It will host the 2018 Winter Olympics in February, but South Korea is a relative newcomer to the world of winter sports. The nation’s first ski resort didn’t open until 1975.
“It’s not necessarily the skiing and snowboarding opportunities that spring to mind” when people are asked about South Korea, said Lynsey Devon, a spokesperson for Ski Safari, a U.K.-based ski tour operator. “Instead, people think of the world-renowned technology brands Samsung or Hyundai, ancient and historic Buddhist temples, fermented kimchi or even K-pop.”
“However, over the past four years, the country’s profile as a world-class winter sports destination has been raised,” Devon added.
Most of the country’s ski resorts are scattered throughout the northeastern region of Gangwon, which sees the most snowfall. Pyeongchang County, the host of the 2018 Winter Games is in Gangwon, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Seoul, though a new high-speed train can reportedly bring travelers from Seoul’s airport to Pyeongchang in just an hour and a half.
Although South Korea may not have had many decades to develop its skiing traditions, its skiers have plenty of their own customs. From a snack of fried chicken and beer to specialized spas, here’s how to ski like a South Korean:
Ski Into the Wee Hours
In the United States, most ski resorts close before dusk, but skiers in South Korea would consider that an unreasonably early end to the day. Among the resorts in Pyeongchang, Alpensia is open until 11:00 p.m., Yongpyong closes at 2:30 a.m. and Phoenix Park stays open until 4:00 a.m. some nights. Night skiing is so popular in South Korea largely because of the significant ski population that comes from Seoul.
“We were out for dinner in a resort one night, and there were some younger people sat next to us in their ski gear having dinner, ready to hit the slopes again afterwards,” Devon said.
Treat the Slope Like the Runway
South Koreans take fashion on the ski slopes seriously.
“They like bright clothes and lots of branded clothing,” Devon said.
Snowboarders in particular can be seen decked out in oversized, colorful hoodies from popular Korean brands such as Donna, Acefuzz and Sugapoint, she said.
Blow Away the Snow
If you take a tumble on the slopes and find yourself covered in snow, resorts in South Korea helpfully provide high-pressure air hoses at the bottom of slopes to clean the snow off your gear before you head back to your accommodation, according to Ski Safari.
Après-Ski, Korean Style
The South Korean après-skiscene is not a hardcore party like Europeans, North Americans, Japanese and Australians might be used to, according to Kyle Hughes, an Australian who founded Korea Snow, an online skiing and snowboarding guide.
“A lot of the socializing centers around food, beer and soju shots, which happens in small eateries dotted around the slopes or back at the apartment with a group of friends,” Hughes writes in his blog.
Sojuis a popular clear liquor that goes well with pork belly and kimchi-based stews, but it’s drunk with virtually everything. South Koreans drink 13.7 shots of liquor per week on average, which is the most in the world, according to a study by Euromonitor. (Though soju contains less alcohol by volume than many other liquors.)
One particularly popular snack to indulge in after a day of skiing is chimaek, a word that combines two of Koreans’ favorite things: fried chicken and beer.
Other post-ski meals include “those with warm broths to warm up your body, like eomuk tang (fish cake soup) or ramyeon, and simple foods that are quick to eat such as tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and dongaseu (pork cutlet),” says the Korea Tourism Organization on its website.
Hughes has been a fan of South Korea’s après-ski scene since his first visit in 2011.
“From a couple of plates of fried chicken and kimchi pancakes at the local bar, to socializing with friends back at your digs, or Korean BBQ with a bit of ‘K-Pop Idol’ ’til 2 a.m., there’s something for everyone,” he wrote.
Unwind in a Jjimjilbang
After a long day (or night) out on the slopes, Koreans like to relax their muscles in a steamy sauna.
“They love steam rooms and have multiple types,” Devon said. “It’s great to relax and refresh your legs after skiing.”
Some resorts, like Yongpyong and Phoenix Park, offer luxurious spa facilities that include the steam sauna room, called a jjimjilbang, as well as water parks.
Sleep on the Floor
Many South Korean homes used to be heated in the traditional ondol style of circulating warm water through pipes in the floor, which meant they slept on thin mattress on the floor to keep warm. This custom lingers in some ski resorts, such as Yongpyong, Devon said.
Although most rooms have typical Western-style beds, guests can choose to stay in an ondol bedroom for an authentic traditional Korean sleeping experience.