Located roughly two hours from Seoul in Pyeongchang – Phoenix Park – one of the host sites for 2018 Winter Olympics – is a winter playground for ski and snowboard enthusiasts here in South Korea. As the temperatures steadily dropped and the snow began to fall, I knew I had to once again explore the local mountains and the accompanying seasonal sports. So, one weekend in December I headed out with my season pass in hand to explore my first ever international ski resort and discovered several impressive perks and a few pitfalls along the way.
Back in 2010, I worked a season as a lift operator in Breckenridge, Colorado. That year the region set a record for annual snowfall with over 250 meters of fresh powder. I was truly blessed. Now the Gangwondo Province in Korea has seen its fair share of snowfall too. But the one luxury that Phoenix Park is lacking, compared to Breck, is that of super-soft powder and the sheer size of vertical feet. I would expect some major overhauls to the mountain as the Olympics approach, new accommodations and improvements via slopes and ski lifts, but the amount of skiable acreage is likely to resist change. Phoenix Park has 19 total trails, including a decent terrain park with a half-pipe, ranging from beginner to advanced over two different peaks.
I arrived early in the morning via the resort shuttle service on a blisteringly cold day without any snowfall in sight. One of the best aspects of Phoenix Park is the shuttle service. As a season pass holder, I was able to catch a ride from Sinchon in Seoul, to the resort and back, all free of charge. This service was a huge plus, especially as a foreigner living in the city without a car. There are shuttles going all day and night which makes the choice to stay later and enjoy other amenities even easier. A non-season pass holder can ride the shuttle for 16,000 won round-trip.
Once I arrived, Phoenix Park had everything a novice or expert skier would need. An all-day lift ticket (8:30 am – 4:30 pm) costs about 70,000 won. I also headed to the rental shops and picked up a snowboard and boots for around 25,000 won. A true beginner to the sport, and winter recreational sports, in general, can even rent a jacket and pants at the nearby rental shops located across the street in town. If there is anything someone might need it can be achieved for a price. Now that is the true winter resort style I have come to understand.
After I settled in and rented a locker for the day (1,000 won), it was finally time to head out and get my snowboard dirty. I walked straight out the door by the repair shop on the second level and hopped on the gondola. At the vista of Mont Blanc, an audacious Euro style named peak, I joined the crowd’s brave enough to withstand the early morning temps. On this crisp, bluebird day the views were apropos to the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, most runs at Phoenix Park lack a decent vertical to rival the long lift lines that build up in the afternoon. Unless you get creative, be prepared to endure waits unfit to the slope length that most North American riders sometimes take for granted. I easily boarded the entire mountain within the first half day. However, what the mountain lacks in size, most definitely redeems itself with options for food, drink, and entertainment.
As most western ski resorts continue to charge immodest prices for paltry cafeteria burgers and fries, the Gangwando province resort serves up numerous options and cuisines to fit both budget and appetite. If Korean fare is your thing head inside to the café and order beef rib soup or the ever-popular tonkatsu for about 10,000 won each. I was completely satisfied as each meal came with the ubiquitous amount of banchan to boot. For the cost-conscious student, there are plenty of options at that price at the base of the ski house. I would recommend the Pasha Kebab and Isaac Toast stands that dot the area. I found myself stopping quite often to refuel with low-priced coffee and water. Much to my continued delight was the CU convenient store located inside the ski house where hoards of people were enjoying instant ramen and assorted Korean snacks.
There were numerous entertainment options to experience after I completed my half-day on the mountain as well. Center Plaza, located by the Blue Condo, and my adjacent locker, offered an excellent area to unwind and recover from the brutal temperatures outside. Here is where I found a number of western establishments (Baskin Robbins, Dominos Pizza, and Starbucks) as well as Korean restaurants, a karaoke lounge, bowling alley, and a sweet arcade room. I easily killed a few hours as I was waiting for my early evening shuttle to bring me back to Seoul.
I have never experienced a resort that has hosted any of the previous Winter Olympic games, but I’d say that Phoenix Park at the very least is a fantastic place to ride here in Korea, especially since the cost of a total day’s package including a lift ticket, rentals and food will run around 115,000 won. Grab some buddies, coworkers, or Korean girlfriend (teaching someone to ride has to be good for something, right?) and enjoy a weekend getaway to the slopes.
I do offer these final words of wisdom:
- Be wary of high-flying out of control local skiers and boarders.
- Shop around for the best priced rental gear.
- Take advantage of the cheap eats at the base of the gondola.
- And challenge your friends to see who can become the true king of the mountain…mountain…mountain.
Written By: Man Travels World
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