Snowboardin'

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
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Trip End Dec 02, 2012


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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Gangwon,
Saturday, December 29, 2012

Today I finally achieved my dream of snowboarding in a foreign country. I don't know why that was a dream, so don't judge the shallowness of my dreams! I also have a dream of attending a marriage in a foreign country, so if you're engaged and living outside of the US, feel free to send me an invite.

This weekend I joined a group tour, along with a couple of friends, to the High 1 Ski Resort (하이원스키장) in Gangwon-do. I dislike group tours, of course, but it was the easiest way to get there, and I assumed we couldn't have put together a last minute trip on our own. (I didn't think there would be decently priced hotels bookable via English websites, but searched for myself later and found there were some possibilities.)

Although the roads were clear, it took a long time to get to the resort, get everyone's rental gear, and then get the lift tickets. It was after 1:30pm before I finally made it into a lift line. I say line, but as is frequently the case in Korea, it was really more of a lift blob. Actual lining up didn't happen until you made it right to the gates that opened to let one row of people at a time onto the chairs.

I noticed that almost all of the snowboarders were carrying their boards, possibly because of the chaos of the blob. I've never ridden a lift holding my board, but I went ahead and did it to go with the flow. One or two boarders were skating, but the people were so close together your board would be constantly stepped on. It would also make it difficult to cut in front of waiting groups in order to fill the vacant single or double seats on the six-person lifts.

Despite the chaos, the lines moved at a decent clip. The lifts were a bit slow and very long. After what seemed like twenty minutes of riding lifts, I arrived at the top of a very foggy mountain, where a light snow was falling.

The snow was nice. Even on crowded runs, there was still a good coating of fresh snow to keep the slopes from being packed down and icy. I had brought a face mask from home and had rented goggles, so the snow didn't bother me. The fog was a bit daunting, but I had good enough visibility for the speed I wanted to go. I just had to take the first trip or two down a run a little slow, but the runs turned out to be exceptionally wide with few turns, so it was very safe.

The one time the fog did bother me was a bit after sunset when I missed the turn for the trail I wanted to take. I actually saw the turn, but it was labeled with a "expert only" sign and no marker for the trail name. I didn't realize they put the "expert only" signs at the top of their "advanced" (i.e. intermediate) runs and assumed it was one of the "expert" runs and avoided it. Because of the fog, I wasn't sure how many trails I'd passed, so I couldn't be sure that was the one I wanted to take.

Missing the trail turned into a major pain because I ended-up at the bottom of what may have been the world's longest carpet lift. No joke, I spent a good ten minutes on the lift and had to carry my board to ride it, which I really didn't want to do since I was getting pretty tired of undoing my bindings all of the time. I wasn't the only impatient person, and once we finally came in sight of the top, the Korean in front of me stepped off the carpet and jogged up the hill the rest of the way.

Overall, there weren't too many people at the resort. The wait in the mid-mountain lift lines wasn't more than 5 minutes. However, the people that were around were all clustered on the long beginner slopes. The intermediate and advanced slopes were essentially empty, which was good for me, but there was a sea of beginners and families to dodge once I merged with the final portion of the beginner hill on the way back to the lift.

The crowded beginner slopes, combined with their significant length, made it a bad place for real beginners (as opposed to intermediate-beginners), although I suppose there might have been a better area for learning used by the ski school. Come to think of it, I don't even know if they provided lessons in English. The beginners in our tour group were started at the top of the mountain by our tour's "instructors" (i.e. tour guides without any apparent teaching skill or qualifications), and the would-be ski students took the entire three to four hours we had for afternoon skiing to make it down to the bottom just one time.

Anyway, the runs were surprisingly long, and the "advanced" runs were more like upper-intermediate runs in the US, so it was a great place for me as a strong intermediate boarder. I think advanced skiers/boarders would probably be bored quickly, although I didn't attempt any of the few "expert" runs. All of the runs I saw were wide-open cruisers without any moguls and maybe one or two significant turns at the most. They also had the advantage for boarders of being well balanced, so I never ended up on a run where I had to spend the entire hill turning either left or right and wearing out my calves staying on the same edge for too long.

The night skiing was a lot of fun, too. It seemed to be pretty common in Korea and just about all of the runs off of the lift I'd been on in the afternoon were lit. Even though it was still fairly foggy and snowing heavily, I knew the runs well enough and they were wide enough that I didn't have any trouble navigating and could just enjoy the fresh snow and general ambiance.

So I'm not sure I can say "good time had by all", but I can certainly say "excellent time had by me". The only frustrations I had related to problems with the group tour. Everything started late, including something as simple as giving us the lift tickets. I don't see why that should take almost an hour. In fact, I can't imagine why they wouldn't be arranged in advance. On top of that, if I'd gone back to the hotel to eat dinner with the rest of the tour group instead of opting out of the included dinner to stay at the slopes, I would have missed another hour of boarding at night. That's on top of the hour and a half the slopes were closed for grooming before night skiing began.

I don't actually want to end on a negative note, so I'll just repeat that I enjoyed the boarding itself sooo much and would definitely recommend High 1 for an intermediate boarder looking for a day of early season warm-up. And night skiing when it's snowing is awesome, which I'm lucky enough to have experienced on a US boarding trip as well. It wasn't even too cold today, just a few degrees below freezing at the top of the mountain. That's warmer than it's been the rest of December where I live down near sea level.
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