Sun, Ski and Saké
Venture away from the mainstream slopes this winter to exotic icy climes - the high-tech ski resorts of asia
Intrepid ski bunnies and boarders on the eternal quest for a new snow experience are eschewing traditional European ski resorts in favour of more unusual alpine destinations: the futuristic mega-resorts of South Korea. They present an alluring opportunity to explore runs less skied and a fresh, glühwein-free variety of après-ski. Tapping into the growing demand for far-flung ski travel, Ski Safari, a tour company specialising in multi-destination skiing holidays, now offers tailor-made itineraries to South Korea.
‘Our clients are always looking for something different. Now, with competitive flight prices and more airlines flying to Asia, it’s possible to ski east on a relatively moderate budget,’ explains Andrea Selig of Ski Safari. ‘It’s about getting off the beaten track. Many clients choose a multi-destination ski safari trip to South Korea with the chance to explore the capital Seoul, too – a skiing holiday with a twist.’
Brand new resorts are springing up across the country in eager anticipation of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which is due to be held in the Pyeongchang region, east of Seoul, in the stunning Dragon Valley. These resorts boast Olympic quality skiing facilities around the clock; with many pistes open into the early hours. State-of-the-art snow machines and immaculately groomed runs ensure optimum conditions are standard and skiers are not at the mercy of mother nature. Many resort hotels even feature specialist air hoses to blast the powder from your gear at the end of the day.
For freestyle terrain, snowboarders make for the Phoenix Park Ski Resort, two hours’ drive from Seoul, where the half-pipe and snowboard cross events will be held in 2018. The resort even has its own ‘Mont Blanc’ peak. Those in the know hit the slopes during the week when the pistes are quieter and there’s no danger of long queues for the lifts. At weekends, it’s time to make like a local and party hard – entertainment comes in the form of pumping karaoke bars, luxe spas and huge waterparks. Forget refuelling with cheese fondue, here it’s all about kimchi and sushi. What to wear? Piste style centres around loud, neon skiwear accessorized with furry earmuffs and the latest high-tech gadgets.
South Korea isn’t the only Asian ski destination to ski and be seen this winter. Japan used to be a well-kept secret among powder-junkies but that’s changing. Niseko, in the remote north island, experiences dense falls of some of the lightest and deepest powder snow in the world – around 12 to 15m a year.
With 47km of well-maintained runs and dramatic views over an extinct volcano and alpine backcountry, it’s a soul-stirring region to ski. These days, it’s even possible to venture off piste. For black-run thrills, off-piste ski guides can take you to the best untracked powder locations in the area.
‘Niseko is a bucket list destination for many skiers,’ says Selig. ‘The powder snow makes for world-class boarding and skiing. Yet the surrounding villages are still very traditional in Japanese ski resorts, meaning you get to experience a local way of life, too.’
Once the sun sets, ski-in snow dome ice bars are the place to sip saké and unwind. Or stop off for a dip at an Onsen, the relaxing, hot thermal spring pools that are essential to après ski culture in Japan.
So this winter, it really is possible to escape the crowds in Cloisters or Meribel. For far-out piste perfection, it’s high time to go East.
With the mercury regularly tipping 40 degrees, the stellar coastal city of Dubai isn’t renowned for it’s world-class ski resorts. So of course, Dubai being Dubai, it built one. Ski Dubai is a vast, indoor snow park with five runs of varying difficulty, chairlifts and a freestyle zone for the boarders. There’s even a Snow Bullet zip-line which takes you on an adrenaline-fuelled ride high above the skiiers below. skidxb.com
Before making for the moguls, invest in the latest gadgetry to look as hip off the piste as you do carving up the deep powder.