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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Masik Pass Open for (Foreign) Business

by | January 26th, 2014 | 07:00 am

After officially opening on January 1st, Koryo Tours has declared that the Masik Pass ski resort is ready to host foreign tourists. You can now tack a two-night side trip to Masik onto your tour package for an additional 290 Euros (plus equipment rentals and a lift ticket).

The guides at Koryo have also provided a more in-depth description of their Masik Pass experience here. By their account, the resort shaped up nicely: nine runs, a fancy hotel chock-full of bars and fine dining, and an army of “trainers” ready to personally chauffeur you around on Canadian Ski-Doos (luxury import sanctions be damned!). Oh yes, and internet connectivity — Koryo makes a big deal that you can “tweet from the middle of North Korea” for $0.20 a minute.

As One Free Korea and others have pointed out, a $300 million ski resort is a bit of a slap in the face to most North Koreans. Of the roughly 200 people the Koryo guides observed using the resort, they happened to run into both Dennis Rodman as well as few members of the Moranbong Band. Maybe this is selection bias– the guides could have run into plenty of factory workers and farmers expressing great reverence for the egalitarian paradise the great leader has bequeathed and chose not to write about it. To us it seems a great example of the project’s true target customers: foreigners and North Korea’s wealthy and connected who can afford 30 Euro lift tickets.

Perhaps we’re too hard on central planners. This is a state investment project that could yield profit in the future right, right? Well, currently daily turnout is 1/25 of what was projected. At the rate of 200 patrons per day (given each spends a very generous 100 Euros total and the resort operates 150 days a year), that’s only 73 years to recoup the initial investment, not taking into account pesky details like the present value of capital. On the other hand, Masik has only been open less than a month. Perhaps with an increase in tourism, a rapprochement in North-South relations, and more North Koreans entering the middle class, Kim Jong Un’s winter wonderland may only have been a marginal waste of valuable resources.

Check out the video below of a ski instructor sampling one of the sparsely populated runs, coasting all the way down to the 120-room Masikrong Hotel. If after this you too feel the need for Masik speed, we’ve got a tip for the novice skiers: learn your “pizza pies” and “french fries” fast, because reportedly there’s a hundred-foot cliff at the bottom of the bunny slope.