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