S. Korea's 2018 Winter Olympics venue: Spectacular Pyeongchang
Figure skater Kim Yu-na may have drawn attention to South Korea with her cool choreography and winning smile, but when it comes to winter sports in the country, the world knows little else.
The good news is that Pyeongchang -- the mountain resort region with 40,000 permanent residents that’s just secured its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics -- has plenty of time to repackage itself as a world-class winter sports destination.
Located 182 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in the spectacular southern part of Gangwon Province, Pyeongchang sits at 700 meters above sea level in one of the most rugged, mountainous regions of the country, an area often referred to as “Korea’s Alps.”
From Seoul, it currently takes about three hours and thirty minutes to get to Pyeongchang by road. The South Korean government plans to shorten that time to just 50 minutes, with a new high-speed train scheduled for completion in 2017.
Korea’s first ski resort
With typically heavy winter snowfall and a variety of ski slopes, Pyeongchang is among the most popular skiing and snowboarding areas in Korea.
It was the site of the first organized skiing tournament in Korea in 1949. The country’s first official ski resort was built in Pyeongchang in 1975.
Pyeongchang already has in place seven of the 13 competition venues required by the International Olympic Committee, including venues for cross-country skiing, ski jumping and biathlon.
Those wanting to hit the slopes to be used by Olympic competitors can visit Alpensia or Phoenix Park. The two resorts also have well-known water parks -- Blue Canyon and Ocean 700, respectively -- open during summer.
Visit Pyeongchang now
Though most popular in winter, Pyeongchang hosts an array of summer sports, festivals and warm-weather resort activities.
“Visitors can head to the beach, go hiking, fishing or rail biking without spending too much time on the road,” said Chung Byoung-gug, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in an interview with The Korea Times.
Kangwon Land Hotel & Casino is the only casino where locals can gamble.
High1 Resort offers golf courses, ski slopes and hiking tours.
The backdrop of one of the most famous novels in South Korea, “The Time of the Buckwheat Flowers,” the village of Hyoseok will hold its annual Hyoseok Cultural Festival this year from September 9 to 18.
Featuring movie screenings, traditional performances and literature contests, the event provides an early opportunity to get to know the mountain beauty and rich culture of Pyeongchang. It’s almost as enticing, even without the winter snow.