The people of Pyeongchang can confidently promise two things when they host the Olympics: it’ll be cold, and there’ll be no concerns about snow.
While a warm spell has created challenging conditions for the skiers and snowboarders competing in the mountains above Sochi at the 2014 Olympics, there has been heavy snow in the region that will host the next Winter Games in 2018.
Pyeongchang, three hours east of Seoul, is already a favored destination for affluent winter sports fans. It has the typical look and feel of an Alpine resort.
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Kim Yong-woon, a former South Korea national ski team member who is mayor of a small village in the region, has been visiting Sochi to inspect the infrastructure and said the Black Sea resort area has a summery feel.
”It’s a winter sports games – there should be snow everywhere,” Kim told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ”Pyeongchang is the best when it comes to weather. It snowed heavily this week, and we’re expecting more.”
As snow blankets Pyeongchang, people in the rural mountain town of 43,000 have become absorbed in the Olympics. There’s groups of Winter Games devotees who are scrutinizing the coverage of Sochi, where the buildup was overshadowed by construction delays, budget blowouts and concerns about the mild weather.
Jang Kyung-hee, a preacher at Daegwallyeong Holiness Church, said he wasn’t interested much in the Olympics until the games were awarded to his city after two failed bids.
”Now I have great interest in it and talk about it with fellow church members a lot,” he said. ”Everyone talks about it. I closely read about the problems at Sochi in the papers, and think that we shouldn’t have such problems.”
The temperature dropped to minus-17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pyeonchang on Saturday before climbing to peak at 4 degrees C (39 degrees F).
”The snow has piled up everywhere here,” said 81-year-old Kim Woon-ki, a resident of Pyeongchang, where snow is a fact of life at this time of year and doesn’t usually dominate conversations.
At the Sochi Olympic Alpine venue on Saturday, the temperature hit 12 degrees C (55 degrees F) around the time of the women’s super-G event.
Sochi hands over the Olympic baton to Pyeongchang at the closing ceremony on Feb. 23. And people in South Korea are already thinking about what it will be like to host the event four years from now.
”I can sense the excitement in the air whenever I go there,” said Seo Kwang-won, a 38-year-old snowboarder who frequently visits ski resorts in Pyeongchang. ”In the evening, everybody is watching the Sochi Games, not soap operas.”
Teams of people from Pyeongchang are in Sochi to watch the games unfold at close range, and in real time.
”Monitoring the Sochi Games is my daily work now,” said Choi Il-hong, the development headquarters manager at Gangwon Development Corporation, which built the Alpensia resort. ”We also have sent many inspectors to Sochi to closely observe Sochi’s operations and service, so we can make things better.
”I am confident,” he said. ”And I can tell you, the snow will be the best quality in the world.”