Yongpyong is Korea’s number one ski resort, the biggest and best all round of Korea’s 16 or so ski options. Yongpyong is also home to the GS and Slalom Alpine ski events for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
“Wide Skiing! Wide Boarding! Wide Yongpyong!” was the promo message on their billboards when we checked it out, and our first look at it from the observation deck of the Alpensia ski jump tower a couple of ridge lines away gave us the full panoramic perspective you see here.
Yongpyong sprawls wider than my best lens could capture in one shot, over 4 ‘peaks’. After the overview from the ski jump tower next morning we were fired up to check out the slopes. The impressive Dragon Plaza base building is billed as Asia’s biggest, and we won’t argue. All your gear and lesson needs can be sorted here before stepping outside to discover how wide the base slopes are – maybe 200m across, with a choice of several express lift options, or the mighty Rainbow Gondola. Yep, it’s billed as Asia’s longest gondola ride, but at 3.7km is well short of Naeba-Kagura’s Dragondola in Japan; maybe they mean mainland Asia). It accesses Korea’s longest ski run by far, the signature 5.6km Rainbow Paradise intermediate run down from the gondola.
Queues were light on this midweek February day, apart from a short one for the gondola. We were amazed how empty the slopes were in general, though the amount of surrounding slopeside and nearby condos and hotels, plus the ease of access from the cities, indicate it must get far more frenetic at weekends and holidays, so pick your dates.
The Yongpyong slopes were well groomed, with a light but complete cover, mostly freshly topped up with man-made snow. Korea’s short cold, dry winters favour snowmaking and retention, and plenty of investment has gone into ensuring they maximise that at Yongpyong, even the Rainbow Paradise run has 100% coverage. Since it’s only 20 – 30m wide and attracts a lot of cruising skiers who find the length a challenge and need to stop frequently along the way it does get busy. For better skiers it’s a long tuck and avoid experience best left for one lap heading home after the much more exciting Rainbow Peak quad closes for the day.
Rainbow Peak at Yongpyong is the site for the GS alpine ski events at the 2018 Olympics and its four variations offer nice pitch and few crowds. I did half a dozen laps skiing literally straight onto the lift, taking a non-stop charge down each run in turn, then hitting the steepest two twice. Three of the four options were totally empty, so you can open the throttle with no one to get in the way or tell you not to, over a decent 500m vertical.
Presumably the ‘Expert’ rating scares off most locals, and according to the resort stats the gradient hits 57% on Rainbow I and the average is 40%, although that maximum figure seems way too high, it sure didn’t feel like 57%! Most intermediate skiers wouldn’t have any problems giving it a shot unless it was really icy conditions.
Gold Peak offers several long intermediate runs serviced by another six pac express, with plenty of space for people to spread out on them, and a separate restaurant at the lift base. If the gondola does have a long queue heading over here makes sense, it’s separate from the main frontside runs.
The Red and Silver Peaks offer shorter but steeper advanced shots too, especially Silver Peak. This was also virtually empty allowing you to rip some fast full throttle laps there too.
Overall there’s enough variety for several days for intermediate skiers to absorb it all, and while you could easily ski every run in a day the different Peaks have attractions to linger longer. Lunch at the top of the gondola is one – they’ve made an effort with the old stone fireplace and some historic fotos that show you how Korean skiing started.
For beginners and/or families with small kids the wide open base areas are ideal learner terrain, with plenty of English speaking instructors available.
For freeride the park is well maintained, with some cool local dudes to ride with – mostly boarders, it seems like the concept of freeskiing has a way to go here yet, so drop in and show them your moves. A 6 seat express chair for access lets you lap at speed, just sign in with the crew at the shed there.
With just 250cm per season snowfall you won’t get many powder days at Yongpyong. Even if you do get lucky your first challenge will be to find a spot without metal mesh fencing to get into it, as 2m high fencing lines a lot of the runs. We saw tracks under the Silver Peak quad from the last fall, and scoped a couple of spots you might sneak off the sides at Golden Peak, but the needle pine forests are not exactly ski friendly, being more like a thicket of branches.
A lot of the runs are open for night skiing, some even for the after midnight sessions on weekends (‘Twilight’) that go to 2.30am, and your lift pass options vary accordingly, from krw 36,000 for 31/2 hours night or twilight passes. With day passes make sure you get the one that includes the gondola or you wont be able to access Rainbow Peak – the full day inclusive is krw 72,000. Rentals full day full set ski/board krw 26,000 / 34,000 for full day.
Yongpyong accommodation, aprés and village
Despite all the night skiing options aprés ski in the western sense is not really a concept here, unless you make your own like we did at the games zone & bar where we managed to get hustled by the locals on the mini basketball – one of them kicked two of our asses – or the karaoke place.
Dining options are not huge, but there are a couple of western style places apart from Korean barbecue and fast food.
To stay plenty of large ski in/ski out hotels and condos lines the slopes, mostly available at good rates, best done as package, eg GreenPia condos or the Dragon Valley Hotel.
Highlight in the other activities department is the massive indoor water park complete with wave pool, beach and numerous rides including raft slides.
It’s easy to take a trip down to the east coast or over to neighbouring Alpensia to check out the ski jump facilities.
Yongpyong getting there
Direct express buses run from massive Incheon airport in about 31/2 hours, or its under 3 hours from Seoul. The freeway drive passes seemingly endless apartment towers until finally you clear the city sprawl and head east into increasingly rugged mountains. En route we passed a string of smaller ski areas that look OK if you were in the ’hood, but hardly worth a 10 hour flight.
Book the bus here http://www.tourtokorea.com/bus-2/
Flying via Korea is a fast – sometimes the fastest – way to get to regional Japan gateways too – like Sapporo and Sendai flights www.koreanairlines.com
Yongpyong Mountain stats
• Summit 1458m, base 756m, max vertical 702m
• 250cm snowfall + near 100% snowmaking coverage
• 28 trails, longest 5.6km; terrain 30% beginner, 35% intermediate, 35% advanced
• parks for all levels
• 15 lifts including 1 gondola, 2 six pacs & 7 quads
• Lift pass rates day adult KRW 76,000 (About USD 67 / AUD 86 Jan 2018) child 61,000
Yongpyong accommodation and packages
This is one destination where it makes sense to use an operator that has done the research and can give you an honest assessment of the skiing, hotels, etc so you know exactly what you are getting.
Mogul Ski World have done just that, we bumped into their team while going around, and they have negotiated some great deals.
Details: 1800 335 724 www.mogulski.com.au
Yongpyong tourist info
Gangwon Province is the home of skiing in South Korea, check their site for more ski info & on the many other attractions http://eng.gwd.go.kr/
Korea Tourism Office are a great source of info with many offices worldwide for local material, check www.visitkorea.or.kr
Resort info www.yongpyong.co.kr/eng/