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Ski resorts open up runs for extreme sledding: As fewer people strap on skis, mountains offer diverse attractions

Jan 16,2020
Visitors enjoy a rafting sled at Snowy Land operated by Vivaldi Park, a local ski resort, located in Hongcheon, Gangwon. With a declining skiing population, the country’s ski resorts are adding sledding slopes to make up for the loss. [BAEK JONG-HYUN]
Top: Racing sled slopes of 30 degrees and 20 degrees at Snowy Land. Above: Sledding slopes at Snow Village, operated by Phoenix Pyeongchang, located in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, are textured, providing a thrilling and bumpy ride. [BAEK JONG-HYUN, LIM HYUN-DONG]
PYEONGCHANG, Gangwon - Sledding has long been considered something supplementary to the fun you can have at local ski resorts. But that is about to change.

As the number of skiers in the country decreases, the country’s ski resorts are expanding their sledding facilities to attract thrill-seeking visitors.

Whether you can’t afford to purchase a season pass or simply don’t know how to ski, it doesn’t really matter. You can still let loose at snow-covered ski resorts, which offer plenty of things to enjoy other than skiing and snowboarding. You can take a walk around ice sculptures or revisit your childhood by steering a plastic sled down the mountains at ski resorts these days.

Of all the ski resorts that offer snow sled options, JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, chose two destinations - Phoenix Pyeongchang’s Snow Village and Vivaldi Park’s Snowy Land - that you should check out.

Sledding under the moonlight

Phoenix Pyeongchang, located in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, is often considered a must-visit for snowboarders. But the resort put more effort into developing its sledding slopes this season with the opening of its Snow Village, which is nestled right next to the ski slopes.

Among various attractions, the signature one is a slope that stretches about 150 meters (492 feet) long.

The slope is not particularly long compared to the others at the resort, but it is curved and bumpy and was built by the team at Phoenix Pyeongchang that was involved in producing the official slopes for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018.

“If you think the sled is going down too fast, you can ease the speed with your feet. Hold on tight to the handles. Off you go,” an employee told visitors at the top of the 150-meter-long sledding slope.

Every child screamed as they went down the hill.

Ride operators push the sleds off with their hands. As the sleds are manually operated, people can request the speed they want before they take off. Some said “Push me hard” while others said, “Push me gently.”

This reporter asked the operator to take him for a spin, but it didn’t take long to regret the request. The sled kept bumping into the rails thanks to the uneven surface of the ice. It took only 20 seconds to descend, but it felt much longer than that.

Slopes with a more gradual descent are available for younger visitors.

Diverse attractions were scattered near the sledding slopes. One particularly fun thing to try out were snowmobiles, available for both adults and children and equipped with handles and brakes.

A larger-than-life maze made out of snow is available to explore along with some snow sculptures of various shapes and sizes, depicting Santa Claus and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The sculptures were carved by a group of Chinese professionals who also made sculptures for the Taebaeksan Snow Festival.

Snow Village glows even more at night when all the of the sculptures are lit up. The pine forest that surrounds the ski resort and the moving walkway that takes visitors from the bottom of the resort to the top are all lit up as well.

Night passes are valid beginning at 6 p.m.

Adrenaline rush

Snowy Land at Vivaldi Park first opened two years ago, and it was the first snow theme park created by a local ski resort.

Across 109,000 square meters (1.2 million square feet), four different types of sledding slopes are available along with an attraction zone that includes igloos and a playground.

Snowy Land is situated 460 meters above Mount Maebong, which is located 650 meters above sea level. A gondola takes visitors from the entrance of the ski resort to Snowy Land in eight minutes.

Unlike most of the sledding facilities designed for visitors to enjoy while reminiscing about their childhood, those at Snowy Land have been made to enhance thrills.

Every sled slope has a “thrill level” indicator which provides a number of stars depending on how intense the run will be. A slope with four stars is the most thrilling while slopes with fewer stars are more child-friendly.

Vivaldi Park’s Snowy Racing runs are the scariest ones at the snow park.

Of the two Snowy Racing runs, the first one has three stars, with a slope of 20 degrees, while the other has a slope of 30 degrees and four stars. The incline of the second one is equivalent to that of a ski jump.

Anyone taller than 110 centimeters (3 feet, 7 inches) can ride the three-star Snowy Racing slope, while the other is only available to those taller than 130 centimeters.

Even adults can’t stop themselves from shrieking when they go down the four-star Snowy Racing slope. The thrilling attraction has the longest wait time at the snow park.

The slopes of Snowy Racing look similar to water slides because Vivaldi Park, which also operates the water park Ocean World, applies the same techniques it uses at the water park to its snow park. A tube with two seats is used for all sledding.

This reporter managed to find a steel-hearted companion to join him on a run down the slope. The speed was enough to knock a hat off your head.

If you want to get the most out of the Snowy Racing slopes, be there at 10 a.m. when the snow park opens. The quality of snow is at its best in the morning, making it the best time to slide.

The rafting sled is a newly-added attraction in the park. It has three stars. The slope isn’t that high, but its six-seater boat is especially popular among families.

A playground zone furnished with snow toys such as a snowman maker was packed with children frolicking in the snow.

Snowy Land has seen an increase in the number of tourists, especially from Southeast Asia, in recent years. Last winter, the snow theme park had 18,000 non-Korean tourists and 88 percent of them were from Southeast Asia. They love to spend time in snow, but most of them are new to skiing, so the snow park is a perfect fit for them.

Vivaldi Park operates free shuttle buses that stop at major tourist spots in Seoul including Hongdae, Myeong-dong and Seoul Station, and the buses are exclusively on offer for foreigners.

In order to provide more options to its visitors, the park recently added a halal-certified restaurant as well.

A 20-year-old tourist named Laini from Malaysia said, “This is the first time [I have seen] snow in my life. It was the first time for me to ride a sled, too. I feel like I’m a child.”

BY BAEK JONG-HYUN [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Snow Village

Hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. All-day passes cost 25,000 won ($21) for adults and children alike, and the price goes down to 17,000 for to those who stay a night at the hotels and resorts operated by Phoenix Pyeongchang. General tickets are also available for 15,000 won. But the ticket does not include any rides. A free shuttle bus departs for Snow Village from the entrance of Phoenix Pyeongchang every 20 minutes.

Snowy Land

Two types of passes are available: an all-day pass and a night pass. With the all-day pass, visitors are able to stay at the park from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. All-day passes cost 43,000 won for adults and children, and the night pass costs 33,000 won. The night pass is valid from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Those who stay at hotels and resorts operated by Vivaldi Park are eligible to get a 10 percent discount. Shuttle buses from 75 spots in Seoul and Gyeonggi to the snow park are available for free for everyone.