When snowflakes flutter down from the skies, out come the snowboards, the skis, the goggles and the overpriced parka you swore was worth it.
The winter season is here, and it’s prime time for outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding and ice skating. All over the country, both the young and the young at heart are seeking out traditional and nontraditional winter sports. Some are following newer trends like VR and indoor winter sports.
Two winters ago, Seoul Square in Jung-gu is where protesters called for the ouster of an administration that had made a mockery of democracy. Now the square is once again opening its public skating rink to families, friends and -- especially, it seems -- lovers.
According to a survey carried out by local matchmaking company Duo, winter sports can help people build stronger relationships. About 82.7 percent of the 163 unmarried men and 172 unmarried women who responded to the survey replied that enjoying winter sports with a boyfriend or girlfriend helped their relationships. The biggest benefits they cited were the chance to create special memories only possible in winter (39.1 percent), the chance to share a common interest (22.4 percent) and an excuse for physical contact (16.4 percent).
The rink opens Friday and will stay open until Feb. 10. Admission costs 1,000 won per person, and reservations can be made through www.seoulskate.or.kr.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government, which operates the rink, said it plans to offer curling this year, considering the rise in popularity that the previously obscure sport gained as a result of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in February. Indoor VR programs will also be available.
To accommodate the new sports, the size of the ice rink has expanded from 1,166 square meters to 1,897 square meters. It is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
A bird’s-eye view of the ice rink at Seoul Square (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
There are other city-run skating rinks throughout South Korea, such as the one in Gwangju’s Munhwa Square, which opens Jan. 31 and closes 48 days later. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 8:20 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Hotels and resorts are offering activities and packages for travelers who want more than just skis or snowboards. Vivaldi Park’s “Snowy Land” provides a chance to enjoy not only sledding, curling and ice hockey, but also snow tunnels and various themed photo zones including one in the shape of an igloo.
Snowy Land / Vivaldi Park
Check out other stories from this edition to find out more about ski resorts that are reinventing themselves as winter theme parks.
Of course, winter sports does not equal snow sports. The VR zones at PyeongChang reminded us all that you don’t have to brave blistering winds and subzero temperatures to get your adrenaline flowing.
Local retail giants Lotte Department Store, Hyundai Department Store and Shinsegae Department Store seem to be waging a VR war. In August, Lotte opened the Lotte Monster VR theme park at its Gwangjin-gu store near Konkuk University Station in Seoul. Shinsegae followed with Virtual Island at its Busan Centum City branch, and Hyundai responded with a VR Station near Seoul’s Gangnam Station where guests can enjoy “Gangnam-style” virtual activities like fishing, skiing and riding a floating bike.
Wearing a giant VR headset may make you look cool, but for those who would like to avoid looking like C-3PO -- along with neck pain and possibly nausea – screen sports are something you can enjoy indoors. Screen golf and baseball, both sports that involve hitting a ball in front of a big screen, have grown into two of Korea’s most popular pastimes. Particularly the former, since Korea’s limited green space makes conventional golf an expensive hobby.
Other popular indoor activities include screen fishing, screen bowling and even old-fashioned bowling -- all reminders that there’s always plenty to do even in this supposed season of slumber.