No ads, no noise... just snowWhy are Japanese ski resorts becoming so popular among Koreans?
Last winter, when the JoongAng Ilbo wrote about skiing in Japan, there were concerns that it would hurt domestic ski resorts’ business. Some argued that it was improper to compare the two countries’ resorts, and that doing so would only hurt the Korean economy by promoting overseas tourism.
However, the JoongAng Ilbo’s opinion was that promoting Japanese ski resorts would benefit its readers, as these resorts, while costlier, provide better service and value for the money. This winter, Japanese ski tours have joined Japanese hot springs tours as popular travel packages for Koreans.
We might also add that Japan’s ski resorts have turned out to be a boon for domestic travel agencies, who report that they are offering three times as many tour packages centered around Japanese skiing as they did last year.
And at any rate, Korea’s ski industry shows no signs of faltering. Indeed, the country’s 13 major ski resorts are still overcrowded (and, therefore, more dangerous). All of them stay open till midnight, and Hongcheon Vivaldi Park in Gangwon province is open all night long.
By contrast, only 10 percent of Japan’s resorts are open overnight, since the relative lack of crowds, allows skiers to get their fill during the day.
You’ll also find better snow at Japanese resorts, which only open after snow has fallen. At many resorts, the average depth of the snow is about a meter. The artificial snow often found on Korea’s slopes is rather hard and icy by comparison. If you want to experience the real thing, ski resorts in Japan are a great choice.
Former Olympics site Nagano proves popular destination
About 1,830 meters above sea level, at the Happo One ski resort in Hakuba, Nagano, you see clouds floating below you and thick, white snow everywhere. What you don’t see are advertisements, and what you don’t hear is loud music ― two things that separate this resort from those in Korea. The resort has 13 listed skiing routes, but if you just keep moving down the slopes, you can create your own.
Hakuba, where the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were held, is one of the more famous skiing areas in Japan ― the major reason being the quality of the snow, which can be compared with that found in resorts in Canada or Hokkaido. So during winter, the little town is crowded with skiers from every part of the world.
The Happo One resort is one of the most famous in Hakuba, having hosted some major skiing events during the Olympics. With its height, a maximum gradient of 35 degrees, and runs as long as eight kilometers (five miles), the ski resort is popular among advanced and intermediate-level skiers. It usually takes about an hour to ski the giant slope, and the thick layers of soft snow mean that even beginners needn’t worry much about injury. Even though the slope as a whole is quite tricky, the lower part is less so, and more comfortable for beginners.
The Tsugaike Kogen ski resort, which is about a 20-minute bus ride from Happo One, has a variety of runs, including one that’s just for beginners. From March, “heli-skiing” is available; for 9,500 yen ($91), skiiers can take a helicopter to the mountaintop and come down on virgin snow. There are 28 lifts, including “Eve,” a cable car line that’s more than four kilometers long. Some slopes are as wide as 1,200 meters.
“At ski resorts back in Korea I was always worried about my children’s safety, but here the slopes are very wide and less crowded, making it a lot safer to ski here,” said Korean housewife Park Eun-ju, 42. “Even though it costs almost twice as much, it is also that much more satisfactory.”
Still, caution is advised, especially considering that ski resorts in Nagano don’t have patrols or safety barriers. Some skiers joke that if you get hurt in some isolated part of the resort, your body won’t be found until the snow melts in the spring. You’re also well advised to avoid Nagano during Japanese holidays, when the resorts are most crowded.
Both Happo One and Tsugaike Kogen stay open until early May.
Club Med Sahoro: It’s expensive, but relaxing (and they can speak Korean)
Located some 170 kilometers (105 miles) from Sapporo, Hokkaido, one of the most popular spots for a winter vacation in Japan, is the Club Med Sahoro ski resort. Among Japan’s many winter resorts, Sahoro is particularly relaxing, and has an ideal atmosphere for families.
What’s more, the usual language barrier is less of a problem at Sahoro, since the resort has Korean guides. Another convenience is that accommodation, meals and skiing lessons are all available inside the resort.
The resort is less grand in scale than some others ― the highest point is only 1,059 meters above sea level ― but Sahoro does have a total of 17 slopes. And the courses aren’t easy. The beginners’ slopes are comparable to intermediate ones in Korea, and the advanced slopes are probably of professional standard.
Of course, that makes it all the more exciting, provided that one takes care. The meter-deep snow on the slope is a good safety net. It’s so light and dry (known as “powder snow”) that it’s almost impossible to make a snowball out of it, so there’s little chance of getting hurt when you fall. And the slopes are so broad, and so seldom crowded, that the chance of getting into a collision is virtually nil.
Sahoro is a lot more expensive than some of the Japanese ski resorts near Tokyo, so if you’re just looking for a place to practice all day, it may not be for you. But if you can afford it, and if convenience, a relaxing atmosphere, and a systematic lesson program are important to you, it can make for a terrific winter vacation.
by Son Min-ho, Noh Seung-ok