ZIP UP TO THE 42nd floor of an office block in Admiralty any Wednesday evening and you'll find the corridor is filled with skiing enthusiasts. The only snow in the Lippo Centre is on the promotion posters of the Korea National Tourism Organisation (KNTO), but that doesn't deter the visitors. They have come to learn how to master the slopes at resorts like Yong Pyong, which hosted last year's Winter Asian Games, and Muju, the largest ski resort in South Korea, even though some have never touched snow before. This month the ski season opens in Korea and Japan and Hong Kongers, who would previously have spent Christmas at home or the Lunar New Year on the mainland, are taking to the slopes instead in increasing numbers. This winter Korea and Japan are expecting a record number of visitors from the SAR to their ski resorts, and the free weekly ski theory classes run by the KNTO in its office in Tower One of the Lippo Centre are overflowing. Tracy Cheng, marketing manager for the KNTO in Hong Kong, says the response is such that people stand outside the room to hear the instructors. The classes are limited to 20 people, and reservations must be made by phone in advance. But even though classes are fully booked, people still turn up hoping there will be no-shows. Not a chance. Cheng says: 'We don't have any places open until January.' The classes, which started in mid-November and will be held until February, last 90 minutes, are conducted in English, and most of the ski students are Chinese. The Japan National Tourist Organisation (JNTO) does not hold ski classes, but its offices in Quarry Bay are inundated with requests for information on ski resorts, according to Mutsuko Suematsu, its director. 'Resorts are easily accessible from Tokyo, only two to three hours away by train and bus on Honshu Island, and skiing on Hokkaido Island is very popular,' she says. 'Many of the people from Hong Kong who book skiing packages in Japan emigrated to countries like Canada where they learnt to ski, but have now returned to work in the SAR.' The number of winter visitors from Hong Kong to South Korea has nearly trebled since 1997. In February 1997, at the peak of the ski season, 10,804 people went there for skiing and other winter activities. In February this year, more than 28,000 flew into Seoul from the SAR, and the KNTO believes the numbers will swell even more this season as the economy improves. Fewer people go to Japan to ski, possibly because the cost of living there is higher, but in February this year there were 5,170 visitors from Hong Kong, compared to 4,850 in February 1999. There are 13 ski resorts in South Korea, and most resorts are within four to five hours drive of Seoul - the nearest is only 30 minutes from the city. Among the favourites with package tourists are Yong Pyong, in the northeast, Muju, the largest ski resort in South Korea at Mt Togyusan National Park and the northernmost Alps Resort because it has guaranteed heavy snowfalls. There are flights seven times daily from Seoul to Kangnung, from where shuttle buses leave for Yong Pyong. Buses leave four times daily from Seoul for Muju Kuch'ondong, a journey of around three hours 20 minutes, from where shuttle buses take 10 minutes to get to Muju Resort. Flights leave three times daily from Seoul to Sokch'o, a journey of around 50 minutes, and shuttle buses leave twice daily from the airport to Alps Resort. Most of South Korea's resorts have beginner slopes. Yong Pyong has 18 slopes, (six beginner, five intermediate, five advanced and two for snowboarding). Muju has 30 slopes (eight beginner, 12 intermediate and 10 advanced), and Alps Resort has eight slopes (one beginner, four intermediate and three advanced). Japan has dozens of ski areas, but the most popular area for abundant snow is the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Packages are available with air connections from Tokyo. An alternative is to fly direct from Hong Kong to Sendai on Honshu Island. Packages are available with Dragonair. However, the ski slopes are an hour's drive away and skiers using this package have to commute. Arrangements for skiing and equipment hire must be made with New World Hotel in Sendai, where they stay. The Korean National Tourism Organisation in Hong Kong recommends 10 travel agents in the SAR who market ski packages on the peninsula. The Japan National Tourism Organisation recommends ski holidays be taken through Dragonair or Japan Airlines. Byumso Kim, managing director of Korea Travel Services (KTS), one of the main agents for ski holidays in that country, says: 'Four to five years ago we were getting mainly expats on our ski tours, but now we get a lot of Chinese who have never skied before, and Chinese who have returned from overseas.' It was easy to get to good ski resorts because they were just on the doorstep, and the prices were reasonable. Europe had great ski resorts, but travel there was costly and time-consuming. Kim said the most popular package deals are five days/four nights at Yong Pyong. The package starts at $5,280 on a twin-share basis for four days/three nights. Equipment hire is not included, and Kim said that at $180 a day for a ski suit, $180 for skis and boots and $220 a day for a lift pass, there was little difference in hire rates between Korea and Europe. However, the price of the package was reasonable, he said, and as Hong Kong travellers had an average of five days' holiday, they saved on air fares, travelling time, and were able to enjoy more time on the slopes. Dragonair offers four days/three nights packages to Sendai from $5,470. The New World Hotel has a shuttle bus service to the Eboshi Ski slopes. Lift passes are the equivalent of around $327, ski rental is about $320, as is ski suit and boots, all for a six-hour period. Coaching for this period is around $240. Eboshi has seven runs for beginners, nine intermediate and three advanced. Snowboarding is also available. JAL offers five days/four nights based in Sapporo, Hokkaido, from $6,380, or four days/three nights from $5,980, with breakfast. Round-trip transfers are available to a choice of three nearby resorts, Teine Highland, Teine Olympic or Sapporo Kokusai, and a half-day ski lesson is included. Again, ski equipment hire is not included in the price. A stopover in Tokyo is allowed on the return flight. But for those who prefer to wake up at the slopes, rather than use shuttle buses, JAL package prices at Hokkaido resorts such as Niseko, Kiroro and Rusutsu, including dinners and all-day skiing are much more expensive, between $10,580 and $11,080 for five days/four nights. n For information on skiing in Korea and Japan: Korea National Tourism Office. Room 4203, Lippo Centre, Tower One, Admiralty. Tel 2523 8065, fax 2845 0765. n Japan National Tourism Office. 37/F Dorset House, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay. Tel 2968 5688.