Skiing at Sajo

Almost since arriving in Chungju, I’ve been made aware of Suanbo–a small resort town known for their hot springs and saunas. I quickly learned Suanbo is also home to Korea’s oldest ski resort. My adventurous soul wanted out and I knew I had to scout out Suanbo before the year was over.

New Year’s weekend, I took advantage of the holiday to invite Jennifer down for some skiing and catching up with old friends. Luckily things worked out and she was able to come for a visit to the ‘Ju.

We headed out around 12 p.m. on Saturday on the direct bus to Suanbo from the Chungju bus terminal (2,300 won). The ride was short and comfortable. The walk to the ski resort however was not. After asking at the Tourist Information booth, we eventually found our way to the right road and trekked into the smallest ski resort I’ve ever seen.

As a Utahn who’s never skied, I was still surprised by how small the mountains were. The slopes seemed to barely get started before they ended. And the hills were crawling with people–so many people one helpful ski bum suggested we come back on a weekday when the lines weren’t so long.

Despite the smallness, Sajo exceeded my expectations. I have no idea what I was expecting for my first ski experience, but at the end of the day I was grateful I was in a tiny town at an even smaller resort in South Korea.

For 50,000 won we rented skis, boots and poles plus bought a three-hour ski pass. (They close every few hours to make the slopes all nice again. Did you know ski resorts did this?) It was so cheap! My excuse for never skiing before this was the price tag, but Sajo took that excuse away. I’ve spent more money on booze in one night in this country then I did on an afternoon of skiing.

Jennifer helped me into my boots and skis and we slowly scooted our way across the icy snow to wait in the forever long line for the lift. After waiting and waiting we finally got on. Only for Jennifer to lose one of her skis. The lifty ran after us and just before we were out of reach Jennifer had her ski and ski poles in hand.

My stomach started to knot. I was feeling anxious as we went higher up the mountain. Knowing I would be coming down again on the two pieces of plastic attached to my feet was starting to scare the hell out of me. I listened to Jennifer’s instructions as best I  could, trying not to freak myself out too much by watching the other skiers and snowboarders coming down the hill.

At the end of the lift, I took off for the first big turn to head down the bunny slope and WHAM! I fell right on my ass. Right in the way of any oncoming newbie boarders or skiers. I struggled to get myself back up and finally scooted on my butt until I was almost out of the way.

Eventually I got my ski off and stood up. Next I put my ski back on and started down the hill again wondering where my sanity had gone. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds for me to fall again which I continued to do for the next two hours. I fell so much and so often directly in the way of oncoming skiers and boarders, Snow Patrol finally sent a cutie to come save the children from my disastrous falls.

He spoke almost no English. I speak no Korean.

The cutie managed to pull me up by the waist then proceeded to pantomime a ski lesson to me. I nodded my understanding and copied his actions. Approximately .2 seconds later I was on my ass again. He was immediately there helping me us. This time the pantomime included a word “edge.”

Apparently pushing those edges into the snow is paramount to not falling over.

We proceed our pantomime lessons between my falls for a couple hundred feet. Then the call came for a shift change. My cutie left me to go help someone else out. He was replaced by a much larger and much less friendly man. Sadly I fell my way down the hill one more time. Jennifer joined me for the rest of my tumbles and the worst of the wipe outs.

In one last glorious run (of maybe 100 feet) I coasted down the remainder of the hill just as the slope was closing for a cleaning and the sun was coming down. The club music was blasting up the hill and I was speeding down. The moment was gloriously exhilarating. At the bottom of the hill everything flattened out and I came to a slow gentle stop without falling down.

Sajo, I will be visiting you again and this time I’d like to keep the cutie.