by Nicola Smith, The Telegraph, January 26, 2018
After the frenzied media buzz around the arrival of glamorous North Korean celebrity singer, Hyon Song-wol, to inspect Olympic concert venues in Seoul at the weekend, a South Korean delegation is scheduled this week to vet North Korea’s most luxurious ski resort.
But their planned visit to the Masikryong resort, earmarked for joint training sessions ahead of the Games, is likely to be a more sober affair, amid concerns of handing a propaganda victory to Kim Jong-un by supporting what critics claim is an ill-conceived vanity project.
“The idea of joint training could be used as a propaganda tool to rationalise how far-sighted Kim Jong-un was in making what was actually an anachronistic decision to build the ski resort at a time when ordinary citizens are starving to death,” Kim Sung-han, former South Korean vice foreign minister told Reuters.
Masikryong is said to have been conceived by the young leader, who was educated in Switzerland, to put the North on an equal footing with its southern rival after the mountain resort of Pyeongchang was named as the host of the 2018 Olympics.
It was built at breakneck speed in a year, to service the regime’s wealthy elite. Sitting on the Taehwa peak, the winter sports retreat offers ten pistes for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, a grand hotel, ice rink, swimming pool and bars stocked with expensive European liquors.
At the bottom of the slopes, a giant screen reportedly blasts out patriotic music, showing scenes of saluting generals.
Photos obtained by the NKNews website display pristine facilities that could rival European resorts. One photo reveals the price of an eight hour ski session, at $100, is more than twice the monthly $30-$40 salary of the average North Korean.
The site reports that new Canadian snowmobiles, Swedish snow-blowers, Swiss gondolas and Italian and German snow cats have all been spotted there, raising the question of whether UN Security Council restrictions on Pyongyang’s purchase of “luxury goods” may have been broken.
Situated a three hour drive from the capital Pyongyang, Masikryong also sits under the shadow of accusations that child labour underpins its operations.
Last year NBC reported that shabbily dressed working gangs, including children as young as 11 or 12, toiled through freezing blizzards using pickaxes and makeshift shovels to clear the roads leading to the resort.
Meanwhile, the regime appears to have pinned its hopes on raking in hard cash from visiting tourists by building up its reputation as a winter sports destination.
In 2016, professional freeride skier Sam Smoothy, a New Zealander, made headlines by filming his trip to the Masikryong slopes and sharing it with his social media followers.