Embrace Korean-style après ski for a unique experience off the slopes.
South Korean ski resorts get far less attention from the foreign crowd than neighbouring Japan’s. Skiing in Korea is a relatively new phenomenon; Korea’s first resort was built in the mid-seventies, decades after skiing’s boom in Japan. As a result, Korean resorts are somewhat undeveloped and cater less to foreign après ski demands. If you’re expecting a Niseko-style bar scene, you might be disappointed.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that your day is done once the lifts have stopped spinning. Embracing Korean-style après ski will give you a fascinating insight into a culture that values eating and drinking as much as any.
Here are 7 things you should know about the après ski scene in Korea.
1. Koreans love to drink
Whether it’s after a long day on the slopes or not, Koreans love to drink. A survey done by Euromonitor in 2014 found that South Koreans drink more hard liquor than any other nationality in the world. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed the onslaught of soju at a Korean social gathering.
Soju, for those unfamiliar, is a clear distilled spirit that is ubiquitous in Korea. It’s popular for a couple of reasons, taste unfortunately not one of them. Its shockingly low pricetag (US$1.50/375ml bottle) and modest ABV (~20%) make it a worthy post-ski beverage. If you’re in the company of Koreans, be prepared to drink a lot. In South Korea, your ability to consume alcohol is measured by the number of bottles you can put away, not shots.
2. Be careful not to offend
Drinking in Korea is no joke. If you’re sat at a table with Koreans, you’ll be expected to abide by an elaborate set of drinking rules. Koreans will tell you that their drinking etiquette is rooted in Confucian values. But no doubt it was also contrived with intent to embarrass the unsuspecting waygook.
Acknowledging a couple of basic principles will keep you out of strife. First and foremost, never make a grab for your own bottle. Soju, like Korean food, is always shared. If your glass is empty (it won’t be for long), don’t fill it up yourself. Wait until someone else offers to pour your drink. You can return the favour later on.
Secondly, when giving or accepting anything in South Korea, you must do so with two hands. This applies both to pouring a drink and receiving one. If using both hands is too cumbersome, it’s acceptable to simply grab the wrist of your dominant hand.
Lastly, it’s customary to turn away from the table when you shot your drink. Eye contact is considered rude!
3. Food is a must
In South Korea, alcohol is nearly always accompanied by food. Because of this, Western-style bars are not especially popular. On the ski slopes, they’re all but non-existent. Therefore, you can expect to do much of your post-ski imbibing in restaurants. If that sounds disappointingly low-key, have faith that the quality of food will more than make up for it.
Korean food is taking off worldwide as people discover there’s more to the cuisine than kimchi and gristly beef. If you’re a fan of spicy food, you’ll be in your element. Dangerous levels of chili are present in many of Korea’s most popular dishes. If that’s a turn-off, chimaek (chicken and makeju/beer) might be a more appealing alternative.
4. Be prepared to sing
Noraebang, known elsewhere as karaoke, is an obsession in South Korea. Noraebang literally translates to ‘song room’, an apt name for what is essentially karaoke in a private booth. Korean enthusiasm for this pastime is legendary. It’s an integral part of any night out in Korea—as quintessentially Korean as soju.
Not surprisingly, noraebang is also a popular après ski activity and a must-do for anyone new to Korea. Many noraebang also sell beer if you’re into that sort of thing!
5. Pamper yourself at a jimjilbang
If after a strenuous day of skiing you feel like pampering your body rather than wreaking havoc on it at the pub, a jimjilbang might just be your best option. A Jimjilbang is a bathhouse-slash-sauna-slash-salon—Korea’s answer to the onsen. As in Japan, the baths are gender-segregated and swimwear is prohibited. Couples or families can reconvene in the ondol-heated rooms.
Some of the more lavish jimjilbang will have noraebang, snack bars, massage chairs, computer and DVD rooms. Perhaps even gym facilities. For all of this, you very rarely pay more than a paltry ₩10,000 or US$8.70.
6. Why stop skiing?
If you’re trying to pack in as much skiing as godly possible, South Korea’s ski resorts are here to accommodate you. At a time when most of Korea is reaching for its next bottle of soju, plenty of hardy skiers are still carving it up on the slopes. That’s because night skiing in South Korea is typically offered until the early hours of the morning. YongPyong Resort, for instance, turns off the lights no earlier than 4am.
Be warned though. If the lack of daylight doesn’t hamper your skiing ability, the bitter cold just might. Temperatures after midnight will be pretty uncomfortable.
7. Take your party to the city
If you’re staying in one of the handful of resorts located within hopping distance from Seoul, you might consider taking the party back to the capital. Seoul has a nightlife to compete with any major city in the world.
There are three major nightlife districts in Seoul: Itaewon, Gangnam and Hongdae. Itaewon is known among locals as the foreigner district. There’s a big American presence here thanks to an adjacent US military base. But don’t think Itaewon is all Burger Kings and Budweiser. It has the biggest selection of ethnic restaurants in Seoul. If you’re after good quality beer, Western style pubs and English menus, Itaewon is your best bet.
Gangnam, yes that Gangnam, is where the city’s most fashionable go to be seen. Gangnam is known for its designer shops and sparkly nightclubs. But veer off the main road and you’ll find that Gangnam has a much more interesting underbelly. Contrary to its extravagent exterior, Gangnam is host to some of the best barbeque joints around. Just know that your ski gear might look a little odd among the K-pop crowd.
More Korean than Itaewon and more relaxed than Gangnam, Hongdae is our pick for best post-ski destination. Home to a number of Seoul’s top universities, this student-dominated area has an abundance of restaurants and bars to suit all tastes and budgets. Its colorful streets and boho vibe make it one of the more interesting spots to nurse your bruised muscles (or ego).