Powder Skiing on a Secret Korean Island: Here’s How

Wild, secluded, beautiful: South Korea’s snowiest destination offers skiers an adventure like no other

“I can guarantee you that there will be no one else on the mountain,” says Max – guide and owner of Teamax Adventure – who agreed to talk to me about skiing on the mysterious South Korean island of Ulleung (Ulleung-do).

For the uninitiated, Ulleung-do is a picturesque volcanic island located about 120 km east of the Korean Peninsula, known for its crystal-clear waters, jagged volcanic terrain, and unspoiled coastal views. Although he was (somewhat ironically) named in 2012 by Lonely Planet as one of the best secret islands in the world, it knew how to keep its mystery and its charm; adventurous Korean tourists make the trip in high season to walk its breathtaking coastal walk, but in winter it has been referred as “perhaps the quietest place in South Korea”.

Skiing on Ulleung Island (Ulleung-do). Image: @piggybankm

Max met Ulleung-do in 2011, shortly after returning from a ski guide trip to Japan. In his search for the best backcountry terrain and the best snow in South Korea, he explored as many mountains as he could and, after seeing a single photo of Ulleung-do’s wild winter, he dropped everything to see it for himself.

“I was like, ‘okay let’s go check out the Korean kimchi powder,’” said Max, recalling his first experience on Ulleung-do.

“I went there and after a few turns I knew it would make a fantastic playground for Korean backcountry skiers.”

Ulleung-do powder

Ulleung-do receives up to six meters of powder snow each winter, explains Teamax Adventure guide and owner Max. Image: @piggybankm

Max now takes clients to the island on a regular basis, but cautions that this is a trip for adventurers, and that strong skiing or snowboarding skills and some backcountry experience are recommended. A typical day in the Ulleung-do hinterland includes a three-and-a-half-hour hike to the top of Seonginbong (984m), where the group will have lunch before skiing down to the Nari Basin, a Crater basin formed after the collapse of the Seonginbong caldera. From there, they climb two and a half hours to the summit, before skiing down to sea level – almost 1,000 meters of vertical drop.

Ulleung-do hike

The hike to the top of Seonginbong is steep and difficult. Image: @piggybankm

“It’s about 30 or 40 minutes of skiing in total,” says Max.

Is skiing worth the detour?

“The first part is very good. In some ways similar to Japan because the trees are well spaced, although the snow can be a bit wet due to the coastal location. Lower down the trees are denser and there are some very steep sections – like a black double track. It is not easy.

“But if you are looking for a challenge and like the idea of ​​having a mountain to yourself, then Ulleung Island is the place to be.”

It becomes even clearer at this point that a trip to Ulleung-do is a far cry from the idea most people have of a ski vacation. You won’t find chairlifts, snow schools or ski patrollers, and if you fancy a mid-morning coffee or hot chocolate, you better have it made yourself and l ‘have stored in your backpack.

And you would be wrong to think that hiking and skiing are the starting and ending point of the adventure. Getting to Ulleung-do is, in itself, a pretty serious undertaking. Max allocates two days each way for his clients traveling from Seoul – one day to make the 325 km trip to the port city of Pohang, where they will spend the night before catching an early morning ferry to Ulleung-do. The ferry ride takes four hours, but the changing nature of the weather means that schedule changes or cancellations are the norm, especially in winter when the ocean is at its most choppy.

Seonginbong summit

At the top of Seonginbong. Image: @piggybankm

“The last time I visited Ulleung-do with clients, I was there for 10 days without a ferry,” says Max casually.

“So you have to be careful if you’ve booked a flight, or something like that. It is really risky.

I’d like to know what options I have if I’m stuck on Ulleung-do for 10 days, so I ask Max what he and his guests do after a day of skiing.

“Normally, we browse restaurants for a little food adventure,” says Max, who reveals that he often goes in search of local beef dishes, made from a Korean breed of cattle (Chikso) that graze the grasses of the Ulleung-do mountains. It gives the beef a darker color and, according to a quick Google search, a lighter taste and lower fat content.

Unsurprisingly, Max says the seafood is pretty good too.

And at that point, I am sold. With the world in the grip of a pandemic, the idea of ​​being isolated on a secret island where the days consist only of hiking, skiing and gorging on local delicacies instantly seems appealing.

A 4-day Ulleung Island tour with Teamax Adventure costs 600,000 (US $ 520) and includes transfers to Pohang ferry terminal, round-trip ferry tickets, English-speaking guide from the back -country, meals and accommodation. For more information, visit the Teamax Aventure website.

Summer in Ulleung-do

Summer is the favorite season for many South Korean tourists. Image: @piggybankm


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