"Quirky" is the word Ben Clatworthy describes skiing in South Korea, but would you sacrifice a holiday in the Alps for the unknown?

Next Stop - Olympia

"There’s something quirky about skiing in South Korea. And it’s strangely addictive", says Ben Clatworthy.

Few people had heard of South Korea’s skiing credentials before the International Olympic Committee awarded it the 2018 Winter Olympic Games - staving off competition from both Munich and Annecy. South Korea, with its mere 17 resorts, and handful of ski lifts, seemed a baffling choice.

Keen to discover this seemingly bizarre skiing location, I found myself landing at the crack of dawn in Seoul on a bitterly cold February morning setting off to the region of Pyeongchang - the host of the 2018 Olympics.

Our first stop is at Phoenix Park. This is the resort two hours’ drive east of Seoul that will host the Olympic freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. It’s a striking juxtaposition - the vast wilderness interrupted by a purpose-built ski resort.

At the base, industrial buildings cluster around the resort’s only gondola and the main ‘ski house’. Here there’s equipment rental, sports shops and a restaurant, which, although it looks like a school canteen, serves wonderful guksu jangguk - noodles in tasty hot broth - for about £8. Once we’ve had our fill and negotiated the rental shop - “you want one ski, or two?” - we head to the mountain.

There’s a mix of very slow chairlifts, the type found in France 20 years ago, and a single gondola, which serves the so-called ‘Mont Blanc’ peak, at just over 1,000m. In spite of the resort’s claims of having 22 pistes, it feels as though there are only ten ‘proper’ runs. The longest is Panorama, which measures an “impressive 2.2km”, and descends from the top of the gondola to the bottom. In terms of terrain, the resort reminds me of Cypress Mountain, where the freestyle events of the Vancouver Games in 2010 were held. I spend the afternoon zipping about the slopes - all of which are signposted only in Korean, making it well nigh impossible for me to locate myself on the piste map.

Whistle - stop tour complete, it’s on to my second resort, YongPyong. This is the country’s largest resort, with 16 lifts and 31 slopes and the main venue for the Games, with a temporary Olympic stadium, capable of seating 50,000 people, due for construction.

YongPyong caters best for the international market, with several apartment blocks, and the Dragon Valley hotel - the resort’s most upmarket place to stay. I eschew the chance to stay in a traditional Korean ‘ondol’ room - where you sleep on a heated floor with a blanket and yoga-type mat - and opt for a Western bedroom.

The next morning, I set out to tackle what will be the main Olympic slopes. We explore the Rainbow sector, whose three pistes will be used for the Slalom and Giant Slalom at the Olympics. It’s the mountain’s one steeper area and is served by a high-speed chairlift. We also mosey around the gentle Red and Gold Zones, both of which have wide easy breezy slopes, served by a number of fast and slow chairlifts. All the skiing at YongPyong is below the treeline, and I look out over rolling hills of dense deciduous forests that were snowless.

Huge advertising hoardings flank the sides of the pistes, and tinny classical music rings out from battered loudspeakers. The tunes range from wartime concert hall to Last Night of the Proms, and are interspersed by muffled safety announcements. The experience is somewhat surreal.

Like most things in South Korea, the sport can be enjoyed by moonlight (or rather powerful floodlights). There’s a brief hiatus, while the groomers work their magic, but once complete, it’s all systems go until around midnight. It’s after this that the après-ski properly kicks-off underground at the resort’s emporium of bars and arcades. Karaoke is by far the most popular après of choice.

South Korea may not have the long pistes, glitzy bars or restaurants, but skiing is not about that here. Seeing how other cultures adapt to any sport is fascinating, and all the more so when that country is preparing to host a Winter Games. I found a quirkiness I shan’t forget - from the tinny music to the compressor pumps that clean snow off your skis at the end of the day.

Of course you’re unlikely to take the 12-hour flight solely to ski in South Korea. But combining it with a trip to Japan’s internationally acclaimed resorts - allows you to ski the best of the Far East and sit back in front of the TV next season and say: “Yes, I’ve skied that.”

Credit: Korea Tourism Org/visitkorea.or.kr

This featured in Issue 1 of Ski+board - click here to view the full issue.