The Olympic Problem

The future of South Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympic ski slopes is in doubt

Reports from Korea indicate that government agencies there are undecided on what will happen to the country’s Jeongseon Alpine Ski Centre on Mount Gariwang. Located in Ganwong, the centre was built from scratch at a cost of just over 20 billion won ($18 million US), especially for the Olympics.

The construction of the course was a major controversy in South Korea as it was created in an unspoilt wilderness area of ancient woodland. This was due to the fact no existing ski slopes in Korea met the 800m vertical drop requirements of an Olympic downhill ski race. One plan to build up the existing biggest vertical in the country by a few metres to meet requirement was rejected. Instead, trees were cleared and a gondola built, causing upset to millions of Koreans who signed petitions against the project.

Korean media report that the slope, still sporting patriotic banners, is currently disused and won’t be used for winter sports this winter, describing its status as, “…on the verge of becoming an illegal facility.”

What happens next with the complex appears open to debate. The Korean national government and the country’s forestry agency who are responsible for it, say that from January 1st the slopes should be recovered with native woodland and expect 1000 trees to be planted.

However, local and regional governments appear to favour it remaining as some sort of tourist attraction, with the new gondola being used for scenic tours, even if the skiing facilities go. There is also talk of making a bid to co-host the 2021 Winter Asian Games with North Korea, in which case the ski slopes would need to be usable.

One sticking point could be the bill for restoration, which one regional official said would involve removing around 70,000 tonnes of waste, putting the project cost at around the same as building the complex in the first place – 20 billion won.

The 2018 Winter Olympics (pictured above) brought great prosperity to South Korea – but what did they leave behind?

Environmental groups say central and provincial governments should stick to promises to restore the mountain’s ecosystem before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Bae Je-seon of environmental organisation Green, told Korea Joongag Daily that:

“All nations [that have hosted the Olympics] came up with detailed plans as to how the facilities will be used [afterwards]. In January, before the Winter Olympics started, the Gangwon provincial government came up with a plan to restore Mount Gariwang’s ecosystem after the games ended. They should keep their promise.”

China is currently facing a similar issue, as it prepares to host the 2022 Games.

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