South Korea The Road

Korean Ski Resort Frozen in Time

The time has stopped in the abandoned Alps Ski Resort near Sockho in Gangwon province close to the North Korean border (DMZ zone). Opening its doors in the 1980s, it was the first destinations of its kind in South Korea welcoming tens of thousands of skiers every year. Except the ski slopes the resort had every amenity you can imagine including golf, bowling, swimming pools, bars, a night club and restaurants. Now, once a booming destination has been abandoned since 2006 after its owner went bankrupt in the face of growing competition. 

The resort was pinned on our map a long time ago before the beginning of our trip. A half a year later when we finally arrived to the village Heul-ri we were full of excitement. Rows of pink and white accommodation blocks and a huge rusty clock tower loomed in front of our eyes. The silence of the place grabbed us when we ran to explore the buildings. Only dogs locked in the cage near the main entrance, were barking because they could hear our steps. After passing next to them quickly the tension subsided and we realised that nobody really care about visitors here.

The hotels have been left to rot offering a home for various birds. Although apartaments inside indeed looked like there were plans of renovation (as we later learned there was an attempt), plants are bursting through the tarmac and trees lean on the walls with its branches penetrating the blocks. In the past the resort boasted the biggest natural snowfall in South Korea and skiers came to the village long before the facility opened to enjoy the white mountains. On the ski resorts heyday streets had a traffic jam every weekend as skiers from China and Southeast Asia packed its eight slopes. Over 30 percent of customers were foreigners. Different kinds of ski rental shops gave work to locals and people moved to the village after business. The collapse hit hard with the shop and bar owners forcing them to close their doors.  

We spent around 5 hours walking and exploring buildings that were one after another more mysterious. We wondered why everything looked like people just stood up and left everything behind like they evacuate suddenly in an emergency. Loads of containers with Alp Ski Resort logo, workers plates, books, drums, curtains, posters and paintings hanging on the wall… Some levels of the buildings like the main kitchen and the night club were almost inaccesible because of the dense fungus smell. Undefined things inside fridges, dusty luxurios furniture and dead plants were greeting us as we curiously inspected them. 

The place was the biggest abandoned area that we have seen and it left lots of questions to which we can only guess the answers. Once you get into the main buildings left with its decors it feels that you jump into another time. Getting inside the ski shop felt almost like breaking in, because all the professional ski gear was there, just outdated. It may be because of the fact that the resort is quite remote, but also that the homeless problem is very small in South Korea. The resort was attempted to re-open for the Winter Olympics 2018, but it never did. The poster showing how the resort was meant to look like, workers helmets and offices full of civil engineering plans left like the place would wait for someone to open it in the future once again…

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