Ski, don’t gam­ble

A for­mer coal min­ing town has been trans­formed into one of South Korea’s best ski re­sorts. there’s also a treat­ment cen­tre to han­dle ad­dicts to the nearby casino.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OUTDOORS - By MATTHEW C. CRAW­FORD

DRIV­ING into Go­han-eup, in South Korea’s Gang­won Prov­ince, it’s easy to mis­take the iso­lated ham­let for just an­other ski town.

Go­han serves as the gate­way to the High1 Re­sort, and shops stocked with skis and snow­boards line the road through the nar­row moun­tain val­ley. In be­tween the rental shops, though, at­ten­tive vis­i­tors will no­tice just as many pawn shops and loan agencies.

The pawn shops (la­beled “jeon­dan­gsa” in Go­han) don’t tar­get ski bums, but gam­blers. They sig­nal the prox­im­ity of Kang­won Land, the only casino in South Korea where lo­cals are al­lowed in. The de­vel­oper has fol­lowed up the casino with the ski hill, a golf course and var­i­ous other ven­tures.

How­ever, one would have to dig deeper into the town’s past to dis­cover that it has only re­cently be­come a re­treat for thrill seek­ers. Go­han was a coal min­ing town un­til 1989, when op­er­a­tions wound down. The clos­est city is Tae­baek, the most fa­mous Korean coal town of all, and there used to be nearly 50 ac­tive mines in the area.

On the white

Ac­cord­ing to a face­tious adage, if the moun­tain­ous ter­rain of Korea was com­pletely ironed out, the coun­try would be as large as China. Bar­ring the ex­is­tence of a cos­mic steam­roller, though, Korea is likely to re­main an ideal coun­try for year­long hik­ing and for ski­ing and snow­board­ing in win­ter.

Though the snow some­times falls in mod­er­a­tion and melts early in spring, the coun­try’s win­ter sports in­dus­try has crys­tallised over the past decade or so. A high point for South Korea came in 2011 when it won its bid for the 2018 Win­ter Olympics.

While Ja­pan has more than 600 ski re­sorts and North Korea has re­cently opened its first (Masik Pass, a pet project of young leader Kim Jong-un) the South cur­rently has 17. Choos­ing a place to ski or snow­board is a ques­tion of prox­im­ity, as well as the num­ber and qual­ity of the runs. For Lee Dong-il, an em­ployee at Board Korea in Non­hyeon-dong, south­ern Seoul, the na­tion’s re­tail hub for win­ter sports, the al­laround best ski hill is High1.

“First of all, I like its clean fa­cil­i­ties. Sec­ond it has a lot of dif­fer­ent slopes,” he said as he used a power screw­driver to fix a set of bind­ings onto a newly pur­chased snow­board. He also spoke highly of the se­lec­tion of jumps at the ter­rain park and the long half-pipe.

Ul­ti­mately, though, Lee says he just likes the at­mos­phere of the place. While most re­sorts fea­ture runs on two or three sides of a sin­gle moun­tain, High1’s feed down the ad­join­ing slopes of a val­ley; they are steep and mostly of intermediate or ad­vanced dif­fi­culty. Most of the hill’s reg­u­lars are snow­board­ers who travel up from the Gyeongsang prov­inces.

High1 opened in 2007 and is one of the high­est lo­cal re­sorts, top­ping out at 1,340m (Yong­py­ong Re­sort’s gon­do­las un­load about 100m higher). The wind­ing 4km run from Zeus 2 to Zeus 3 also com­petes with Yong­py­ong’s Rain­bow Par­adise (5.6km) in sheer dis­tance and De­ogyu­san Re­sort’s Silk Road, the coun­try’s long­est at 6.1km.

But beginners and ex­perts alike will prob­a­bly want to avoid High1’s Zeus route. The nar­row course at­tracts a deadly mix of un­sure beginners and rene­gade ad­vanced board­ers who use it as a mov­ing ob­sta­cle course. Beginners can find a less nerve-rack­ing prac­tice slope in Athena 1, be­low the Moun­tain Hub. Mean­while, ex­perts can hit the slopes la­beled or­ange and pur­ple, which are de­pop­u­lated even on week­ends. The ar­ti­fi­cial snow on these steep cour­ses is well groomed, with not too many icy patches.

The re­sort has also taken prac­ti­cal Korean ski in­no­va­tions to a new level. Like the coun­try’s sub­way sta­tions, the lifts are equipped with au­to­mated turn­stiles and elec­tronic sen­sors for lift passes. The gon­dola sys­tem, too, is in­ge­nious. Each of the con­dos and ho­tels (and even the dis­tant golf course ho­tel) has a gon­dola board­ing sta­tion, with ser­vice straight to the top. The wait time for the Moun­tain Gon­dola was tol­er­a­ble even on a Satur­day af­ter­noon, while at Kon­jiam Re­sort, only 30 min­utes from Gangnam, south­ern Seoul, wait times on the weekend stretched to half an hour.

Like other lo­cal re­sorts, High1 of­fers a grab bag of lift pass op­tions – 10 of them, in fact, from “Day­time” (8.30am-5pm) to “Night/ Morn­ing” (6.30pm-1am). Night ski­ing is an ex­cel­lent op­tion for those on a tight sched­ule, the budget-savvy or the crowd-averse who don’t mind the ex­tra chill in the air.

The re­sort even man­ages to at­tract people who nei­ther ski nor snow­board. Af­ter buy­ing a “Tourist Gon­dola” pass, these in­ter­lop­ers can en­joy a lunch with a com­mand­ing view at the Moun­tain Top Restau­rant.

In­for­ma­tion about High1 is avail­able in Korean, English, Ja­panese and Chi­nese at www. high1.com.

In the red

Fur­ther down the hill from the High1 lodge is the im­pos­si­ble-to-miss Kang­won Land com­plex. A slice of Ma­cau in the heart of the Tae­baek Moun­tain Range, it’s il­lu­mi­nated at night with a full spec­trum of light­ing tech­nol­ogy. It is also fronted by a twin­kling fairy tale cas­tle that looks de­cep­tively solid but is ac­tu­ally a “Potemkin cas­tle”.

Of the 17 casi­nos in South Korea, only Kang­won Land can ad­mit lo­cal gam­blers. This exclusive priv­i­lege was se­cured in 1995 with the Spe­cial Act on the As­sis­tance to the De­vel­op­ment of Aban­doned Mine Ar­eas, and the casino started tak­ing bets in 2003.

The ad­ja­cent build­ing also houses the KL Ad­dic­tion Care Cen­ter. In­ter­est­ingly, prob­lem gam­blers can be banned upon their own Go­han Sta­tion can be reached in about 3.5 hours by train from Cheongnyangni Sta­tion, Seoul. a shut­tle bus to the Casino and Moun­tain Ski House leaves from Go­han Sta­tion ev­ery 15 min­utes dur­ing peak hours. buses de­part from dong Seoul bus ter­mi­nal, east­ern Seoul, to Shin Go­han, a short taxi ride from Go­han-eup. re­quest, through the in­ter­ven­tion of fam­ily mem­bers or by the es­tab­lish­ment it­self. For those who pass the in­spec­tion process and se­cure a ticket, the only re­main­ing ob­sta­cles are a metal de­tec­tor and bag­gage scan­ner. Pho­tog­ra­phy is not al­lowed and cam­eras are sealed in plas­tic pouches at this point.

On the Satur­day evening when we vis­ited, the spa­cious hall was packed. Play­ers had to wait at the edges of roulette ta­bles for a chance to snag a seat and buy a stack of chips from the dealer. Though some of the vis­i­tors were young Kore­ans fresh off the slopes, most were over the hill.

Lee Dong-il, the snow­board shop em­ployee, added, “I un­der­stand why High1 is not open af­ter mid­night, so that people spend money at the casino.”

In­ci­den­tally, Gang­won Land doesn’t rely on free food or al­co­hol to lure guests, a fall­back strat­egy of many casi­nos. Com­pli­men­tary juice and soft drinks are on tap next to a row of bac­carat ta­bles on the fifth floor, but at the restau­rant a plate of curry and rice goes for 26,000 won (RM80).

Thrill seek­ers on a budget will surely be dis­cour­aged by this, and may want to stay at High1, closer to the nu­mer­ous St­eff Hot­dog stands and the slip­pery, habit-form­ing slopes. – Korea Herald/Asia News Net­work

Edi­tor’s note: ski­ing is prob­a­bly a far health­ier habit than gam­bling.

South Korea is big on ski­ing. Here,

Gim So-Hui com­petes in the Women’s Gi­ant Slalom race dur­ing

the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

With 17 ski re­sorts, win­ter sports are well de­vel­oped in south Korea. Here Lee Kwang-Ki com­petes in the Men’s snow­board Half­pipe qual­i­fi­ca­tions dur­ing the sochi Win­ter Olympics.

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