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January 23, 2014

North Korea Opens Controversial Ski Resort

by VOA News

The world's newest ski resort is set to open to tourists in the unlikeliest of locations: North Korea.

The controversial Masik Pass Ski resort, located southeast of Pyongyang, is a showcase project for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who spent much of his childhood at a boarding school in Switzerland.

But the resort gained fame last year when the Swiss government blocked the sale of ski lifts to North Korea, saying the deal violated U.N. sanctions. A Swiss official also called the resort a "propaganda project." Others have called it a "waste of money" for the impoverished country.  

A U.S. tour operator, which takes groups to the reclusive nation, told VOA the resort did manage to secure four chairlifts, mostly from China, ahead of its opening to foreign tourists Saturday.

But Uri Tour's John Dantzler-Wolfe says only six people, mostly Americans, are booked for his company's first trip.  He expects the number to rise in the future.

"So typically when we have a tour that is approved and a departure date that comes within a month of that approval, we do expect the number of tourists to be low, even if the interest is high.  We do expect the number of actual tourists to increase over time," said Dantzler-Wolfe.

The resort recently made headlines when it was reported that former NBA star Dennis Rodman made a visit to it earlier this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.