When the snow beckons, one must heed your urges. In the winter of 2016-2017, I was off to Bokwang Phoenix Park, South Korea to spend a winter season teaching snowboarding. Phoenix Park has one of Korea’s largest freestyle parks and will host the 2018 Winter Olympics freestyle and freeski disciplines.
The next part is about my season in Phoenix with information about how I prepared for the season, how it was working as an instructor for the foreigner ski school and what the resort was like.
Getting ready for the winter season
Having an injury the previous season, I needed a strategy to prepare myself in between winters. Your body gets worn out pretty fast if you spend the spring reading books and then move on to 6 hours of snowboard teaching per day. Determined not to let my board get dusty, I worked out. Sliding on grass and a running routine, every 2 days. The apps on my phone helped me build core strenght and get more flexible.
The plan was to continue running when I arrive in South Korea to keep fit during the season.
Korean for Beginners
I love learning new languages. Whenever I travel to a country, I pick up a language course from the library. Just as food and art is typical for every culture, language has specific structures and rules that are a reflection of the countries society.
Hierarchy is important in South Korea. It is so in most west Asian countries. These structures originate from Confucianism that came to prominence in the Korean peninsula in the fifteenth century. Even though Korea has become Westernized with Christianity the fastest growing religion, all social interaction are still dictated by the Confucian value of hierarchy.
It is prominent in the language. In English you conjugate verbs towards the subject, I, you, they,… Korean language makes you conjugate verbs related to politeness. You should always talk to people older that you in the polite form. With people younger than you, you can adopt a casual form of speaking. This is why when you get introduced to a Korean, they will usually ask your age.
Using the wrong form can raise some eyebrows, but Koreans tend to be forgiving towards foreigners.
Korean uses the Hangul alphabet ever since King Sejong the Great implemented it in the 15th century. I would really like to high five this king if he would still be alive. He specifically ordered the Hangul alphabet to be created because of the difficulties they had in Korea using Classical Chinese.
To be able to read, large number of characters needed to be learned. It was hard for somebody who didn’t have the privilege of education. So this awesome king adopted an alphabet of only 40 letters so easy to learn that “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” Providing literacy for the majority of the country.
Arriving in Seoul
When brainless and fatigued after spending 14 hours cramped up in an airplane seat, to prepare where you are going and what you need is essential. Arriving in a big city like Seoul is always a bit of an adjustment for me. I spend most of my time in mountain towns or the countryside. The madness of Seoul is an overwhelming joy.
Arriving in an airport full with people, it is best to know beforehand what you need. First I went to and ATM to get some cash, I never use currency exchange because their fees are outrageous. I had a map hand drawn to get to my hostel and the directions in detail, ex. Which bus I had to take. So I throw myself on the bus and wander towards my bed to sleep out the jetlag I always have after a long flight.
I am staying in Hongdae, a district in the West part of town. Very young and trendy with the many university students living in the area. It is a more quiet part of the city. I found that there are less high rise buildings which makes it more cozy and relaxing.
For more info on Hongdae, click here.
Seoul is a perfect example of Eastern and Western influences combined. The city of 10 million inhabitants has a skyline of highrise buildings. Especially in districts like Gangnam, the financial hub. In between, there are sites which remind you of its 600 year history. One of the sites is Gyeongbokgung palace, built in 1395. It was the first royal palace ever built in the Joseon Dynasty, a kingdom that would rule Korea from July 1392 to October 1897. The palace is surrounded by ponds and pavilions where you can get away from the crowds and traffic. It’s a great picture spot too.
A days work as a snowboard instructor
The busy season in Phoenix Parks starts in the last week of December. Schools are closed until the 7th of January and parents are flocking to the slopes with their kids. I have been so lucky to work the winterseason here in Phoenix Park as a snowboard instructor.
The first weeks of December were quiet with a few lessons here and there. Now starting this week, we are running at full capacity. We started the season with only 3 instructors, now we are 18. Our students are mainly from Singapore and Korea. I teach in English.
My day starts at 8.30 am with morning stretching at the skischool. Morning lessons start at 9.30 and last for 2 hours. This is followed by a lunchbreak and ride break until the afternoon lessons start. Usually at 1.30 pm, they last for 2 hours as well.
Dinnertime at 5.00 pm in the staff cafeteria, I get 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) surplus our pay. Then it is off to the ski school again where we wait until 6.30 pm. If I have a night lesson scheduled I teach another 2 hour lesson until 9.00 pm. If not, then my day is over and I can go home, go night riding, enjoy a hot sauna or sing Karaoke with the rest of the instructors (oh boy, do I love Karaoke!)
Riding Park in Phoenix Park
Their is a great atmosphere in Phoenix Park for freestyle snowboarding since they have one of the best parks in South Korea. No wonder they will be hosting the 2018 winter Olympics freestyle snowboarding and freeski events.
It is pretty big, with enough features to keep me busy all season. Really well built with enough beginner boxes and rails to progress on. There are up boxes, down boxes, rainbows and plenty of easy to ride on rails. Kickers in various sizes, I tend to stick to the smaller ones.
I am still a rookie in the park. I hit my first kicker and half pipe in France 6 seasons ago. But during my 2 seasons in Canada and New Zealand I focused more on riding terrain instead. When I charge at a kicker I fly a full 2 cm off the ground before I land again half a second later. So I think I can do better.
Getting mileage up by riding most of the easy boxes 50/50. I want to progress slowly because it is the fastest way to succes.
This season my main focus will be these tricks:
– straight air with a frontside grab
– boardslide on a box
– butters with full rotation
– 50/50 over a rainbow box
Pretty ambitious trick list but necessary to have some goals this season. I am sure I will have several of these ticked off by the end of February.
It is great when you feel more comfortable riding features after that first nervous attempt. There are plenty of advanced park riders here that give us plenty of tips.
I am very grateful to have such a great team here at Phoenix park! We ride together, eat, go to the sauna in the evenings and share the same room. Every night is slumber party night. Every morning there is a work out at ski school. Our manager, Isaac supports and provides every one with training. When we don’t teach, we ride. When we don’t ride, we eat persimmons and dance to hiphop music.
FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Cup 2016/17
Phoenix Park is this years host to the GS Snowboard World Cup. If you do not know what GS Snowboard is, it is basically the same as ski Giant Slalom but on a board. The snowboarding is a different style to what I mostly do.
The party was made better with traditional Korean musicians. I was trying to get a steady shot of them but every time they played, I found myself dancing to their rhythms.
Alena Zavarzina (RUS) for the ladies and Andreas Prommegger (AUT) for the men won gold. One of my heroines won silver: Patrizia Kummer from Switzerland. I had seen her race in Sochi 2014 winter olympics. To see her race in real life was even better!
A Perfect Day in Phoenix Park
Phoenix has many restaurants and places to go after a chilly day on the slopes. If I had my way and everyday was a holiday it would look pretty much like this.
Start with breakfast at Cafe Bene. I recommend the cinnamon bread with a delicious espresso. The best moment to hit the park is in the morning, when the big crowds haven’t messed up the landings yet. Start off with a few warm up laps down the gondola and then head up Hawk for a park session.
Make sure you are familiar with park regulations (safety first) and have fun!
- Cinnamon bread at Cafe Bene
- Head up the Gondola for a few black diamond warm up runs
- Hit the park
One of my favorite cafes in Phoenix is KKorovei Cafe. The building draws attention with its container conversion architecture and rustic interior. The perfect setting for a delectable lunch. They have a range of burgers and sandwiches. Combine these with a fresh grapefruit juice or a ginger milk tea.
- Lunch at Kkorovei Cafe
Time to hit the slopes again! Lifts close at 4.30 pm. This gives plenty of time to explore the whole ski area. Try every lift and every slope. The black diamonds are my favorite but they can get icy and bumpy in the afternoon. Panorama is an easy green run at the top of the gondola, perfect to practice your tricks. Make sure to stop by the Mont Blanc restaurant for an afternoon snack. You can find it at the top of the gondola.
- Hit the slopes
- Afternoon tea at the Mont Blanc restaurant
Try out some traditional Korean dishes at the Shilla & Pungkyungmara Restaurant. Service is excellent and food is delicious! To relax any strained muscles head out to the Blue Canyon waterpark where you can find indoor saunas and hot pools. These are communal, but men and women are in separated sections.
- Dinner at the Shilla & Pungkyungmaru Restaurant
- Spa experience at the Blue Canyon
Friday until Sunday the resort is open for night skiing. Until 4 am. If you haven’t had your fix yet, head out for some more laps. Extreme park is closed during the night.
- Night snowboarding
- Do it all over again the next day
Make sure to take regular breaks when you snowboard. Your body is pretty good on letting you know when it’s time for a break. Here are some good reasons to take a rest:
- legs feel like jelly
- broken binding
- painful bum
- caffeine withdrawal symptoms
I hope this makes you a bit wiser on how to spend your time in Phoenix Park, South Korea.
For the Phoenix Park ski world website click here.
Video Best Of Winter 2016-2017
I made a compilation of all the videos I shot during the season. With some snowboarding but most of all shots about Phoenix park and behind the scenes of Phoenix Park ski school. It is my first video compilation made with REAL people. Let me know if you like it!