Easily Accessible Winter Holidays from Hong Kong
The classic getaway in Asia usually involves picture postcard beaches, lush jungles and idyllic islands. But for winter sports lovers looking for a fix of the white stuff without the hassle of a long-haul flight, or those simply seeking something different to the sun-sea-sand formula: there is another side to the region.
While it doesn’t have the classic appeal of European chocolate box resorts, or the challenging terrain of North American slopes, come winter, Asia does offer a range of ski and snowboard options for almost every ability, budget and group size. Most are within a few hours flight and easy reach of Hong Kong – perfect for an alternative long weekend.
Ski & Snowboard in Japan
Niseko, which is made up of four interconnected resorts, averages around 14m of snow on its slopes a year and boasts some of the softest powder in the world. In the past 20 years it has transformed from a Japanese secret, to a big-hitter rivalling Aspen, Whistler or Courchevel. There are luxury hotels, condominiums, world class restaurants, catering for a global clientele.
The area is as popular with families, and there are international ski schools for children aged three and upwards. Niseko is also popular with seasoned skiers as the area is so vast there are plenty of opportunities to go off-piste and even dedicated guides to help you do so.
The Hakuba Valley, which can be reached by train and shuttle bus from Tokyo, has nine different ski resorts and more than 200 trails with options from beginners to pros. There are plenty of chalets and hotels, a decent range of restaurants, and a ski school for adults as well as children.
Overall there’s no escaping the fact that skiing and snowboarding in Japan is expensive, and the main resorts can get very busy, but the snow is almost guaranteed and the skiing is some of the best that Asia can offer.
When to go: December to April
Getting there: Direct five-hour flights from Hong Kong to Niseko, or direct four-hour flights to Tokyo with onward travel by bullet train and bus
Ski & Snowboard in South Korea
South Korea’s ski resorts have always been popular with locals, but after hosting the Winter Olympics earlier this year, the industry is booming as more and more tourists come to explore what they saw during the Games.
A really popular option is the Jisan Forest Resort, which is just a 40-minute drive from Seoul. It has around 10 slopes ideal for beginners or intermediate level skiers, so is ideal for those looking for a fun weekend or to dust off the winter sports cobwebs rather than those looking to really test their skills. Its proximity to the capital also means that it can get very busy with weekend skiers or daytrippers.
A better option for international travellers, though it takes a little more effort to get to, is to take the high speed train from Incheon Airport to Yongpyong, one of the 2018 Olympic venues. It has more than 30 slopes and a range of options for different skill levels, plus hotels and restaurants are all within minutes walk of the chair lifts.
Overall, South Korea is a great option to simply do something different with your winter break. If you’re an experienced or expert skier, you may struggle to find truly challenging slopes akin to those found in Japan, Europe or North America, and often the resorts have to rely or top-up with artificial snow. But, it’s more affordable, accessible, and – for now at least – less busy than the alternatives.
When to go: December to end of February
Getting there: Direct three hour flights from Hong Kong to Seoul, onward travel by bus and high speed train
Further info: https://english.visitkorea.or.kr
Ski & Snowboard in China
China is investing millions into its ski and snowboard infrastructure ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Beijing is the host city, but the Games will also use venues in other parts of the country and plans for high speed rail links connecting them are already underway.
The government is heavily promoting winter sports ahead of the Games, and in the next year the country will have more than 700 resorts – a greater number than there are in all of Europe.
Closest to Beijing the resorts of Nanshan and Huaibei are popular with locals and visitors alike, and getting increasingly busy. The skiing here is not hugely taxing, but it is good for a weekend or even a day trip. There’s rental options for equipment, and it is possible to pre-book lift passes to skip queues and on-the-day prices. The accessible locations means these resorts are busy, and the beginners slopes in particular are often packed.
Yabuli, one of China’s biggest ski resorts also has ski jump facilities, and has hosted a number of Winter Sports championships. It’s become increasingly popular leisure skiers, with 9 intermediate- to advanced-level Alpine pistes, a 5-kilometer Nordic trail and a short gentle slope for beginners. They also have a partnership with the renowned Ecole du Ski Francais. Tourists often combine a visit with a trip to the nearby city of Harbin, home of the famous Ice Festival. Travellers from Hong Kong will need to fly to Beijing before travelling onward – by plane or overnight train – to Harbin before arranging travel to the ski resorts.
The industry is still up and coming, so it is best to research safety records and emergency procedures for each resort before booking. It is also worth planning ahead on what you would do, how you would communicate and assessing the language skills of staff should you require medical assistance or urgent care.
When to go: November – March
Getting there: Direct four-hour flights from Hong Kong to Beijing, onward travel via bus, train or plane
Ski & Snowboard in India
It will require more than a long weekend from Hong Kong, but northern India is worth the effort for intrepid skiers. You probably need at least a week for this ski trip, but you’re almost guaranteed a holiday few others have been on.
The winter sports infrastructure still has some way to go for it to be considered world class, but there’s plenty of soft powdery snow in these parts and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Gulmarg boasts a ski lift that reaches almost 3,800 metres – the world’s highest – while Solang Valley has facilities for heli-skiing. All offer astonishing views of the Himalayas, challenging runs, and a chance to ski or board relatively free from queues.
Skiing or snowboarding here is all about the terrain, with not much to highlight in the apres ski, and is best suited to intermediate level or above.
Gulmarg is just a short distance from the Line of Control, the heavily militarised de facto border with Pakistan. As a result the resort can be locked down due to insurgency, sometimes for months as at a time.
When to go: December – March
Getting there: Fly direct from Hong Kong to Delhi or Mumbai, and then a connecting flight on to Srinagar (Indian Kashmir); Manali (Himachal Pradesh), or Dehradun (Uttarakhand) before taking a bus or taxi to the ski resorts.
For more musings on travel, food, and parenting from LTThomas visit www.mylittleshopoftreasures.com
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