North Korea Builds a Luxury Ski Resort, Apparently Just Because It Can

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 7 2013 6:46 PM

North Korea Builds a Luxury Ski Resort, Apparently Just Because It Can

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Ri Myong Ho of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) in action during the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China.

Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

There are a number of ways that a government can spend its money. Just ask Congress. Some seem pretty necessary, roads and bridges, even the odd space shuttle, come to mind; others, not so much.

News out of North Korea that the government is funding a luxury ski resort falls firmly in the not-so-much category. The Masik Pass ski resort is set to formally open its doors on Thursday and there are a number of pretty obvious reasons a ski resort doesn’t seem like a pressing need.

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First, as the Associated Press reports, a North Korean ski official estimates there are only about 5,500 skiers in country of 24 million, making the skiing population .02 percent. Then, there’s also the issue that North Korea’s per capita income is about $3.50 a day and it struggles to feed its own people.

"These kinds of projects are no more a boondoggle than say, hosting the Olympics or the World Cup," Kim Tae Yong, the country’s ski association chief, told the AP. "The financial costs are very high, but the broader social gains - which don't show up on a balance sheet - are deemed to be higher. Nationalism, civic pride, health, urban regeneration, tourism dollars, construction projects for cronies - all these things come into consideration."

The broader social gains from the ski resort, however, are dependent on ski lifts to ferry people to the top of the slopes, and, so far, that’s proven to be a problem. Economic sanctions forced a Swiss company to cancel its sale of ski lift and cable car equipment to the country. North Korea's state-run media called the Swiss decision a "serious human rights abuse,” according to the AP. But, Kim Tae Yong, says he’s not worried. "We can make nuclear weapons and rockets," he said. "We can build a ski lift."

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.