North Korea’s Masikryong ski resort, which opened in 2014 following a rapid construction period of less than a year, is set to welcome a group of visiting South Koreans in just a matter of days.
A 12 member delegation from the South will visit the resort for three days and two nights from January 23 to inspect the facilities ahead of sending South Korean skiers there for joint training sessions ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Their trip is part of a broader effort between the two Koreas to warm ties ahead of the Winter Olympics, games which will see the two countries even join forces to play a joint women’s ice hockey team.
So what will the South Korean delegation expect to see?
While South Korean media outlet Chosun Ilbo reported last week that the resort includes “hopelessly outdated” equipment, January-dated photos exclusively obtained by NK News show that things aren’t likely to be anywhere near as bad as the conservative-leaning newspaper claims.
Newly manufactured Canadian snowmobiles, Swedish snow-blowers, Swiss gondolas and Italian and German snow cats have all been spotted at North Korea’s Masik Ski resort since it opened in January 2014, equipment that raised concerns that UN Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang from purchasing “luxury goods” may have been broken.
Odd Stensrud, manager at Hafjell-Kvitfjell, one of the biggest alpine resorts in Norway, told NK News in 2014 that from looking at initial pictures of the resort in news reports, he wouldn’t have guessed Masikryong was in North Korea if he didn’t know beforehand.
“The things you can see from the pictures in the news reports could have been anywhere, at a small or medium-sized ski resort anywhere in the world,” Stensrud said, noting that most of the visible equipment hews to international standards and comes from respected manufacturers.
Still, regardless of the quality of equipment, slopes or snow, some critics say South Korea’s visit to the resort could undermine international pressure on the DPRK’s human rights track record, because of its use of forced labor.
“It’s well known that forced labor is regularly used on both large and small infrastructure projects in North Korea, and this includes required labor by students, meaning that child labor is used as well”, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters last week.
“There is no reason that the Masik ski resort would be any different from this established model”.
Featured image: NK News