Tag Archives: snow

Ski trip For The Win: Night-skiing

After an afternoon of snowboarding fail, I was quite keen to go sledding and soothe my bruised ego with something I was reasonably competent at. After a pseudo-Japanese dinner of chicken, cabbage with ramen noodles at the pseudo-Japanese restaurant, we were all sitting in the room resting. Everyone was talking about snowboarding and planning their runs and Julie caught the excitement and announced that she was going skiing. I was not going to miss out on that chance, even if it meant feeling even more useless. So, as the rest went off to brave the intermediate slopes on their snowboards, we went down to the cheaper rental place and acquired skiing gear.

As an absolute beginner, it was interesting to note the differences between skiing gear and snowboarding gear. The first difference is obviously that instead of one board you have two skis and two ski poles, which are a mission to carry up hills – as you invariably end up doing a lot of the time. The boots are also different. I found the snowboarding boots uncomfortable because I felt like I was constantly leaning forward. The ski boots, on the other hand, were actually pretty easy to wear. We didn’t try and wear them walking up from the off-resort rental shop to the slopes, however. Instead we carried everything and then changed at the bottom of the slopes and put our own shoes into a locker.

As usual, I had no idea what I was doing, but Julie showed me how to clip the ski boots into the skis and how to take them off again. That seemed reasonably easy. We headed up the little “bunny-hill” under the bright flood-lights and I tried it out. It did not seem impossible. We then to the beginners slope, having by this stage discovered that we could join the slope half way down just near the Youth Hostel. Skiing was much easier than snowboarding. Much, much easier. The technique was instinctive and there were ski-poles for balance and crossing the skis meant being able to stop. I was much happier. We started off down the hill, going a few metres at a time. I was completely absorbed in concentrating on keeping my skis close together so that I could stop when I needed to, but I was much more relaxed and happy than I’d been in the afternoon. I was also having fun. Julie was struggling a little but we eventually got down the slope.

At this point, we had two options: we could walk up the hill a little and practice again or take the lift to the top – where we’d failed at snowboarding that afternoon. I’m clearly a slow learner. We took the lift without knowing how to get off at the top. Luckily, we managed to get onto the same lift-seat as a ski-school instructor who was able, in broken English, to tell us what we were supposed to do. Of course, we both still fell down, but no injuries, so no harm done. The slope again looked a lot steeper and longer and more scary from the top than it had from the bottom. The snow also seemed more slippery, although that may just have been in my head. We went down a way, both falling over a few times. I had one fairly spectacular wipe-out when I discovered that it is possible to cross the skis to far and went over them head-first, landing rather heavily on my hands. I was a little shaken by this, so I didn’t mind walking for a bit. We turned off the beginner’s slope through a short-cut to the central practice area, hoping we’d run into the others. I got back onto skis as soon as we hit slightly less steep ground with something a little like glee. We still hadn’t found the others by the time we reached the bunny-hill but I had great fun going up and down a few more times. Although I need lots more practice before I try a big hill again, I am really quite taken with skiing.

Around 11pm, they started clearing people off the bunny slope, so we headed down – me still on skis because I was determined to get the most I possibly could out of the experience. When we saw Tim at the bottom, he told us that most people had gone back to the room after a long and difficult run down the hill on their snowboards. We got our things together and returned the rented gear, catching up with the others on the way. Some people wanted food – hotdogs here we come – so they got that while two of us headed to the little shop and picked up some supplies – mostly in the form of maekju, soju and chips – before heading back to the room.

Everyone gathered slowly in room 301, in between hot showers and related attempts to avoid the incredible stiffness which was inevitably going to set in in just a few hours. Outside it was freezing cold and midnight skiing was just beginning. Inside the room, however, it was warm and congenial and cosy. People sat around in little groups. Some played games, some did magic tricks, some just chatted. The guitar came out and provided the background music we’d all been missing as a result of everyone forgetting to bring speakers. As the evening progressed, randomness ruled. Eben’s game kept everyone entertained for ages but not for nearly as long as Zanzibar, the ladybird. The beer half-froze on the balcony. There was a long discussion about cotton from sheep.

Much later, we all crawled into bed, most of us already feeling the soreness from the skiing and snowboarding attempts, and slept warm and comfortable (at least I did) in our cocoons of yellow on the heated floor.

Ski trip For The Win: Snowboarding Fail

After a relatively sleepless night due to snoring people (and in my case, the shushing because snoring doesn’t really bother me), we woke up on Saturday to find it still snowing. When we’d first arrived, most of the snow around the resort was on the slopes – probably artificially created – or piled in corners slightly melted and a little grubby. On Saturday morning, everything was sprinkled with new, clean, fresh snow, looking exactly like the movies. It was as if God had taken a huge bag of icing sugar and sprinkled it across the whole place. Walking on the fresh snow was even more fascinating than the day before. I’ve decided that snow has the texture of corn flour – it compacts and slides off itself and feels like it should squeak when you step on it. As we wandered down the hill for breakfast, I, while attempting not to slip and fall, snapped photographs of every snow-covered thing that I saw.

I was struck by the way it piled on the branches of fir trees. The green with white, against the snow on the ground and the dark trunks, was everything I’ve read about in books and seen on Christmas cards my whole life. It sounds strange to say but I don’t think I ever really thought of it as true. Rain doesn’t sit on the trees when it falls. The snow just sat there, on tree branches and cars bumpers and rooftops, looking for all the world as if it had been specially added for the photographs. I was bubbling with excitement at the prettiness. I still feel excited looking at the pictures. It must seem very odd to those who think of snow as normal that I find it so exciting and beautiful and intriguing. I keep thinking of the way I feel when I watch someone who is seeing large African animals in the wild for the first time. I love watching giraffe and elephants and kudu and all the others, but they’re a normal part of the environment to me. They’re beautiful but not strange. I think the kind of mild awe I feel about seeing snow is something akin to what other people seem to experience about the animals. I understand them more now.

Breakfast was Korean food – except for one person who braved the KFC again. The range of options was limited. Some people had the ‘peppery beef and vegetable soup’ and one person had the pork cutlet. I tried the hangover soup. That, for the record, is not a nickname or just something we call it; the sign actually advertised ‘beef bone and cabbage hangover soup’. It was too good to miss the opportunity to try it and it turned out actually to be reasonably good. I still find it a little weird to eat soup, rice and kimchi for breakfast but when in Korea it is sometimes a good idea to eat as the Koreans eat.

As we were leaving the cafeteria-place, we ran into two others from our group – Julie and Erin – who  were planning to go skiing. I had been thinking of sledding with some others who hadn’t been the previous day, but most of them were looking to sleep a bit more and I was determined to try skiing or snowboarding if I got the chance, so I decided to join the skiing adventure. After they ate, we headed off to try our luck on the beginner slopes – which is decidedly where I belong. After walking for ages, we arrived back at the place where we had been for sledding. We discovered later that we had actually walked a huge circle to a point very near our youth hostel but at this stage we hadn’t realised it yet. Standing in the queue, I was full of the joyful anticipation of trying something new. When we reached the front, they told us they were all out of skis. Not daunted by the rebuff, we threw caution to the wind and rented snowboards instead. I was not sad, partly because never having tried either I had no reason to prefer one over the other and partly because John had repeatedly told me that I had to try snowboarding and here was the chance.

Before trying anything, however, we had to go through the process of acquiring and donning the rather large amounts of gear required for snow-related activities. First the snow suits. Thick, warm, waterproof pants and jacket to be put on over all the other clothes and which made me feel a little like a snowman myself. Next, boots – Korean size 250. They felt weirdly spacious once I put them on but were snug to try and get my feet into. They also forced my legs into a slightly bent position, which took some getting used to. By this stage, I was seriously beginning to be a little amazed by just how long and complicated the preparations for snowboarding are. The sports I’m used to, after all, tend to involve little more than throwing on some shorts and a jersey, and perhaps some appropriate takkies. Finally, we got our boards and were ready to try our luck at this new thing.

We headed straight for the ski-lift queue, asking someone in the queue how to strap on the boards along the way. In retrospect, it would really probably have been a good idea to figure out how to use the boards before we headed up – even if it was the beginner’s slope. In fact, it would probably have been better to find out from someone who knew what they were doing how to use the boards first. At the time, though, it didn’t occur to us. I did feel a little terrified as we went up the lift. I’m not all that good at trying things when I have no idea what I’m doing and the feeling in the pit of my stomach was vaguely similar to the feeling I got as we were driving up the mountain – still with no idea what to expect – to go paragliding.

We got to the top, got off the lift without incident, strapped on our boards and stared down what now seemed like an awfully long and steep hill of snow. Snowboarders and skiers whizzed past us. We tried to pick up tips by watching them. Then Erin tried it and got a few metres before she fell. Julie did the same. Then I tried and fell over backwards in fright as soon as the board started dragging me down the slope. I had absolutely no control. That wasn’t the worst bit – once down, I couldn’t figure out how to get back up. In desperation, I took off the board and trudged up the hill to try again. The same thing happened. Falling in the soft snow wasn’t a problem, especially because we remembered the advice of a more experienced friend and avoided falling on our wrists, but we just couldn’t get back up. All around us, people were happily heading down the slope, some of them occasionally falling but hopping back up and carrying on. We figured out that by rolling over onto our stomachs, we could get up again but the speed and the fear of smashing into someone else meant that we only got a few feet further before we landed flat on our backs again. Erin seemed to figure it out and headed off. Julie and I kept trying for what seemed like ages and still hadn’t even reached a third of the way down the slope. When I gave up and decided to walk further down and try some more there, she joined me.

There were three guys in our group who were competent at snowboarding – even though they hadn’t all been doing it for long – and were out on the slopes that afternoon. On the way up in the lift, we had spotted the three of them going down the slope we were now on. By some sheer, random and extremely fortunate stroke of luck, they happened to be walking up the hill as we were walking down. We accosted them and demanded that they give us tips – especially because they had been telling us earlier that snowboarding easy. Being the nice guys they are, they not only agreed to tell us what to do but offered to show us as well. We went with them to the practice area we could see from our hostel-room window and they explained the basics and let us try it out with the safety-net of them being there to give advice and catch us when we started to fall. I had been doing it all completely wrong. Apparently the trick is to use your ankles for control and keep your weight on your heels. I would never have figured it out on my own. Unfortunately, even with their help, moving from the sitting position (required to put on the board) to standing on the board was a feat that eluded me. To be honest, I think I may just be lacking the muscle strength. Alternatively there is some trick I haven’t figured out. The little bit of time I managed upright on the board was exhilarating, though. I think I’d quite like to try it again, if only I can figure out the getting up bit.

By this stage, the guys were eager to get back to their boarding. Julie decided to go with them, but I didn’t have the courage. Also, I had discovered that one of the bindings on my board wasn’t secure (or rather Tim had discovered it), so I needed to swap it. They headed off to the ski-lifts and I went back and changed my board. I looked around for Erin but couldn’t see her, so I found myself a quiet patch of snow and tried once more to figure out how to stand. When Erin found me, she helped me practice some more and, when I failed, helped me up so that I could try going down the hill a little. By the end of the afternoon, when we had to return our boards at 16:30, I was still unable to stand. I can’t even seem to manage the manoeuvre without the worry of a board that might slip from under me. I will have to practice and perhaps build up some more strength before I get near a snowboard again.

For now, however, we returned the gear and headed back to the hostel. When we found the others, it turned out they had all decided to try snowboarding, too. They had also found a place to rent the gear which was much cheaper, so all was good all around. Despite the fact that me snowboarding was a solid failure, I’m really glad I got the chance to try my hand at something so new and different and, in spite of spending most of the afternoon falling over, I really had lots of fun.

Ski trip For The Win: New Year’s Day

I woke up early on 1 January 2009 because the yellow tent I was sharing with two friends at a dodgy beach resort in Tofo, Mozambique, had become unbearably hot and humid, although the day did improve dramatically and ended at a street-party in Inhambane. It was certainly not hot or humid on Jan 1, 2010 but I did wake up relatively early, this time to meet up with friends and head off on a skiing/snowboarding expedition.

I was a little unsure of exactly where we were meeting, so I was relieved to spot a Scotsman with a guitar in the distance. We were first. The others trickled up in dribs and drabs until everyone had arrived (one rather later than the rest). We piled into the bus. ‘Bus’ may be a misnomer, here. It was more like a mini-bus, only slightly smaller than a South African taxi because made for Koreans. Theoretically it was made for 15. I suppose it might fit 15 small Koreans. It definitely struggled to hold 11 foreigners, with luggage, plus one Korean driver. To the point where we had one person sitting on the floor between the seats. It this rather crowded manner, and with several people still in various states of recovering from New Year’s Eve, we set  off to drive across the country to a place called Bear’s Town Ski Resort outside of Seoul.

We stopped about half way there, at a rest-stop, and saw the first glimpses of snow. I began to get excited. As we drove on, there was more and more snow in the fields and on the country roads we passed. Dams or lakes were iced over and lay covered in white snow. There were people on the ice, in little clusters, perhaps fishing. Further on, we started to see snow lying on the sides of the road and then the sides of the mountains. The hills were all covered with the usual Korean forests but under the trees, snow lay on the ground. We were travelling rather slowly at this point, because we had hit New Year’s traffic, so everyone was a little frustrated and very ready to reach our destination. Then someone spotted a shop selling snowboards. We were getting closer.

Eventually we saw ski slopes and -lifts. The driver inched through the traffic onto the resort and up a hill and dropped us off. Assuming we were in the right place, we trudged around for a while looking, unsuccessfully, for a check-in point. Then Tim found a bandy-legged Korean who took him to where the front desk was, all of us following along behind. At the front desk we were told our booking didn’t exist. Quiet, controlled panic ensued. No-one said very much. Then Stuart suggested we check if this was the Youth Hostel. The check-in clerk’s face relaxed, he made a quick call and 10 minutes later we were being led down one hill and up another to the place we were actually supposed to be. Apparently the spot where we were dropped off was the ‘town houses’, rather than the Youth Hostel.

We were booked into two rooms at the Youth Hostel, each designed to sleep 6 people. ‘Youth Hostel’ has here a slightly different meaning from what most people may be used to. For one thing, it seems to be the preferred holiday accommodation for family groups, I suppose because it is cheaper than most other accommodation and not a love-motel. The second difference is that the rooms had no beds. This is not as completely crazy as it sounds. The traditional Korean way of sleeping is on a mat directly on the heated floor – ondol-style rooms, they are called. Some people found sleeping on the floor extremely uncomfortable but I was happy. It meant that we had far more space in the room than we would have had had it been full of bunk-beds – the living space was more spacious. It also proved hazardous to stray chocolates, which would sit on the floor and melt and then get plastered to the bottom of sleeping mats, duvets and pillows.

Both rooms had balconies looking out over the slopes. Ours looked out across the main ski rental place, practice area (bunny hill) and food stops (including the KFC) at the bottom of two of the slopes. From the room, we could watch people skiing and see the huge vehicles packing down the snow between sessions and hear strains of K-pop coming from the lifts.

As soon as we’d settled in, we found food. Most of us had KFC and largely regretted it. The food seemed to tire people out. Everyone in our room was cuddled under blankets. And then someone suggested duvet wars. Duvet wars involve wrapping yourself in duvets and pillows and then running into one or more other people who are similarly wrapped up and falling over. They also wake people up. We joined the others in room 309 and enjoyed a rather ridiculous game while we waited for the evening skiing/snowboarding session to begin.

This resort has several sessions every day – dawn, morning, afternoon, evening and midnight (although their signage is not that clear). The times are rather random and they are separated by an hour or so each time, when they press the snow with ‘snow groomers’ (according to the website). The evening session runs from 18:30 to 23:00. Two of the guys in our group were going snowboarding. We kept them company as they got their gear and got all decked out. Snowboarding gear makes you look cool. They headed off to try the slopes.

The rest of us had decided to try sledding, which seemed a lot less energetic while still being super-fun. We were given directions to the sledding place and set off. It was quite a walk, and some of the group peeled off and headed elsewhere as we went. We got there eventually (“look for the golf,” the instructions had said) and found the sledding area. The tickets weren’t particularly expensive and included the ski-lift. There was a tiny little baby sledding slope for the very young children, and then a larger one for older kids and adults, up a ski-lift, which we tried.

I should perhaps mention, at this point, that I have never been in snow deep enough or lasting long enough to do more than build a tiny, miserable little snow dwarf and get wet feet as it melted, so almost everything about this trip was new and exciting for me. Getting on a ski-lift for the first time included. I was rather nervous. We sat down in the seat as it slammed into the back of our knees and moved quickly off, with the bar with foot-bits across us. It did not feel secure. In fact, it felt like people should be strapped in. It was not massively high but definitely high enough that it would have been dangerous to fall down. The view of the snowy world from above was beautiful, though. It’s hard to explain to people for whom it is an ordinary sight, how spectacularly beautiful the first sight of snow on the rocks in a wintry stream or on the bare branches of trees seemed to me. It was evening, too, so everything was a black and white picture-postcard winter-wonderland.

Towards the top of the ski-lift’s run, it occurred to us that we didn’t know exactly how to get off, so we watched the people ahead of us, lifted the bar across our knees at the same point they had, and hopped up and started to run as soon as our feet hit the ground. It proved to be the right thing to do. We then grabbed our sleds and headed for the slope. The sleds were little and plastic, with a string to hold onto. When you reached the front of the queue, you sat in the sled and pushed yourself forward with your feet and then took off down the hill. The rush of wind in your hair… oh, wait … hat… um… the rush of wind past you, the feel of the snow under your sled, the speed and attempts to steer right and left to avoid someone else who has fallen over. I could feel the adrenaline pumping. It wasn’t so high that it was scary, but trying to steer the sled and avoid falling over and not run into the wall all at the same time took almost complete concentration. I got a first inkling of how people can feel completely absorbed in snow-sports for hours on end.

We had three runs, taking the ski lift back up each time. My first introduction to snow and I loved it. Back at the youth hostel, we got warm and settled down to play games and chat. And then it started to snow. From our window, we watched the snow falling and flurrying across the practice area under the huge floodlights and the railings of our balcony slowly turn to white. It was so pretty. Actual snow falling out of the actual sky. The others said it was very small for real snow but as the snow-novice in the group, I didn’t mind. It was still snowing when we went to bed, much to the joy of the snowboarders because it would apparently do good things for the slopes. It was a good start to the weekend and a great start to 2010.