(Yonhap Feature) Ski resorts add reason to visit Korea, but not just for skiing
By Byun Duk-kun
HONGCHEON, South Korea, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- People who enjoy traveling abroad often do so because they enjoy experiencing what is different from their own, let it be the food, language or culture. And for many who are coming to South Korea now, the reason may include the weather -- the cold weather to be exact.
The country had never been a major destination for winter tourists or those coming for winter sports, observers here noted, partly because the country itself had not realized what it had to offer.
"For so many years, it simply had not occurred to the country that its very weather -- particularly its cold weather and snow -- can be a new experience to people who are not used to seeing snow in their own country," a market expert said, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
The undated photo shows a view of Vivaldi Park ski resort from a ski lift. (Photo courtesy of Daemyung Resort)
Things changed, especially after the country's eastern county of PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, was named the host of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Already, people are coming to the country in great numbers, partly to experience the country and its venues for the upcoming Winter Olympiad.
In the 2015-2016 season, over 512,000 foreign tourists enjoyed skiing or snowboarding in South Korea, according to Kim Yeong-ju, an official from the state-run Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).
The tally marked a 25 percent spike from about 410,000 in the previous 2014-2015 season, Kim added, citing data from an association of 14 local ski resorts.
They are seeking to further boost the number.
"We have been hosting the Ski Korea Festival, which focuses on people from Southeast Asian countries, where snow is nearly nonexistent. We have been working to attract tourists and new skiers from such countries, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, for some years now, and such efforts appear to be finally paying off," Kim said.
This photo shows a group of Malaysian tourists taking ski lessons at Vivaldi Park ski resort in Hongcheon, South Korea. The resort, together with the state-run Korea Tourism Organization, is hosting the Ski Korea Festival. (Photo courtesy of Daemyung Resort)
Jung Eun-ji, an official from KTO's marketing department, noted the recent increase in winter tourists to South Korea could be attributed to the easy access and price competitiveness of the country and its ski resorts.
"Many, including those from Chinese speaking countries, are choosing to come to South Korea (instead of China) to ski or snowboard because it offers easy access in terms of both physical and economical sense," she said.
Sutrisno Zhan from Jakarta, Indonesia, agreed that accessibility was one of the reasons why he and his family decided to visit Vivaldi Park ski resort here in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, for their first experience of skiing.
"We decided to come to this resort because it was the most convenient and easy to reach," the 23-year-old said.
"This is my first time in Korea, and this is my first time skiing, but I am enjoying both very much because they are something new and they are fun," Zhan said.
Zhan and his 29-year-old sister, Jusniar, said skiing was not even the main reason for their 10-day trip to the country in the first place, but that it was "definitely worth a try."
Sutrisno Zhan (third from R), 23, and his 29-year-old sister Jusniar (second from R) pose for a picture before trying to ski for the first time in their lives at Vivaldi Park in Hongcheon, South Korea, on Feb. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)
To accommodate all tourists from around the world, including Muslims, Vivaldi Park had all its five restaurants certified pork-free as of October 2016, becoming the first resort in South Korea to offer certified halal food, according to the resort.
The resort will not be hosting the Winter Olympic Games, but its proximity to Seoul has apparently led to a recent surge in foreign visitors.
Also, the resort is operating a free, foreigners-only shuttle bus to and from Seoul amid a recent surge in the number of individual foreign tourists coming to the resort, located some 100 kilometers east of Seoul.
"Just last season, we only had about 34,000 foreign tourists coming here to ski or snowboard, but this 2016-2017 season, we have already had more than 60,000 foreigners visit us," said Sung Yoo-shin, an official from Daemyung Resort, the operator of Vivaldi Park and facilities at some 10 other different locations throughout the country.
This undated photo shows a professional snowboarder making a jump at Vivaldi Park ski resort in Hongcheon, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Daemyung Resort)
But for many, such as Jeap from Bangkok, a visit to a ski resort may not always be for skiing or some other winter sport.
"It is just nice to see the snow," said the 33-year-old who refused to give her full name. "The place seems to be a bit too crowded but seeing so many people here is another thing I can enjoy."
She too said she came to Vivaldi Park for its easy access, but more importantly, she came to the country because it was the most convenient and safest destination.
"It is comfortable, and it has beautiful ski resorts. And people here speak English better than people in Japan or China. Also, I do not feel too scared to go out by myself here," she said.
South Korean ski resorts may be especially convenient for those coming from abroad as most of them have equipment rentals, allowing skiers and snowboarders to travel light.
Most also offer lessons for those new to skiing or snowboarding.
Tourists from Bangkok enjoy a scenic view at a ski resort in South Korea's Hongcheon on Feb. 13, 2017. From left to right, they are Noon, Jeap and Ple. (Yonhap)
Market observers here said the country might also be a better, if not a safer, choice for those seeking to try a winter sport or simply wishing to see snow.
"Daemyung and most other ski resorts in the country have snowmakers producing large amounts of artificial snow every day; some because they do not get enough natural snow," an official from Vivaldi Park said, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Natural snow, of course, is better than fake snow when it comes to winter sports. However, the ability to produce such massive amounts of artificial snow, or enough snow for skiing or snowboarding, means a trip to a ski resort in South Korea is a sure bet to see snow," the official added.
The photo on the left shows a snowmaker permanently stationed on a piste at Vivaldi Park ski resort in Hongcheon, South Korea. The photo on the right shows at least half a dozen snowmakers producing artificial snow on Feb. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)
[Ski resorts to consider]
Although Vivaldi Park is one of the most frequented by foreign tourists and local skiers alike, it is only one of nearly a dozen located less than two hours from Seoul. Here are some other ski resorts that might be worth a trip.
Yongpyeong Resort: Yongpyeong is often celebrated as one of the best and the largest ski resorts in South Korea with 28 runs. The resort will host snow events in the 2018 Winter Olympics, together with Alpensia Ski Resort in nearby PyeongChang. There are daily shuttle buses between the resort and Incheon International Airport, as well as more than a dozen other locations in Seoul.
Elysian Gangchon: Elysian Gangchon Resort is one of the closest to Seoul, and also the only ski resort that can be reached via Seoul's subway system. It takes about one hour on the Seoul-Chuncheon subway line. From the line's Baegyang-ri station, the resort is a brief ride on a free shuttle bus.