First visitors arrive at North Korea's newest ski resort

Lucy Aspden
The first skiers at Yangdok resort

A new ski resort in North Korea has opened as the popularity of skiing in the region continues to rise.

The Yangdok Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Center was officialy opened by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in December, but only welcomed its first visitors last month.

Yangdok resort is located in the South Phyongan Province of North Korea, an hour-and-a-half drive north-east of the capital Pyongyang. Combining a hot-spring therapy facility with a multi-functional sports complex and hotels, ‘it is another gift presented by the Workers' Party of Korea to the people’, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

During his visit in December, Kim Jong-un cut the opening ribbon, toured the site’s facilities, which include a ski equipment shop, rode a ski lift alone to the top of the slopes and visited the resort’s horse riding park.

In a speech at the opening he praised the soldiers-turn-builders who constructed the resort for creating a “miracle and perfect edifice” without “freely available finance.” Aerial footage released on state television showed red-roofed hotels, hot spring spas and the horse riding park on the site, which previously housed a greenhouse and a catfish farm.

The North Korean leader visited numerous times during the construction of the resort Credit: AFP

The Supreme Leader also said Yangdok will enable North Korea’s people to ‘enjoy high civilization under socialism’, according to KCNA.

The resort, which is thought to have taken less than a year to build, under strict instructions from the country’s leader, also features indoor and outdoor spas and swimming pools, a billiard hall, a gym, and a golf simulator.

The skiing facilities are minimal when compared to those of major resorts in Europe. Three pistes are serviced by a single chairlift, with a ‘magic carpet’ lift also installed on the beginner slope.

The resort is home to giant spa and natural spring facilities Credit: KCNA VIA KNS

Yangdok is the third major ski resort to be built in North Korea since 2013, when the country’s largest, Masikryong, opened. Masikryong, which is a three-hour drive from Pyongyang and has 10 pistes, reportedly cost £21 million and was also built in under a year. 

The Kanggye Ski Resort, in the north of the country near the border with China, opened five years later in 2018, to coincide with South Korea hosting the Winter Olympics, following a 10-month building project. Considerably smaller than the other North Korean resorts, Kanggye’s ski area covers just 12 acres with a 530m main slope and a 200m beginner slope, restaurants and accommodation.

Despite state propaganda using the new developments to highlight prosperity, the ski industry of the Democratic People’s Republic was unexpectedly flung into the global spotlight in a more negative way in 2017. Footage released by NBC appeared to show workers, including young children, crouched at the side of the road hammering at the frozen surface in an attempt to keep the access road to Masikryong open for the resort’s elite visitors. The report claimed that thousands of men and women, along with children as young as 11 or 12, were working in blizzard conditions using sticks, pickaxes and makeshift shovels to carry out backbreaking work.

Yangdok resort officially opened on January 10, with images showing large crowds on the site. The Pyongyang Koryo International Travel Company, which also offers tours to the Masikryong resort, has been charged with taking reservations, primarily from domestic guests.

The resort has a number of hotels and facilities for guests Credit: KCNA VIA KNS

British skiers and snowboarders may have to wait to sample the resort for themselves, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to North Korea.

North Korea isn’t the only Far Eastern country to be investing in winter sports and resorts. In 2018 South Korea hosted the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang and regular headlines from China about the growth in the number of skiers and resorts in the country are a reminder of the rising interest in snow sports.