North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the construction of what he calls a "world class" ski resort in the country's Kangwon Province, the North Korean state news agency reported recently.
Arch-rival South Korea will host the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. Some reports say the new resort is in response to that – even speculating that the North and South will field a combined team, as they did in the 2000 and 2004 summer games.
Kim recently visited the site to offer what he called "on-the-spot field guidance" to the Korean People's Army, who have been ordered to complete construction by the first snowfall according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The ski area is located on Masik Hill, where heavy snowfall reportedly blankets the region's 4,400-foot peaks between November and March.
According to KCNA, the resort will cover about 68 miles of mountainside and will include beginner, intermediate, and advanced terrain. During his on-site tour, Kim emphasized the "need to preserve ecological environment and prevent pollution while building the skiing ground," KCNA reported.
Though North Korea reported an increase in Western visitors this past February and claims tourism in the country is on the rise, Simon Cockerell, co-founder of North Korean tourist operator Koryo Tours, which will offer tours of the resort once it opens, says he doesn't think a ski resort will affect tourism much.
"People don't really go to North Korea for skiing," Cockerell told XGames.com. "If the ski area is a good one or has curiosity value, it may be of interest to people who like to ski in unusual locations, but only time will tell."
Cockerell also admits the winter sport is not popular among the country's population. "The only other ski run," he says, "is on the slopes of Pegaebong, near Samjiyon, and has been there for many years, mostly used by soldiers doing ski training."
At this point, the resort's construction still has a long way to go, and the UN-imposed ban on luxury good sales (ski equipment included) to North Korea may make it difficult for people to even get on the slopes in the first place. In response, Kim has reportedly asked North Korean industry to produce the ski equipment and apparel necessary to make the winter sport possible.