Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vivaldi Park: Ski World

Seoul is THE city for nightlife. No curfews. No last calls. No limits. No restrictions. It's an incubator for one's innermost hedonistic seedling. And you can plant that seed any day of the week, any night of the year. Which is why I turned my nose up at the prospect of partying on New Year's Eve (ever heard of reverse psychology?). As much as I wanted to dance with a rhinestone umbrella in a shower of champagne at the W, I was determined to greet 2010 fully cognizant of events - fun events. I went skiing.

The draw of Vivaldi Park is the duality of its offerings - Ski World and Ocean World. Obviously during the winter months, Ski World trumps Ocean World. In fact, I would recommend making reservations well in advance for accommodations especially during holidays and weekends. We settled for a rustic "pension" with a panoramic view of the mountainous countryside. Quilts, pine paneling, a French press, covered private terrace, and handmade ceramic mugs - Orbis Pension is unpretentious but refined.

The advantages of staying at a pension outside the ski complex is to escape the dormitory feel of the lodgings at Vivaldi Park. Even their newest condo, Maple, is Spartan in its decor and amenities. A pension is like a cozy New England bed and breakfast (think old Jewish couple in Borat). BUT going to any ski resort without a car makes me feel about as grown up as a mom-dependant 7th grader. The pension owner was gracious enough to shuttle us around since taxis are few to non-existent in the area. But this turned out to be hassle so it's really just best to hijack a car to use for a few days.

Don't rent equipment or buy lift tickets directly from the resort. Resort prices are grossly inflated and no self-respecting Korean ever pays the list price. BC card holders get a 30-40% discount but even then, the prices are higher than the hundreds of ski shops clustered around Vivaldi Park. One shop is the same as the next, but usually a pension deals exclusively with one shop. Though it might be a bit more inconvenient to pick up and drop off equipment, usually you can get them to come to you.

Vivaldi Park is touted as a mecca of skiing in Korea, and though it's no Tyrol or Aspen, it's FUN. Expect Koreanization ranging from spirit-handed greetings from lift operators wearing furry animal hats to gross overcrowding. The lines resemble bread lines during the Soviet era especially for beginner or intermediate runs. As you can guess, many of those on the green and blue runs are complete novices. Ajushis will be yelling self-righteously at helpless, snot-faced kids who end up snow-plowing the entire way down with the grace of a newborn giraffe trying to stand for the first time. Also, the slopes can be pretty icy due to the snowboarders. But the more skilled you are, the better the snow and shorter the wait.

Vivaldi Park is commercialized - technically hot Korean girls yelling with feigned enthusiasm to advertise Neutrogena hand cream (the same one used by Norwegian fishermen), free samples of said hand cream, giant flat screens, and billboards endorsing Korean companies. Glittering lights and performance stages. Unintentionally appropriate for New Year's Eve.

In terms of food, we were confined to the resort. There's an underground arcade with restaurants, dinky rides, ATMs, coffee shops, hofs, and a supermarket. If you can get past the ridiculous name, the restaurant Beggerback was one of the highlights of the Vivaldi Park experience. Its whole "concept" is manifestations of Korean rice cakes in different cuisines. I can't remember the name of the dish but it involved taking a spicy rice cake in the form of a slender stalk, dipping it in sour cream and wrapping it in a tortilla triangle. Though you may cringe at the thought of a traditional Italian dish robbed of its pasta with Korean rice cakes in its place, somehow Beggerback delivered. Great atmosphere - dark wicker furniture and clean white linens. And if you spend in excess of 30 or 40,000 won, you get a free spoon and fork set for babies. About as useful as giving away free doughnuts to anorexics, but completely delightful to any simpleton who swoons at a free animal hat with purchase at Baskin Robbins (um, me). The Paprika and Onion is also worth mentioning as another option, but it's more hof-ish in atmosphere, and the food is good enough (but then so is instant ramen noodles).

Considering the crowds on holidays and weekends, I recommend trying night skiing. They're open 'til 6am or something insane like that. If you're dressed appropriately, the cold is not an issue. The slopes are cleared of the less-desirable demographics (children and the elderly, which includes ajummas and ajushis) and somehow, I can even parallel the experience of gliding down the mountain to achieving god-like status on the dance floor. This may have something to do with smuggling champagne to the top of the slope and sitting gape-mouthed at the fireworks exploding over yonder. Nothing can match the crisp, sparkly adrenaline from chasing bubbly gulps of champagne with an amorous kiss at midnight then skiing down to a brand new year. Best New Year's Eve to date.

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