights)

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Prices are indicative only and include accommodation (low season), lift passes, transfers and – because we are ATOL-bonded – your flights from the UK. Different Snow can also include ski hire, backcountry and off-piste tours, rail passes, private transfers, English-speaking guides, cultural excursions and activities.

Accommodation

The hotels we use in both resorts are of a high standard – expect nothing less than what you’d anticipate from any well-managed international four star hotel. And because they are in the base area, they are as good as ski-in, ski-out. An alternative would be to take an apartment with the resort complexes, and these come with either Western style beds or as traditional ‘Ondol’ style, with bedding set down directly on the heated floor (i.e. no beds).

Step out of your hotel or apartment in either Yongpyong or Alpensia and then the base area has all the facilities you’d need – shops, restaurants, bars, arcades, spa’s, etc. Convenience is king.

InterContinental (Alpensia)

The more luxurious hotel in the region, oozing an international five-star outlook in Alpensia.

A cut above, the InterContinental is the pick of the bunch in the Yongpyong / Alpensia region, with understated chic interiors, and rooms easily measuring up to the plush public spaces. Made up of blend of modern, bright-coloured furniture mixed with some traditional Korean pieces, have either king or twin beds and the fill compliment of upmarket amenities - flat-screen TVs, fridge and sofa. Featuring a bath, private bathroom comes with a shower, bathrobes and a hairdryer. Suites are more spacious, obviously.

One of the key features of the hotel is the luxurious spa, with seven spa suite rooms and an open-air Jacuzzi with great magnificent views to Daegwallyeong. You’ll also find ‘Flavor’ restaurant, where both Korean and international fare is produce to a very high standard, a wine bar/salon, and a lobby lounge, where live classical music performances feature most nights.

WiFi access comes with a fee. Grrrr.

Holiday Inn (Alpensia)

Not an everyday Holiday Inn – instead a swanky affair with wonderful rooms & stylish interiors.

Great rooms, in this rather swish Holiday Inn they punch far above the brand's weight. Everything looks impeccable, the public areas are classy and service ever-so-attentive. Most of the big, bright, well-maintained rooms have a balcony (many overlooking the slopes), and you’ll find a seating area comes with a sofa and a flat-screen cable TV. Some of the feature Ondol, Korean heated flooring. The suites have jetted tub, separate living room and private dressing room. Regrettably, they put a charge on WiFi – one of our bug-bears.

They have the Mont Blanc Restaurant for breakfast and the  Edelweiss Lounge is a decent venue for drinks – both decent venues in their own right, but plenty of other options are on your doorstep.

About as convenient as it is possible to be, part o fthe resort complex the hotel looks out on to the slopes.

Dragon Valley Hotel (Yongpyong)

Convenience and comfort is perfect harmony.

This is the main hotel in Yongpyong, around which the whole resort is centred. Fortuitously, it’s a decent hotel where the levels of service are consistently high, rooms are (conventionally) comfortable and facilities plentiful.

There are 197 rooms, of which those in the main building have been refurbished recently to a high standard. If you imagine what a decent four star hotel room looks like, then that's what you get – unremarkable in some ways, but certainly comfortable and tastefully kitted out. Bathrooms are compact, but equally modern and fresh. Some of the rooms have views directly out on to the slopes, whereas if you are on the other side it’s a car park view. You’ll also find some traditional ‘ondol’ rooms, where beds are rolled out directly on the heated floors.

Downstairs is a pleasant lobby, with a feature fireplace, and a pleasant bar upstairs. The restaurant, where buffet breakfast is served each morning, looks out on to the slopes. You could also have dinner here, but it’s a little overpriced and there are more characterful options close by in the adjacent Tower Plaza. There is also a ski locker room, just off reception.

Activities

First and foremost, you’ve got the water parks. As far as we are concerned, there is no rule that says that these are just for kids and we encourage you to pack your swimmies and get stuck in. At Alpensia, the water park is call ‘Ocean 700’ and in YongPyong it’s ‘Peak Island’ – you’ll find wave machines, slides, rivers you can float down, etc. It’s tremendous fun and, somehow, uniquely Korean. To feel a little more like a grown-up, they also have some remarkable sauna facilities in these water parks.

In the resorts, they also have Jimjilbang facilities – hot springs. Segregated by sex, you’ll find naked Koreans everywhere and the only rule is that you do exactly as they do. Clothes off, wash in the showers, rinse thoroughly and then relax in the hot pools. Leave your inhibitions behind and relax those aching ski muscles – nothing better!

Ski Concierge

The base areas at both Yongpyong and Alpensia are expansive, structured, organised and all under one (huge) roof. You’ll find the equipment rental outlets, ticket booths, ski shops and food outlets easy to navigate – though because of the sheer number of skiers and boarders, it can feel a little as if you are being ‘herded’ for one window to the next.

The ‘kids’ (average age is late-teen) who serve you can be a little nervous or anxious when dealing with non-Korean speaking foreigners. English will be minimal, though a genuine smile and plenty of patience will get you a long way.

Lift Passes

Very reasonably priced. This goes a long way to ensuring that the South Korean ski experience is high on value.

Equipment Hire

Finding premium gear is a real problem. The boots tend to be those old-fashioned rear-loaders (supremely comfortable, but not exactly aimed at on-mountain ‘performance’), the ski’s themselves lack anything resembling edges and everything is well-used and … well, old.

Having said that, we skied in several resorts throughout South Korea where the rental gear was truly abysmal (including Pheonix Park), with only Yongpyong and Alpensaia stocking equipment which just about measures up. Hence, the exclusive inclusion of these two resorts in our programme. We’re not saying it’s great, but it is significantly better than elsewhere in Korea – trust us!

On the other hand, prices are very reasonable.

Lessons

The ski schools are reasonable and there are a handful of instructors who can speak English. However, it is essential that we try organise this in advance as your chances of finding an instructor with the required language skills on the day are remote. Of course, lessons will have to be private.

Travel Insurance

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