On January 12/13 Koryo Tours were invited to inspect the much-speculated on, newly opened Masik Pass Ski resort the first resort of its kind opened in North Korea and the course of much media speculation and controversy over the last year since construction began. The efforts of the builders working here on the site have been widely reported in DPRK news since the project broke ground just over a year ago and the term ‘Masik Ryong Speed’ has become a specific national phrase now meaning to develop something at high speed, it’s a phrase used across the country these days.
Officially the resort opened on January 1st but we can now report that foreign tourists are able to stay at the Masikrong hotel (from there this blog is being filed, internet is available for $0.20 per minute) and use the ski runs from now.
ON my arrival at Masik on Jan 12th who was I to immediately run into but Dennis Rodman! As ayone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last week knows he has been in the country for his invitational basketball match, a great deal has been written about this and of course Koryo Tours was able to offer exclusive access to the event to our tourists but it was interesting to run unto the man himself once again in a completely different part of the country, Dennis had to leave shortly after I arrived and fly back into the mouth of a media scrum in Beijing, we follow with interest to see what he will get up to next. I did run into some members of the Moranbong Band as well, this is North Korea’s pop music phenomenon; an all-girl bank made up of over 20 members, they were hand-picked by Kim Jong Un, an unlikely pop Svengali, and have achieved great fame in the DPRK since their foundation just over a year ago, women copy their hairstyles, men follow them for other reasons. They were here skiing and all seemed very nice and charming, sadly for our single guides they weren’t around the hotel bars in the evening though
So, hotel first; it’s very fancy and comfortable, has 120 rooms in two buildings and is dotted with so many bars and cafes that a crawl around them all would take days in itself! The restaurants here seem well equipped and offer a range of options, best to go with Korean food of course but they also offer some European options in addition. The leisure facilities at the hotel are also quite impressive, a cavelike Karaoke room, billiard tables, areas for playing chess as well are all available. The 25m swimming pool is very nice and has a playing pool (aimed at Children, but there weren’t any in there so it was being used as a Jacuzzi for adults), as well as a brutally hot steam room and a more relaxing dry sauna.
But the main attraction here is the skiing itself, having had a small amount of ski experience only I’m no expert in what makes somewhere necessarily superior to somewhere else but I have been to some winter Olympic ski runs before and this stands up very well with those; there are a total of 9 ski runs, the longest is over 5km! ON day 1 I tried out a red Run which I made it down, about 25% of which was on my backside though! More appropriate for my level was what the call here the upper beginners slope, which can be used on skis, board, or in a rubber ring, the latter may be less dignified but it was a whole lot of fun!
The number of local Korean skiers here was also a great surprise, considering that prior to a fortnight ago there was just one ski slope in the country, and in a very remote and hard to reach area. There are a large number of trainers who help you with advice on what parts o the slope are fast or slow, pick you up if you fall, and drive you between different areas in ski-doos, the level of assistance offered to beginners is also very impressive and I saw a wide range of abilities and ages of skiers on display here, there were something like 200 visitors this day, mostly coming from the nearby East Coast city of Wonsan, this is far from the 5000 daily visitors projected initially but it is actually about 200 more than I first expected, and the skill levels of some people there who when asked claimed to have learned in just a couple of weeks, was very impressive. Masik-Ryong speed indeed!
The much-reported ski-lift issue seems to have been resolved with the use of Chinese made lifts, they are not the fastest but they get you to the top, and the morning view from the very top of the mountain is stunning, visitors are welcome to side to the top for photos even if they don’t want to ski all the way down (the shortest run from the very top is still over a mile).
One of Koryo Tours’ major concerns has been the availability of medical facilities here at Masik, there are three emergency stations which appear to be equipped with stretchers and so on needed for mountain rescue, any major injuries would need to be evacuated to hospital in Wonsan, or in a major emergency there I a helipad to take people to Pyongyang. Wearing a helmet is a requirement and this is included in the ski gear rental, knowing your ability level and acting responsibly though are also important when here, Skiing is great fun but can also be quite dangerous, and any visitors should definitely be sure to go carefully and make the most of their visit, not simply go to the hardest run and potentially get in some trouble.
We’re well aware of the controversies surrounding this ski resort, that is is a highly expensive construction project which many see as economically doubtful and emblematic of recent building developments in the country. This debate is one for DPRK pundits to keep going. The purpose of this inspection trip was to see what the actual resort is like and while we can’t promise chance meetings with NBA all-stars or famous girl bands we can be certain n saying that a visit to Masik, whether to ski (we are waiting advice from the British Embassy if this is sensible or not due to the adequate medical facilities) or just have a look around, is a fascinating, bizarre, and very worthwhile experience.