Saturday, January 10, 2009

Korea's best kept secret: Night Skiing

As you may have noticed if you follow this blog regularly, night time habits of Koreans never cease to amaze me. My first experience with this was spending the night in Hongdae, and going home when the sun came up. Then I went shopping in Dongdaemun one night until 2:30 am, and the place was still packed when I left. This week it's skiing ^_^.

My Korean friend invited me to go skiing with her after work. I was a little confused when she told me that we'd ski from 12 to 5... in the afternoon? No, midnight to 5:oo am she told me. I may or may not have scared her with my resounding Yes! Yes! Please take me! Please Please!

We drove out to Vivaldi Park, which is about an hour away, once you get outside of Seoul... which might take an hour unto itself, depending on traffic, and where you start from. Her friend drove us there (which is another scary story unto itself, but suffice to say, I remembered how much I don't like cars) We arrived there around midnight, and rented our skis and board from one of the 6 million ski rental shops along the way to the mountain. It only cost 10,000 won for skis and boots, but I think her friend had some sort of membership.

We got to the mountain, put on our gear in the car and bought our lift tickets. Again, it was only 27,000 won for the lift tickets, but I think that was a lower price than it should have been since he had a membership. Ski hills break up charges according to the time of day you ski. I guess we do in the US too, but there are more options in Korea... but I think it is more expensive for a full day of skiing here than it is at home. At Vivaldi Park, the day is broken up into the following chunks.Most ski hills have something similar:
8:30 am- 1:00 pm Morning
12:30-5:00 pm Afternoon
6:30 - 11:30 pm Night
12:00- 5:00 am Early Morning
Other mountains I've seen have slightly different variations of this schedule, but they all seem to have late night (early morning) skiing.

We hit the slopes, and it was blisteringly cold. Right now in mid-afternoon it's only 23˚F, I suspect it was around 10.. maybe lower on the mountain last night... could have been closer to 0˚, it wouldn't surprise me. Tonight's low for Seoul is 9˚, so imagine what it's like without the heat blanket of the city, and on top of a mountain. Not to mention that usually when I go skiing I wear to many layers, so I overcompensated in the other direction this time and wore not enough layers. I really thought I was going to get frostbite on my toes. But I didn't. I survived.

As for the hill, I was very impressed. Having lived in Vermont for the past 5 years, and living in New England my whole life, I have fairly high expectations of ski hills. I loathe skiing in icy conditions. Hitting a few patches of ice really ruins my experience. When I saw the number of people on this (in my view) tiny ski hill, I was worried that the trails were going to be one giant ice patch and that it was going to impossible to ski around the swarms of people. But, when I got to the top, I realized that all the people swarm the green trails. On the "difficult" mountain, I was impressed to find that I had plenty of room to ski, and that there really were no more people than at home. As the night progressed, there were even less people than on the slopes at home I think. It was all powder and packed powder, which is the best I think that anyone can hope for here. I didn't hit a single patch of ice all night. Lines at the lift were never more than 10 minutes, usually less than that. As the night progressed, waits went down to about a minute by 3:30 or 4. Lines went quite quickly seeing as they had an 8 person lift. I've never seen a lift so big in my life.

My only complaint is the size of the hill. While it was fine for one day, I think it might get boring to do the same 5 or 6 trails every time if I were to come back often. The hill only has 11 trails The hardest trail they had open last night was labeled a black diamond, but I didn't find it any more difficult than a harder blue square trail at home... maybe easier, since there was no ice to be had, despite the steep incline. Here's the trail list that I stole off the website. I can't find a good trail map though.

length(m) width(m) slope(o) level snowboard mogul
Ballads 550 150 9 Novice
Reggae 570 40 17 Middle-high O X
Classic 570 40 16 Middle-high O X
Rock 590 40 28 Expert X X
Funky 400 30 17 High O X
Techno 1070 50 19 High O X
Techno 1070 50 19 High O X
Hip-hop 790 100 19 Middle-high O X
Hip-hop 790 100 15 Middle-high O O
Blues 350 50 15 Starter X X
Jazz 808 40 13 Intermediate O X

I think I did all the intermediate, middle high and high trails. I'm not sure where that expert trail was, but I think it was closed last night anyway. I would have liked to try that and see if it's as hard as they say.

Right now, all the snow is man made. I'm sure with this cold snap we've had for the past few days they've been able to make snow like crazy. While going up the lift, there was only a dusting of natural snow on the ground blow us.

Some people complain that there is no off trail skiing or glades here. I've always been too scared to ski around trees, so I guess I don't know what I'm missing. I feel as though that would be too dangerous at night anyway.

So, all in all, I'd say a night on the slopes beats a night out in Hongdae any day. If you can find someone with a car, get out there as soon as you can! I think the lack of car is the thing that keeps us foreigners away. The whole time I didn't see a single Westerner. That is the first time that's happened in a while. I always seem to bump in some westerner somewhere wherever I go.

Oh, one last thing. I feel like when I ski at home, the ratio between skiers and snowboarders is about 50:50. But here, I think there was about 1 skier per 100 snowboarders. I've never seen so few skiers in my life. What an odd sensation. But, I guess snowboarding is the way the world is going, maybe I should try it some day.... but... not in Korea.

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