Posted by: Matt Kelley | 3 February 2009

Taebaek Mountain Snow Festival

20090203_pinwheelsColorful pinwheels add color to what was an otherwise very white snow festival.

The Taebaek Mountain Range stretches 500 kilometers along Korea’s east coast. This backbone of the Korean Peninsula features its namesake, Mount Taebaek, at the southern edge of Gangwon Province.

Rising 1,567 meters above sea level, Taebaeksan, which means “great white mountain,” is famous for its heavy snowfall. A portrait of Dangun Wanggeom (단군왕검), Korea’s legendary founder, is enshrined here.  And during the Silla Dynasty, kings performed annual sacrifices on Taebaeksan. In fact, Korean shamanists consider Taebaek Mountain to be one of the nation’s three holiest peaks.

But as I mentioned previously, this “great white mountain” is famous for snow, which is why thousands of people come here annually for the Taebaek Snow Festival (태백산눈축제).  

20090203_snowfestivalAn overview of the festival’s main area featuring snow and ice sculptures, a performance stage and restaurant.

I decided to check it out for myself after finding a great tour package. The package includes roundtrip bus service from Seoul, plus tickets to the festival and coal museum, all for only about $30.

So, last weekend my friend Uikwon and I took advantage of this wintry tribute to snow, ice and everything cold. But when we arrived, there was something important missing… snow! Korea has hit a warm spell, but while it wasn’t quite a winter wonderland, there was still plenty of white stuff for festival attendees.

20090203_sculptureSeveral huge snow and ice sculptures, like this ox and buddies covered the festival grounds.

The event’s primary draw is its huge snow sculptures of everything from pigs and oxen, this being the year of the ox, to a gigantic Spiderman, dragons, cartoon characters and even a traditional Korean city gate. My favorite sculpture, however, was in honor of Korea’s national booze, soju.

20090203_icejohnSure, they’re not made of ice, but I think these plastic tulips make a nice accent for the icy bathroom!

Nearby the sculpture park was a big sledding hill as well as ice slides, an ice rink, and an ice sculpture area. Considerably smaller than the snow sculptures, the ice art was a bit more interactive. A life-sized icehouse featured all the amenities of modern life, complete with an ice bed, computer and television. But the ice bathroom was the best. Imagine an ice sink, toilet and soaking tub with an ice vase of, well, plastic, red tulips! In the evening, well-known entertainers perform on a large concert stage. Reportedly there are even sleigh rides pulled by Siberian huskies… but I didn’t see them.

20090203_coalmuseumThe nearby Taebaek Coal Museum features excellent exhibits and some 8,600 items.

For a little education along with our snow play, we checked out the impressive Taebaek Coal Museum (태백석탄박물관). Opened in1997, the four-story complex houses over 8,000 items, including rock and minerals, dinosaur fossils and mining machines. In addition to presenting the region’s geological history, the museum uses fantastic photographs and exhibits to document the role of coal in Korea’s history and the difficult lives of miners.

20090203_monumentA white concrete monument well fit to its surroundings.

After the museum, it was time for lunch. The festival area features several restaurants. The Taebaek area is famous for its beef, but my friend and I were in the mood for a hearty stew, so we ordered some dakbokkeumtang (닭볶음탕). Big pieces of chicken and potatoes marinated in a thick, delicious and spicy broth.

20090203_lunchMy friend Uikwon eagerly awaits our lunch of dakbokkeumtang.

But for the full experience, I’d suggest eating… outside! For under $10, you can enjoy delicious grilled pork samgyeopsal and soju on rustic waist-high barbecues with fellow festival goers! 

If you’ve got the time, there are a couple of other nearby sights worth seeing, like Cheongwon (청원사), Yuil (유일사) and Baeksan (백산사) temples. About a half-hour outside Taebaeksan is Seondol Cliff (선돌). The cliff rises 70 meters above what is now a frozen Seo River (서강). The beautiful views of the surrounding farms and mountains is definitely worthy of a quick stop. 

20090203_seondolSeondol Cliff towers 70 meters above the Seo River and surrounding farmlands.

map_taebaeksan

If you hope to visit the festival, you’d better hurry!  The event wraps up on February 8.

Photo Album:
New: Visit the full Taebaek Mountain Snow Festival photo gallery here.

Getting There:
→ From Seoul, buses leave the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (subway line 2, Gangbyeon Station) for Taebaek. The 3.5 hour trip costs between 21,300-23,000 won. From Taebaek, take bus 30 or 34 to the Donggol ticket office.

Or, there are several tour options connected with the festival. Contact tour operators  for specific details.

(A version of this text will air on KBS World Radio on February 7, 2008.)

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Responses

  1. Amazing photos!

  2. Hey, thanks!


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