By Monica Williams, Discovery Editor

Seoul has long had a love affair with “screen golf,” a virtual and indoor alternative to 18 rounds of tee time outdoors.

Now, there are venues where people can virtually bowl, play tennis, horseback ride, and even ski and they’re opening in all manner of places. These VR sports facilities are offering pro and novice athletes a way to shape up without concerns about weather or space.

A snowboarding injury a few years ago left me reticent to return to the slopes, so I was excited about the SIWA tour in March to go skiing and snowboarding at UrbanSlope, the only virtual reality facility for the snow sports. It opened late last year in Gangnam. Children are welcome so we SIWA members brought our teenage children.

The virtual version of downhill skiing is lifelike but less risky, thanks the same simulator the U.S. Ski Team uses to train. At UrbanSlope, our group was fitted with ski boots and linked with an instructor before tackling one of five simulators for snow sports. The machines re-create realistic slope conditions with nearly every aspect of the slope available for customization. With the press of a button, we could choose settings such as the slope’s length and the softness or iciness of the snow. Once we got acclimated, we could increase the difficulty of the run and even try weaving around slalom gates. Intense vibrations enhance the lifelike experience.

I started out slowly, exerting the muscles in my legs to operate the machine and change my speed to navigate a course that appears on a huge, high-definition panoramic screen. “You can be more aggressive,” UrbanSlope owner Tom Shin told me repeatedly, as I was reticent to weave too quickly.

Within a few minutes at an 85-mile-per-hour pace, I was out of breath and felt the burn in my thighs. Most Urban Slope customers, Shin says, top out within 15 minutes. The cost for a session is 60,000 to 110,000 won ($54 to $98) for 40 minutes.

In Korea, some amateur athletes use ski simulators at UrbanSlope to perfect their form. One could pull up a course, for example, from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I asked if it’s possible to replicate the course for the PyeongChang 2018 Games. Yes, Shin responded, but “I’m not supposed to play that one.”

While the U.S. Ski Team has long embraced the technology to improve its performance, VR practice hasn’t quite caught on with Korean Olympic athletes. “They seemed to have concluded that it won’t help despite the fact that the Korea Ski Association and the like made numerous inquiries directly to the manufacturer,” Shin said. “It could be due to the high cost of the machines.”

An avid skier, Shin spent two decades in sales and marketing at Asia Brown Boveri and Samsung Electronics before becoming CEO of Korea Maritime Consultants, the owner of UrbanSlope.

“This is not something I started to make big bucks, but more to create a cultural boom,” he said. “I wanted to introduce this new culture to Korea. I enjoy watching people’s faces when they are on the machine — expressions of pure joy.”

About Urban Slope

Urban Slope opened in November 2016 and is the only virtual ski and snowboard center in Korea.

Children are welcome. Call in advance to reserve a simulator and check for boot sizes if needed. You can also take your own boots.

Urban Slope

Gangnam-gu, Nonhyeonro 132 Gil 6, Seoul

02-516-2018

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 edition of Discovery magazine.