Doubts over North Korea first ski resort opening

The Masik Pass ski resort is September 2013 Image copyright AP
Image caption North Korea says that the new resort will be a major boost to its economy and to its chances of international sporting success

North Korea was due to open its first multi-million dollar ski resort on Thursday, but there are doubts whether it will be ready in time.

The resort will have ski runs, ski lifts, resort chalets and sleigh rides.

But its two hotels are little more than empty shells, while the access road is filled with potholes, the AP news agency reported after a visit to the site in September.

There are also questions about who will use the resort once it is completed.

It is estimated that there are only about 5,500 North Korean skiers in a country with a population of 24 million people - equivalent to about 0.02% of the total.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The resort is believed to be a pet project of Kim Jong-un who visited it in May
Image copyright AP
Image caption Scores of of soldier-builders in drab olive-coloured uniforms have been deployed in the construction effort
Image copyright AP
Image caption The resort is one of several new sports facilities being built in North Korea. Numerous recreational parks, basketball courts and skating rinks have recently been built
Image copyright AP
Image caption The resort has been carved out of dense foliage in a remote area in the east of the country

Correspondents say that the Masik Pass ski resort - located in the secluded depths of North Korea's east coast - is the country's latest megaproject, the product of 10 months of intensive labour.

It is intended to show that Communist North Korea is as civilized and culturally advanced as any other country, despite its reputation for poverty and isolation.

Billboards around the construction site urge workers to finish the job by Thursday's deadline, the 68th anniversary of the formation of the Korean Workers' Party. But the construction has reportedly been delayed by heavy rains and landslides.

"Full attack. March forward. Let's absolutely finish building Masik Pass ski resort within this year by launching a full aggressive war," one sign reads.

The resort is believed to be a pet project of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who reportedly skied when he attended secondary school in Switzerland under an assumed name.

An AP reporter who recently visited Masik's ski runs says that they consist of long stretches of bright-brown dirt dotted with rocks, weeds and patches of stubborn grass. The pistes cut their way through the trees to converge at the hotel construction site below.

Foundations were still being dug. Two simple lifts were being installed, but neither was working at the time.

Correspondents say that North Korea is eager to build the resort because it wants to win more medals in the Winter Olympics. Sport is seen as a useful way of mobilising the masses and Pyongyang wants to encourage more tourism.

"It will have a big impact on the economy," North Korean Academy of Social Science economist Ri Ki Song told AP.

"We are now trying to build a lot of tourism sites, and skiing is the kind of sport that developed countries enjoy. It will also be a place for our own people to use.''

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