Organizers of the 2020 Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, a world-famous winter event now under way in the Gangwon Province town, northeast of Seoul, said Thursday that they have been making all-out efforts to ensure the safety of Korean and foreign visitors, particularly in the face of the new coronavirus outbreak.
The annual festival hosted by Hwacheon, a remote mountain town close to the inter-Korean border and about 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul, has made headlines worldwide, with thousands of tourists trying to catch "sancheoneo," a species of mountain trout, through holes in a vast frozen river and taking part in bare-hand fishing, sledding, ice soccer and other events.
This year's sancheoneo festival was originally scheduled to kick off on Jan. 4 but had been postponed twice due to unseasonably warm weather and insufficient formation of ice on the main ice fishing venue.
Thanks to the return of the winter cold, the festival finally opened on Jan. 27, having since drawn a stream of tourists to Hwacheon's festival sites.
On the first weekend after the festival's opening, a large number of tourists visited Hwacheon, though they were asked to enjoy river fishing instead, as the ice had thinned again due to warm weather.
The number of visitors tumbled from previous years amid the steady spread of the new coronavirus.
Officials at Hwacheon County Office said they have reacted to the insufficient ice formation on the ice fishing venue by quadrupling the size of fresh water fishing sites.
Tourists threw fishing rods into the unfrozen river water and caught mountain trout with shouts of victory. Festival organizers steadily released tons of sancheoneo into the river to help maximize the pleasure of fishing tourists.
The tourists were then given chances to taste grilled sancheoneo at a nearby cooking zone.
Bare hand fishing was also very popular with visitors, as many of them in short sleeves and shorts were seen jumping into the icy cold water to catch mountain trout.
Tourists also showed interest in the bobsleigh experience hall and an indoor ice sculpture square, both of them first introduced in Hwacheon this year.
"The absence of ice fishing was a disappointment but my children were very happy to catch a number of sancheoneo in the river water. It will long remain a pleasant winter memory for us," said Choi Hyuk-min, a resident of Incheon who came with his two sons.
County officials said they will continue to take all possible precautions to protect festival visitors from the coronavirus. Throughout the festival sites, hand sanitizer and face masks are available.
"We have had some difficulties due to warm weather and the coronavirus outbreak. As a cold snap is forecast for this week, however, the sancheoneo ice festival will get back on track," a county official said.
The festival will continue through Feb. 16.
Launched in 2003, the event was chosen as the nation's best festival by the culture ministry in 2010 and has developed into one of the world's four major winter festivals.
Last year, the festival drew 1.84 million tourists during its 23-day run, marking an increase of 6 percent from the previous year.