What It’s Like to Go to the Olympics as a Spectator (PyeongChang 2018)

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The gold medal winner of the PyeongChang Olympics Women's Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle

During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, I happened to live in South Korea as an English teacher. So I took the opportunity to go to the Olympics as a spectator and watch an event in-person.

How many times would the Olympic Games be located within a few hours of my house?

This post covers my experience as a spectator at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. Of course, the Olympic Games within the last year have been a lot different because of COVID-19. At both the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, spectators are and were extremely limited (if present at all).

But this post can give you an idea of what it’s like to go to the Olympics as a spectator, particularly in more normal times.

Buying Tickets

The first thing about attending the Olympics in-person is that you have a fairly small window of time to get to an event. This is usually about a bit over two weeks.

The PyeongChang Olympics took place in February 2018, with some of the dates falling over Lunar New Year, known as Seollal in Korea. Workers in South Korea typically have 2-3 days off of work for Seollal, so luckily I had some time off. But so did everyone else.

In terms of scheduling, events are continually occurring throughout the day, every day. Many sports have several events because they have rounds (e.g. qualifying rounds, semi-finals, finals). That makes it easy to be able to be able to watch one or a few events in-person.

Fancy looking tickets for the PyeongChang Olympic Games

PyeongChang Olympic event tickets

But if you want to see a specific event, you’ll have to be able to make a very specific time and location.

In addition, the tickets for more popular events and sports, like figure skating and the finals of a given sport, can be more expensive and sell out quicker.

In other words, you have to grab tickets for events on a day at a time at a location you are able to be at, that is available and also within your price range.

Cost of Olympic Tickets

So how much do Olympic tickets cost?

I ended up getting tickets to see the finals of Women’s Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle, which took place on Saturday, February 17th. The event was scheduled from 10 AM to 2:35 PM. One ticket was 180,000 won, or approximately $150 USD at the time.

Tickets for the PyeongChang Olympics went on sale online on September 5th, 2017. Ticket prices cost from 20,000 won (~$17 USD) to 900,000 won (~$800 USD) for the actual sporting events. Meanwhile, tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies ranged from 220,000 won (~$190 USD) to 1,500,000 won (~$1300 USD).

The most expensive sporting event to watch was the men’s hockey finals.

But either way, it’s not necessarily cheap to go to the Olympics as a spectator, even if you just go for a day and don’t stay anywhere overnight. You still have to buy your ticket for at least one event and also get there somehow. This can be trickier if the event location is out of the way.

Getting to the PyeongChang Olympics

The PyeongChang Olympics were held around Pyeongchang County in Gangwon Province (Gangwon-do), east of Seoul and in the northeast of the country.

To prepare for the Olympics, South Korea built the new Gangneung line for the KTX (Korea’s high-speed trains) from Seoul. This route runs from Seoul to through Gangwon-do to the east coast city of Gangneung, passing through multiple stops including Pyeongchang.

This train route is actually valuable beyond the Winter Olympics though. Stops along the route are very popular throughout the year with domestic and international tourists alike.

The Pyeongchang area has long been popular for winter sports, and the coastal cities of Gangneung and Sokcho are famous for their beaches. It’s also famous for the Seoraksan mountain area, which is especially beautiful in autumn.

The events took place in the Pyeongchang area (the Mountain Cluster) and around Gangneung (the Coastal Cluster). The Women’s Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle event took place at Phoenix Snow Park.

Phoenix Snow Park at the PyeongChang Olympics

Phoenix Snow Park

It was also possible to drive to Pyeongchang, and that’s how we got to the Olympics. They had designated parking lots to deal with all the incoming traffic for the Olympic Games.

Getting Around the PyeongChang Olympics

We drove to Pyeongchang and had to spend a very long time finding a parking spot. We were able to take a free shuttle bus between the parking lot and the actual Olympics area, as the spots were kinda far apart.

The shuttle bus let us off around the Olympic Village area. From there, we had to take another shuttle bus to Phoenix Snow Park. There were shuttle buses that ran between many of the different sports sites, as well as some of the surrounding cities.

Outside Phoenix Snow Park

Outside Phoenix Snow Park

You can kinda see some of the shuttle buses in corner of the picture above. I don’t quite remember what the line of people was for. To get into an event perhaps?

Watching the Olympics In-Person

So a bit about the event we saw. In Slopestyle, which was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 2014, competitors ski or snowboard through a course with different obstacles like jumps and rails while doing tricks.

Before sitting down, we decided to buy souvenirs and buy some hot drinks. We had to wait in a pretty long line for the souvenirs. I purchased a stuffed Soohorang (one of the mascots) and a blanket.

The blanket ended up being pretty small, but it is extremely soft and the design is so pretty. The snowflakes on the blanket are all composed of letters of the Korean alphabet (also called hangul). I think the design is quite creative.

Souvenirs from going to the Olympics

We sat in the stands and watched the event. It was really cool, with all the tricks the competitors did. It was also very cold, sitting outside on a day with a high of only 37 degrees Fahrenheit (or ~2.7 degrees Celsius). Sure, that isn’t the coldest temperature I’ve been outside in, but I was outside for hours in it.

The particular competition we saw was the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle finals. The athletes performed a variety of tricks on three different runs. This included a setup sort of like a skatepark (called a terrain or snow park) as one run and a series of three consecutive jumps (hills that fling them into the air) as another.

PyeongChang Olympics slopestyle course from the perspective of a spectator

The slopestyle course

Phoenix Snow Park courses

Unfortunately, the skatepark-like setup was up a bit high and far away from the stands, so it was difficult to see. I don’t really know what happened during that portion, and didn’t really take any photos.

But the tricks they did off of the jumps were awesome! That’s the whole reason to go to the Olympics as a spectator — to see amazing feats of athleticism. Here are a bunch of photos:

Just some of my favorite photos

Do you see the orange and red things at the top of the photos below? That’s where the terrain park features are. Even with the zoom on my camera, I couldn’t see much of the activity there because the structures kinda blocked the view. Oh well. The views of the jumps were great though:

The jumps make this a very photogenic sport (as does the snow)

Some athletes had great landings. And some competitors had more trouble. Some closeups:

That’s the silver medalist Mathilde Gremaud in the first photo!

There were a number of people in the stands with us, as well as people down on the ground near the end of the course. There were also some spectators repping their home countries with flags or spirit outfits.

Some of these people were probably other athletes competing at the Olympics (or maybe most of them were, not sure). I also think I spotted some Ohioans (second picture below)

Spectators at the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Slopestyle competition

Since the event we were watching was the finals, they had a little stand and presented the winners with stuffed mascots (Soohorang, the tiger) at the end of the event. These stuffed mascots were special because they were all wearing a gat, or traditional Korean hats worn by the men from the aristocracy during the Joseon dynasty.

The medal winners

Gold medalist Sarah Höfflin landing her last jump

Sarah Höfflin after landing

Sarah Höfflin from Switzerland won the gold medal, Mathilde Gremaud from Switzerland won the silver medal, and Isabel Atkin from Great Britain won the bronze medal. It seemed like they presented the medals to the women later.

Mathilde Gremaude actually won the gold medal in this event at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics a few hours before the publication of this post!

Olympic Village and Olympic Plaza

The main Olympic area in Pyeongchang was comprised of the Olympic Village, where we were dropped off by the shuttle bus, and the Olympic Plaza.

In the Olympic Village, there were little shops and different buildings that were labeled with country’s names like “Japan House” or “Canada House.” I’m not really sure what went on in those buildings, as the athletes’ living quarters were high-rise apartments that weren’t located along the main street.

Sights along the main street of the Olympic Village

The Olympic Village was nearby the Olympic Plaza, within walking distance. At the Olympic Plaza, there was the Olympic Stadium used for the opening and closing ceremonies, the Medal Plaza, the Olympic torch, and an area with all the world flags. In this whole Olympic Plaza complex, there were little stalls with food, sponsor stalls, and so on.

Olympic Plaza

After watching the competition, we took a shuttle bus back to the main Olympic area, walked around, and got some food. We also watched some athletes be presented their medals on stage, as well as some random k-pop performance.

The Medal Plaza

Of course, we spent some time looking at the Olympic torch and Olympic Stadium. We also got to see some fireworks once it was dark enough. Honestly, the fireworks were pretty impressive as well.

Some highlights of the fireworks

We had a cold trek back through the Olympic Village and to the bus stop. We had to wait in a very, very lengthy line to get onto the shuttle bus, to then get in the car to drive back to Seoul (a good 3 hour drive).

Overall Thoughts

Was it worth it to go to the Olympics as a spectator?

Even though it was very cold and it was a very long day, I think it was worth it to go. Being so close to the location of one of the Olympic Games was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I couldn’t pass up that experience. Though obviously I paid significantly less to watch the Olympics in-person than someone who had to fly into South Korea and/or stay overnight.

Of course, watching any event at the Olympic Games, you will see the top athletes in the entire world in that sport. It was really cool and interesting to see all that skill and talent in-person.

If you have even a passing interest in sports and you have the chance, definitely consider going! It’s best if you keep an eye out for the ticket release date, so you’re more likely to find tickets in your desired price range/for the event(s) you want to watch.

And if you go to the Winter Olympics, definitely, definitely wear layers. Have a hat, gloves, a scarf, and hot packs in your coat pockets for your hands. And maybe even ones in your shoes for your feet.

Also, be prepared to wait a long time for public transportation (whether that’s by bus, train, subway, etc) to get around. Make sure to plan for that when mapping out your schedule.

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