This weekend, Nicole and I went snowboarding in Muju, South Korea. It’s about two hours away from Gwangju by bus. Nicole found a coupon online to rent gear, get a bus to the mountain, get a lift pass, and lessons all for about $100. I asked one of my Korean coworkers, Lizzy, to help me book the trip. After a lot of back and forth between the company, Lizzy, and myself, the plans were made.
One does not simply walk into Muju
Nicole and I woke up at 4:30am, had a small breakfast and headed out the door. We walked to the Emart near my school to wait for the bus. The bus arrived shortly after we did, sometime around 5:40am. There were a few other Koreans who joined us on the bus as well. When we boarded, Nicole and I walked to the back and sat down. The bus was about half full when we departed. What a bus though! There were all kinds of crazy lights on it.
Once the bus got going, Nicole quickly fell asleep while I busied myself with a game called Kingdom Rush. With the bus’ lights on, it was hard to fall asleep so, it was nice to have something to occupy my time. The trip in total took about 2 hours. Eventually, the bus driver turned off the lights on the ceiling so, I was able to get a little bit of sleep.
Arriving at Muju
When we arrived at Muju, Nicole and I were really hungry, but what does one eat at a Korean ski resort? If you guessed American Southern Fried Chicken, then you’re right! Directly adjacent to the slopes is a Popeye’s Chicken. Nicole and I got some delicious fried chicken and fries before we hit the slopes. Nothing to get you going like some fast food.
After “breakfast” we got in line to rent ski pants, pick up our ski passes, and get our tags for ski school. I’ve snowboarded maybe 3 times in my life and by no means am I good, so, ski school was a nice refresher for me. For Nicole, it was necessary as she’d never been snowboarding before and this was maybe the 5th time she’d seen snow in her life.
Ski school was a mix of many different ages and there were as many adults as there were kids, so we didn’t feel too out-of-place, age wise that is. Everyone else in our ski school was Korean, of course, since we’re in Korea. The instructor knew a little bit of English, but it didn’t really matter if you understood what he said since all we needed to do was copy whatever he did. I felt like one of my low-level students with the teacher saying something incomprehensible and me just copying what he did.
I picked up everything that we covered pretty quickly. I can do all the basic things like skate, glide, and J-turns. I was hoping this class would get into carving which would help me, but it was too basic. Instead, I just helped Nicole out. Since this was her first time, she needed a lot of help. In her words, she was the bottom of the ski school class, but I think she did well for her first time. [divider_flat]
Graduating from Ski School
After our two-hour ski school, Nicole and I got some food inside at the absurdly crowded food court. The dining area was divided into several very long tables with maybe a few hundred people at each long table. Almost every single seat in the crowded dining hall was full. With the long tables, it was like dining at Hogwarts, except everyone was Korean and, as far as I know, there were no wizards present.
Snowboarding in Korea
Snowboarding seems to be a relatively recent trend in Korea. People have been skiing for decades, but it seems that snowboarding has only recently become popular. I can only speak for what I saw, but it seems that almost no one in Korea is good at snowboarding, which was fantastic for the Nicole and I because it set the bar nice and low and we felt right at home with our lack of skill.
After lunch, we started slow. Nicole and I took a little conveyor belt up to the halfway mark on one of the smaller bunny hills. I went down with Nicole a few times and just made sure to go slow so she could keep up. We had a great time and I practiced my steering, dodging the many “starfish” stopped on the slope with their arms out (see above).
Later in the day, Nicole and I went up to the top of one of the beginner slopes and made our way down. By this time, Nicole had mastered slowly moving sideways down the mountain and I was almost to the point I could connect a few S-turns.
At the end of the day, Nicole and I returned our gear and headed back to Gwangju on the bus. We had a great day snowboarding and I think we both made a lot of progress. Based on how inexpensive it is here, at least compared to snowboarding in the states, Nicole and I plan to go back several times before the season ends in March.