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World's most exotic luxury ski resort? Hitting the slopes at Masik, North Korea

By Frances Cha and Paula Hancocks, CNN
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Snowboarder and journalist Jean Lee checks in at N. Korea's new luxury ski resort
  • Masik, which opened on January 1, has 11 ski runs and a 120-room hotel
  • Resort "built for locals" -- foreigners may come with tour groups

(CNN) -- North Korea has no athletes at the Sochi Olympic Games, and skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation.

That's why tour operators are billing North Korea's luxury new Masik Pass as "the most exotic ski resort on Earth."

Located in Kangwon province, the hotel and resort -- the only one of its kind in the country -- opened January 1 after a series of reported setbacks.

Earlier this year, CNN Travel reported on the experience of one of the first visitors to the resort, Simon Cockerell, from Beijing-based Koryo Tours.

Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based tour company, Koryo Tours, took these images after being invited to the newest ski resort in North Korea. Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based tour company, Koryo Tours, took these images after being invited to the newest ski resort in North Korea.
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More recently we spoke to another visitor, snowboarding journalist Jean Lee, whose video of her Masik trip is shown above.

File: Hitting slopes at new resort

Surprised by the caliber of the equipment at the resort, Lee also notes that she got to chat to ordinary North Koreans -- because her government minders couldn't ski.

Pyongyang made a failed bid to co-host the Summer Olympics when Seoul held the games in 1988.

Who knows?

Maybe Masik signals North Korea's intent to try again when its southern neighbor hosts the winter games in 2018.

What follows is an edited version of our story on Simon Cockerell's visit to Masik earlier this year. Koryo Tours is one of the few foreign tour companies operating in North Korea.

'Fancy and comfortable'

Cockerell found Masik Pass to be "fancy and comfortable."

Along with 11 ski runs, there are 120 hotel rooms housed in two buildings, a swimming pool, bars, cafés, billiard tables, a karaoke room, a steam room and a dry sauna.

Local tour guides speak English but don't tend to ski; for the large number of ski instructors, you'd need a translator.

The resort is "clearly built for locals," Cockerell said, although it was expected to draw some foreigners coming with tour operators such as his own.

"The number of local Korean skiers was a surprise, considering that [before Masik opened] there was just one ski slope in the country -- and in a very remote and hard to reach area," Cockerell said.

At the time of writing, foreigners couldn't book at Masik Pass directly but would have to come with a group tour.

Controversial construction

"We're aware of the controversies surrounding [Masik]," wrote Cockerell on the Koryo Tours blog.

"It's a highly expensive construction project that many see as economically doubtful."

The resort has been scrutinized abroad from conception to construction.

Austrian and French companies declined to sell ski lifts to North Korea.

Even the neutral Swiss refused, calling Masik a "propaganda project," according to the Washington Post.

Masik's ski lifts were made in China.

MORE: How to travel to North Korea

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