Ski slopes go global for 3 days

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Ski slopes go global for 3 days

A corner of rural Gangwon province will take on a multinational flavor starting today ― and it’s not because McDonald’s is opening up a new restaurant.
The 22d annual Yongpyong International Ski Festival ― the largest winter sports event among Korea’s expatriate community ― is expected to draw more than 800 foreigners in Korea from 25 countries to the ski resort near Pyeongchang.
This event, which runs through Sunday, has grown so popular over the years, mostly through the expat grapevine, that all spaces were reserved just two days after festival dates were announced on Dec. 8.
Participants come from all corners of Korea. For instance, the people from the Norwegian community in Busan fly in to mingle with the snow-loving crowd.
Stanley Lobdell, the managing director of Interport Trading and a veteran festival attendee, points to the international vibe, the sense of community and the family atmosphere as festival highlights.
“It’s not an Amcham event. It’s not an EU chamber event. You enjoy a common sport, then celebrate together with a gala event,” he says.
Peppina Sigg, a Swiss Embassy staffer who first took part four years ago, says the festival is “a good introduction to Korea for new people because you meet a lot of new friends.”
The festival got started with the guidance of Yongpyong resort officials who wanted to create an event that involved foreigners. Shortly after the inaugural festival, resort officials incorporated foreign embassies in Korea into the committee.
These days, tradition calls for an ambassador to chair the committee, though some of the founders remain involved. This year’s chair, Swiss Ambassador Christian Muhlethaler, has been at the helm for the past two years. Alas, this winter will be his last, as his Korea post ends in 2004. He leaves a legacy of introducing a snowboard competition to the festival in 2003. The previous chair, Ambassador of Norway Torolf Raa, added Nordic sports to the competition in 2001.
“It’s a bit of a challenge for us, conducting all these races in one day,” Mr. Lobdell says, before adding somewhat cheekily, “I’m not looking forward to adding more. Hopefully, no one will innovate more sports.”
The three categories of competition are alpine, Nordic and snowboarding, making the festival accessible to a range of ages and skills. Competitions are further divided by age and sex.
So far, no single country has taken a medal in all three, but this year Poland is a possible contender. Mother, son and daughter in the Najder family, who are with the Polish Embassy, have all won medals in the past. This year, the Najder’s teenage son is targeting medals in all three categories.
All told, 300 skiers are enrolled in the various contests; those not competing are still encouraged to test their ski legs but some opt to enjoy winter without feeling its wrath ― from behind a glass window.
The festival will have booths by BMW; the Before Babel Brigade, a non-profit that provides language services; and Nestle, offering free chocolate milk and coffee.
While Saturday’s competitions constitute the heart of the festival, the crowning glory is the nighttime awards ceremony and a gala dinner where the winners ― and the countries they hail from ― are announced and the ace athletes get bragging rights.
“It’s nationalistic in a positive way,” Mr. Lobdell says. “People bring out their country’s flags and celebrate.”

by Joe Yong-hee
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