North Korea to open multimillion-dollar ski resort
Poverty-stricken North Korea is gearing up to open a multimillion-dollar ski resort that is planned to be equipped with multilevel ski runs, two hotels, cable cars, and even a helipad.
The luxury resort, which is located a four-hour drive from the capital city Pyongyang in Masik Pass, is slated to formally open on October 10, the 68th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea.
However, it appears that there is still work to be done in the resort, which has been under construction for the past 10 months. According to a report published by the Associated Press, the main hotel buildings appeared to be little more than shells and potholes filled the main access roads when visited by a reporter in late-September.
The prospect of a weekend on the ski slopes will be far out of reach for the majority of North Korea's 24.7 million population, which earns on average $1,800 per year, according to the CIA World Factbook.
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Kim Tae Yong, the secretary-general of North Korea's ski association estimates there are 5,500 North Korean skiers in the country.
"Entrance fees are expected to be set at around $50. The average person in North Korea couldn't afford to spend that," said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours - a tour company specializing in North Korean travel.
Cockerell, who visited the project site in late-August, said it will be open to foreigners as well.
"In the region, the intensive population with the money to ski lies in South Korea, however they don't have access to the country," he said. "Foreign tourist numbers are still low, there will be about 6,000 Western tourists visiting the country this year."
Kelvin Chan, head of country research at Euromonitor said the move is unlikely to drive tourists to visit North Korea, rather, it will be another attraction that tour organizers can add to their itineraries during the winter months.
"Only the adventurous travelers will choose to go to North Korea. After all, there are many ski resorts in neighboring countries such as China, South Korea and Japan," he said.
The ski complex is believed to the pet project of the country's leader Kim Jong-un, who reportedly enjoyed the sport as teenager while studying in Switzerland.
But building it hasn't been an easy task. The country, for example, has faced trouble obtaining ski lifts because of sanctions imposed in March to make it illegal to sell goods to the recluse nation.
Last month, the Swiss government revoked plans for a company to sell North Korea $7.7 million worth of lifts and cable car equipment, according to AP.
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Kim called the move "a pity," the AP reported, but assured the resort would have three lifts by the end of the year. "We can make nuclear weapons and rockets," he said. "We can build a ski lift."
—CNBC's Ansuya Harjani; Follow her on Twitter @Ansuya_H