Looking for an offbeat holiday idea? Try skiing in South Korea.
This mountain resort three hours south of Seoul has much to recommend it from a sporting perspective – great snow, varied slopes, and chairlifts that stay open until two in the morning.
But what really makes the difference is the people.
I am lucky enough to have done most of my winter sporting in the French Alps. But that means that I have had to get used to fighting my way through crowds of aggressive Parisians each time I wanted to get onto a chairlift. It’s like trying to force yourself onto the metro at rush hour – only, with skis on your feet.
It could not be more different in Muju. Here, the crowds are made up of courteous Koreans, for whom any hint of impatience is unpardonably rude. No need for gates, barriers, or sharp elbows: Everyone lines up calmly, and waits to be told when they can shuffle toward the chairlift.
And when they get there, they are greeted by an operator who bows to them. From the waist. Every time they sit down, and every time they get up again at the top of the lift, where another member of the resort staff is waiting to help them.
Try getting a French chairlift operator to bow from the waist every 20 seconds for the duration of his shift.
I could have gone skiing in China, I suppose. New resorts are opening all the time there, and skiing is becoming fashionable. But because it is such a new sport, too few of its local practitioners know what they are doing, which makes being within 50 yards of anybody else on the slopes potentially life threatening.
Compounding the danger is the fact that many Chinese ski the way they drive their cars – too little experience and skill, but even less respect for anyone else in the vicinity.
Give me the bowing Koreans any day.