Monday, December 22, 2014

Skiing Solo in South Korea (Daegu to High1)

There are many group packages that are great for a fun, drunk weekend of skiing. But they can be a little expensive, and sometimes you might want to trade off the party for a bit more time on the slopes, and a peaceful night's sleep to soothe your aching muscles. 

This year, the Boyfriend and I decided we wanted to ski as much as possible, since our vacation times don't line up. Here's how we did it.

Step 1: Join the Snowboard and Ski South Korea Facebook Group
The group is ideal for finding out the conditions, and finding buddies to go with so you're not completely alone (and to share accommodation costs), and any other information you might want. Additionally, it is through this group that you can progress to the next step. The Korea Snow website is also helpful.

Step 2: Get a season pass
Pick a resort and get a pass for it. I think it's possible to get a multi-resort pass (or it SHOULD be, darnit!) but if you're going to just go with one resort, then I recommend High1. I've heard Phoenix is good too. You also might want to check out the facilities at Pyeongchang, which are being upgraded for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics. High 1 is ideal for beginners and snowboarders, although if you are an intermediate/advanced skier/snowboarder then you'll enjoy the relatively empty non-beginner slopes as the crowds trip over each other on the bunny slopes.

The passes sell for much less if you get them early in the year. I ordered mine for High 1 in September, and the prices at the time were as follows:

Man without bus: 300,000won

Man with bus: 352,000won

Lady without bus: 190,000won

Lady with bus: 236,000won

Option A: You can book that all online if you speak/read Korean, through the High1 website or through 3rd-party sellers like Gmarket. I'm afraid I can't help with that, because I went with option B.

Option B: The easiest way to do it is through John Shaw and his wife, Choi Jiyeong. They post on the facebook group and will organise your season pass and bus pass for you, as well as booking your bus each time you ski and your gear rentals, for a very very small fee. The service they provide is amazing!  They have stopped taking orders for this season, and will probably start up again sometime in September for the next season. Keep an eye on the facebook group.  My ski pass arrived in the first week of December. I also received two images on my phone. The one with my picture on it is the bus pass and the other is for ski rental. I have my own ski clothes.

Accommodation: If you're coming from Daegu, the odds are that the bus will drop you off at the Valley Ski House. There is a pretty good motel just five minutes' walk down the road (if you take the shortcut through the bus parking lot) called the Goodstay High Valley Hotel. You can book a room online here. The room was comfortable, the bathtub was soothing for achy ski muscles and we were able to order pizza to the room as well. I was able to use my KEB credit card on the Agoda website but others have had problems. Apparently you can book via the hotel's website as well.

Step 3: Get to the resort
With your bus pass in hand (on your phone or printed out), and the bus booked by Jiyeong, head to your pick-up point a little ahead of time. It's best to wear your ski clothes on the bus (everyone else does) to save time when you arrive at the resort. Take a book, a pillow, an eye mask, or whatever you need and settle in for the long nap as you head to the resort. My bus left at 4:50am and the pick-up point was really close to my apartment. People on the bus were all extremely quiet and friendly and the bus driver was one of the friendliest ajeossis I've ever met. He didn't turn the heat up too high although I've heard that's a problem on some buses.

At some point during the trip (usually when you arrive at the resort) a dude will walk through the bus to scan the barcodes on your bus pass. It's the image that looks like this:

Travel light to save time as well. I brought the absolute minimum, so I didn't have to worry about loading the bus. It's also a bit of a walk when you're on your way home so you don't want to be lugging a huge bag with you.

Step 4: Get your ski ticket
Once you get off the bus, follow the crowds through the front doors of the ski house and to the right. Stand in line at the "Season Bus" desk and show them the image with bar codes and NOT your picture. If the desk is closed (as it is in this picture), then go outside, down the escalator, turn right and go into the "Season Bus Lounge". You must do this in the ski house where you were dropped off. I was dropped off at Valley but Boyfriend had to do all of his at Mountain. They are connected to each other by a gondola if you're in the wrong place.

The season bus desk:

Season bus lounge:

What you must show them:

What you get:

Complete the form with your details.

Step 5: Get your gear
I didn't rent clothes but I imagine it works much the same as the ski rental. Get a ticket, fill out details, and go where you need to go.

For skis, head to this desk:

You'll hand in the top part with your passport or ARC and keep the bottom part to return the skis and get your ID back when you're done. They will tell you what time to return the skis. If you're skiing for two days but don't have a night rental, you need to repeat this process both days. They'll give you your stuff, and you can find a bench somewhere to sit and put everything on.

When you're done struggling, stash your things in a locker. You need two 500 won coins to operate the locker, and if you want to open and close it again you'll need to pay again, so make sure you have everything you need.

Step 6: Ski!
You're done! Hit the slopes, have fun, be careful not to crash into babies on skis or beginner snowboarders, and see you at the top! For lunch, I recommend the cafeteria-style food at the restaurant at Valley Hub, or KFC down at the Valley ski house at the very bottom. The rotating restaurant at the peak has good food but it's very expensive. Pro-tip: eat an early lunch and beat the rush, then ski while everyone else is eating and enjoy the empty slopes.

Step 7: Going home
Return your stuff, get your things out of the locker, and head down to the bus parking lot that you cut through to get to the Goodstay High Valley Hotel. Follow the crowds and ask for help if you're confused. The buses are all there. It's a little tricky finding the right one, but if you ask nicely, they'll be happy to help you. Your name should be on the driver's list so it should be pretty hard to get on the wrong bus.

I went to my bus at 4pm and was able to nap there until it left at 5pm.

walking to the buses at the end of the trip

I couldn't have done it without John Shaw and Choi Jiyeong, and highly recommend them to anyone. Ski rental for the weekend came to 24k won, and the hotel was much cheaper than the resort condos as well. The bus (as part of my season pass) was free to ride, so the weekend ended up being really cheap. It's definitely worth the investment if you plan to ski a lot during the season, and I was amazed by how easy it ended up being.

Comparing prices with the group package tours, if you only ski once it's more expensive. But if you ski more than once, suddenly it's MUCH less expensive. I think you break even after two or three trips. It's even cheaper if you book a room with a group of friends, sleeping on the floor, and split those costs. You also get more ski-time because the admin stuff is quicker when it's just for you and not 200 sleepy/drunk foreigners.

Group Package tour: KRW 219,000
Season pass (lady with bus option): KRW 236,000
Hotel (couple room): KRW 80,000
Rentals(skis and boots, 2 days, no night skiing): KRW 24,000
Total cost of first trip: KRW 340,000
Cost of trips thereafter: KRW 104,000