With less than a month to go until the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea hasn’t stopped the country’s northern neighbour from demanding its own time in the spotlight with the opening of a new ski resort.
The Kanggye Ski Resort is the second ski resort to be built in North Korea in less than five years. The Masikryong Ski Resort, opened in 2013, is much larger.
The news was announced on the country’s Ryugyong website; it explained in true North Korean style that the project was completed ahead of schedule to reflect the “supreme will of the people.”
Following the 10-month building project by local workers, the resort officially opened on Sunday. Construction of the resort, close to the city of Kanggye is in the north of the country, near the border with China. Construction began in July last year under the order of Kim Jong-un.
At the time of the announcement of the project, state-run DPRK Today said the ski area would feature two ski slopes and snow-making capabilities “so skiing would not be hindered if snow doesn’t fall in the winter.”
The ski area reportedly covers 12 acres with a 530-metre main slope, suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers. There is also a 200m beginner slope, restaurants and accommodation, according to North Korean sources.
Back in 2013, during the construction of the Masikryong resort, which reportedly cost £21 million, North Korea wasn’t permitted to import a chairlift from Switzerland due to trade sanctions. Kim Jong-un’s regime referred to this as “a serious breach of human rights.” Instead, it had to source a 30-year-old Austrian ski lift, sold to the North Korean resort by China.
To avoid UN sanctions hindering the development in Kanggye, the new resort’s life was built locally, at “Masikryong speed” – a term used in the communist state referring to the breakneck pace at which workers built the Masikryong, the resort was built in under a year and is noted to be a point of national pride.
The opening of the second resort in Kanggye comes as the country participates in talks with South Korea to secure its attendance at the Winter Olympics in just a few weeks’ time.
The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to discuss a proposal from the South Korean government that the two countries have agreed, in principle, to field a joint women’s ice hockey team at the Games. If approved at the meeting in Switzerland this weekend, it will be the first unified Korean Olympic team ever.
On Monday, Pyeongchang would also welcome a 140-member North Korean pop orchestra to perform at the Games. The orchestra is known as the Samjiyon Band and is one of North Korea’s top art troupes. It's scheduled to perform twice in South Korea – once in the capital, Seoul, and again in Gangneung, one of the Olympic locations on the country’s east coast.
It has been confirmed, to avoid controversy, that the band will only play traditional Korean folk songs, known by both countries, a well as classical music to avoid North Korean propaganda.
Following the talks held at the border village of Panmunjom earlier this month, the two sides have agreed that it’s likely that North Korea will send athletes, cheerleaders, the orchestra, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team to the Games.
Kim Jong-un addressed the global sporting event in a New Year speech. “In regard to the Winter Olympics which will be held soon in South Korea, (the Olympics) will be a good opportunity to display the status of the Korean nation and we sincerely hope that the Games are held successfully.”