Ride to mountain peak then tramp back down1. Which direction do Korean ski slopes face?
2. Do you have to pay a separate fee to ride gondolas down the slopes at local ski resorts?
The answer to question 1 is north.
The slopes are designed this way to help prevent the snow from melting.
As for question 2, except at Muju Resort, the gondola fee includes a return trip if desired, although skiers and snowboarders come down the mountain under their own power. That’s one way to enjoy Korea’s snow-covered mountains during the winter and experience the thrill of your legs sliding deep into the snow. It’s a common fear that winter mountains are dangerous to hike, but there is a practical option ― “Gondola Hiking.”
The procedure is simple. You pick any mountain on local ski resorts. You take a gondola to a certain point. Then you hike back down.
Ski resorts are built on the mountains that get the most snow across the nation. At Yongpyeong Resort near Daegwallyeong, an average of 250 centimeters of snow falls yearly. In addition to the natural snowfall, most resorts make an extensive amount of artificial snow every winter. As a result mountains with ski resorts have the most snow earliest in the season.
The best thing about gondola hiking is that it saves both energy and time. Most gondolas can take passengers to a mountain top about 1,400 meters above sea level in less than ten minutes.
The view of the surrounding area from a gondola is romantic and cheerful at the same time.
The narrow paths of the forest, which curve in the shape of snakes, are like black and white photographs from above. In stark contrast, the image of snowboarders sliding down the slopes is like a colorful multimedia video. When you get to the peak of the ski resort, you can warm up in a cafe drinking hot coffee while sitting by a stove.
An average of 3,000 people ride the gondolas at Muju Resort at high ski season, which typically continues from now through February. But only 100 to 500 riders take skis or snowboards. The rest are hikers or people who simply want to enjoy the scenery of a winter mountain from above. On weekends, you can easily spot hikers on the slopes of Yongpyeong Resort.
Ski gondolas typically operate from 8:30 a.m. through 9 p.m. during the winter season, except for the New Year, when they open at 6 a.m. to allow riders to watch the sunrise from mountain peaks.
Muju Resort on Mount Deokyu is a national park, which is evident from the graceful stature of the mountain. It’s particularly famous for a beautiful view of tree frost, but there is no walking route from the peak down to the ski resort once you get on the gondola. Instead you have the option of tracking down toward the Samgong ticket office near a ravine in Gucheon-dong or the Anseong ticket office near Yongchu Ravine. The Samgong ticket office trail typically has more hikers while Anseong is usually quiet.
At Muju Resort, the gondola near Seolcheon House is recommended. When you arrive at the peak, move across Hyangjeok Peak (1,610 meters) past Jung Peak (1,594 meters), Osuja Cave, Baekryeon Temple to the Guncheongdong Ravine and finally to the Samgong ticket office near Mount Deokyu National Park. Signs are posted, but only in Korean.
The route takes about four hours. After hiking there is an outdoor spa in Muju Resort, which requires swim suits. (It’s closed Mondays.) Admission is 13,000 won for adults and 9,000 won for children. The gondolas take up to eight people. They run from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. and take riders to a point 2,671 meters above sea level in 15 minutes. The ride costs 7,000 won one way for adults and 5,000 won for children. A round trip ticket costs 11,000 won for adults and 8,000 won for children. The facilities at the resort’s peak include restaurants (Korean, Western and fast food) and a snack bar serving coffee for 2,500 won. For shuttle bus information call (02) 575-7710 or check out www.buspia.co.kr.
Yongpyeong Resort is located on Mount Balwang, which rises 1,459 meters above sea level, and is famous for its winter hiking course, as it overlooks fine peaks nearby, including Mount Odae, Mount Seorak and Mount Nochu, from a single site. The resort caters to a lot of tourists from Southeast Asia.
Take a gondola at the resort’s Dragon Plaza to the peak of the resort (1,458 meters). Move to the peak of Mount Balwang, which is about 700 meters away and, from there, walk down toward the right side of the slope at Rainbow Paradise, following the path along a safety net, to the peak of Gold Slope (1,127 meters). If you walk along the right side of the slope for about 50 meters, a sign points to “Cheoljuk Oreum Simteo” road. Follow that road until you hit a spring water fountain, from which you can see the Birch Hill Condo. Take extra precautions after a snowfall when it can be difficult to find your route. The trip takes two hours.
The gondolas at Yongpyeong take up to eight people and travel a distance of about 3.7 kilometers in 20 minutes. A round trip ticket is 12,000 for adults and 8,000 won for children, from 8:30 a.m. through 4 p.m. There is a 20-percent discount for condo guests. Rooms at the condo sleep up to six people. The facilities at the peak of the resort include restaurants, a snack bar and Starbucks, which is considered the highest branch in the country. Call (033) 335-5757 for more information.
High One Ski Resort (www.high1.co.kr), which opened last year at Gangwon Land, is one of the first ski resorts in the country with a separate gondola installed for hikers. The system allows access to a variety of hiking trails. Lim Chang-woo, a veteran hiker, has found an ideal course and indicated it with yellow ribbons.
Take the mountain gondola from High One Ski Resort at a height of 930 meters above sea level. The gondola climbs up to the resort’s mountain top, which is 1,345 meters above sea level. Have a coffee at the revolving cafe before you start the course. Walk along the right side of the slope near “Zeus 2” toward the ridgeline of Mount Baekun. From the top of Baekun (1,472 meters), move toward Valley Top (1,376 meters), past an observation deck. Take a short rest at Valley Top then walk down to a road below the column of the High One gondola. Find gondola No. 5 and walk straight toward Untan Doro (a temporary road that was made to deliver waste from a closed coalmine nearby).
From there, walk toward the High One Hotel (1,130 meters), from which a shuttle bus can take you back to your departure point. This newly discovered course, which will take about three hours to complete, is clearly indicated by the yellow ribbons, so hikers need not fear losing their way. There are also other hiking courses on the mountain. The gondola, which operates from 8:30 a.m. through 9:30 p.m., can take eight people, and travels 2,832 meters in 12 minutes. There is a revolving cafe at the top of the resort’s mountain. The food, though, is a bit overpriced and is mainly Western. There is a separate snack bar selling coffee and doughnuts. For more information call 1588-7789.
by Sung Si-yoon
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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