North Korea opens new ski resort amid Olympic optimism

Facilities at the Masikryong ski resort Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption If the new resort is anything like the existing Masikryong venue, thrill-seekers are never far from a performance of the State Merited Chorus

North Korea says it has completed construction of a winter sports resort amid proposed talks to secure the country's attendance at the Winter Olympics in neighbouring South Korea.

The announcement came on the country's Ryugyong news website, which crows in typical North Korean style that the resort in Kanggye was completed ahead of schedule to reflect the "supreme will of the people", and would endow "workers and youths with solid physical strength".

Construction of the resort near the northern city was begun in July on the orders of leader Kim Jong-un, with North Korean state-run DPRK Today saying that it would feature two ski slopes with the capability of producing their own snow "so skiing would not be hindered if snow doesn't fall in the winter".

"Can not you think of building such a wonderful cultural resting place without the love of the party?" construction chief Kim Seong-il told Arirang Meari website in July.

The South Korea-based NK News says the work was carrying out at "Masikryong Speed", a North Korean propaganda term for the breakneck speed at which workers - many working with basic tools - constructed the country's first ski resort at Masikryong Pass.

Image copyright DPRK Today
Image caption This was the site of the Kanggye resort just six months ago, according to North Korean media

Flagship project

The new resort is the culmination of another flagship project intended to show the outside world that North Korea can thrive despite United Nations sanctions.

It was these sanctions which angered Pyongyang during the construction of its first winter sports resort, after it emerged that the country was not able to import a ski lift from Switzerland.

After calling this setback a "serious breach of human rights", the regime secured a lift through other means, and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was subsequently photographed riding it, quite alone, during an inspection visit.

This time, DPRK Today says, North Korean workers had already built their own ski lift before construction of the ski slopes at Kanggye had begun, "using our own muscle and techniques".

Image copyright KCNA
Image caption Cigarette in hand, Kim Jong-un tries out the Masikryong ski lift in 2013

Olympic optimism

The news comes as Pyongyang accepted an offer for high-level talks to find a way for North Korea to attend next month's games in South Korea's Pyeongchang.

North Korea restored a telephone hotline at their mutual border, enabling first contact about talks to be made, and now face-to-face discussions should take place next week.

Last year, the North turned down an offer from South Korean president Moon Jae-in to compete as a unified Korean team; and in 2013 Seoul turned down a suggestion from Pyongyang that some skiing events could be held at its Masikryong venue.

The two countries are still technically in a state of war following the Korean conflict, which ended in an armistice in 1953.

Reporting by Upasana Bhat, Alistair Coleman, Tae-jun Kang

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