Monday, 17 February 2014

Winter Olympics: Sochi On TV, PyeongChang On The Slopes!

(Seollal traffic!)

Now that the 2014 Sochi Olympic games are on TV, I needed to blog about our recent visit to the venue of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics during the recent holidays!

                      (The PyeongChang welcome sign)

                           (Ethan and his ski instructor)

That day, everyone else was heading out of Seoul. It was the annual homecoming for Seollal! The lunar new year tradition in Korea when everyone packed their overnight bags to travel to their hometowns to visit families and pay respects to their ancestors. 

Some families took the KTX from major train stations, others drove their cars, and the rest must have taken the plane or the buses. And on that day, my Filipino friends and I experienced first hand the traffic caused by the exodus of everyone heading out of Seoul.

                          (The queue for the gondola)

On the first day of the 4-day weekend  (5 for some!), I rode with Archie, Joy and Miggy heading to the Pyeongchang County's Alpensia Resort to spend the weekend at its snowy slopes along with our group of friends. Everyone drove down there and spent about four hours on the road. Though I am used to sitting on buses for hours, five to six at the most, during my trips to the Korean countryside all these years, this one was one of the earliest bus rides out of the city, not counting the ones I used to take to Incheon International Airport to catch the 8:30AM flights, or the one I took to the 2012 Yeosu Expo.

The Pyeongchang County in Gangwon Province will host the 2018 winter olympics, just four years away. I was actually here just 12 months before for the Pyeongchang Special Olympics, although it was just a day trip. And this time, we were staying for the weekend!

After driving and following the navigator for more than four hours, we finally got there at about 10AM (we left Seoul before 6AM). We survived the huge Seollal traffic along Highway 60 and bottlenecks before a few tunnels and interchanges. And thanks to Archie and his collection OPM music, the entire ride was fun, interesting and smooth.

The Alpensia Resort consists of the Intercontinental Resorts and the Holiday Inn Resorts with facilities such as the convention center and a spa. And of course, snowy slopes during winter for skiing and snowboarding. Or if you just want to learn, an area for ski lessons.  
                                     (Night skiing)
(A DJ spins by the slopes at night for some house music)

                    (The view of the slopes from our unit)

It was a fun weekend. Just what city people needed. A place where we didn't have listen to noisy cars and buses, or endure the noisy vegetable trucks with wailing louderspeakers in the neighborhood. This was place serene, peaceful and of course, cold! And the sights and landscapes even from the window of our rented unit was something out of a winter postcard. Here in Hannam-dong home, I could see Gwanak-san from my kitchen window. There at Alpensia, I could see a ski slope white with snow and full of skiers!  

                                   (The ski jump tower)
                                 (Our monorail ticket)

As this resort will be the venue of the Olympic ski jump and Nordic Combined events, I made sure I'd visit the venue. It's a 700-meter tall tower with a monorail that ferries the skiers to the jumping ledges. That day, it ferried Filipino tourists, not Filipino Olympians. Ha-ha-ha! 

                     (That's the see-through walkway)
               (The see-through steel floor looking down)

For those afraid of heights, walking at the see-through floor towards the jump hill for warm-ups wouldn't be a memorable experience for the right reasons. As I walked through the steel floor, I could see the ground below through the spaces between the steel bars that were holding me up a few hundred meters above the ground and being blown over by freezing wind and acrophobia (the fear of heights). So as not to be overwhelmed by the fact that, if there was a huge earthquake and it shook the whole structure apart, I'd be buried under an avalanche of steel made by Posco, and not under a snow pile. Ha-ha-ha!

I enjoyed standing there, actually. And I hope Archie, Joy and Toti did, too.

The ski jump tower at the top floor has a cafe and a shop for souvenirs! This means that the Olympians who'll attempt to ski jump to a gold medal in 2018 can also go shopping and have a hot cafe mocha after the event!

             (Alpensia resort as seen from the ski jump tower)
        (A Korean movie about ski jumping was filmed there)

Though not all restaurants were open at the resort due to the lunar new year holiday, we ended up ordering pizza and buying food from those that were open, although we brought some cooked food with us. Our units had their own living rooms and kitchens that were complete with pans, plates, utensils and appliances. We just made sure we had everything covered. Some friends even brought spirits and wines! And we had a party! For two nights we were there, we gathered at the Nardos and Murphys' units at the separate cluster, where chatting, drinking and dining started early and ended late!  
         (Snacks at the ski jump tower: the hot cafe mocha 
                          and churros weren't bad)
                               (The tower's souvenir shop)
                     (Wind energy turbines from afar)

So, as I am watching the short track races of the 2014 Sochi Olympics while I finish this blog, I wonder how crazy the atmosphere will be at Alpensia Resort four years from now when not only weekend tourists like us descend upon the countryside, but Olympians, delegates and fans crowd the county during the two weeks of the games.  

But the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics are still four winters away. In the meantime, thanks to the Sabados for the ride, to the Zaras for the accommodation, and everyone else for the fun during the Seollal holidays at Alpensia Resort. We hit the slopes four years ahead of the Olympians! 

And who knows? Maybe in 2018, some of us will still be here in Korea, and Michael Christian Martinez, the lone Filipino Olympian-figure skater at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, won't be the only Filipino at PyeongChang in 2018.


  1. Hi Alphonse, this is a bit off topic but can you tell me, how, as someone living in the US (me), can get a hold of the K-Drama calendar for a reasonable price? I read somewhere that they are sent by the Korea Tourism Organization but upon looking at the website, I cannot find anything...

    1. I'm not sure if KTO gives away those kdrama posters these days. I was there the other weekend and what they gave away are Korean wall calendars with Korean sceneries but with Chinese descriptions. Obviously, they are meant for Chinese tourists.

      Why don't you try at website? They have a site for English users. Good luck!

  2. Hello Alphonse :D Thanks for this informative post. I'm planning to visit Pyeongchang in 2018 to watch figure skating in the olympics. Do you perhaps know good travel agencies in the Philippines who are knowledgeable and experienced in handling trips like this? Thanks for your reply :)

    1. Hi Anna. I don't know of any travel agencies doing this as of now. Maybe when it's closer to 2018, there will be a few. Or you can book your hotels and tickets directly on the net, and pay cheaper rates. Good luck!