We are some of the first non-North Koreans to ever go skiing in North Korea, AUA!
Thanks guys, we've had a great time! Thanks for all your comments - we appreciate the different perspectives and question. We're off to lunch, but we'll keep an eye on this thread and will update our responses for anything interesting.
You may have briefly read about our trip in the news after our pro snowboarders pulled out:
But, we the organisers, went ahead with the trip regardless!
Here's the original itinerary: http://uritours.com/tours/snowboard-with-terje-danimals-mike-rav-in-north-korea
This weekend we flew from Beijing to Pyongyang. From there we travelled from the capital city to the Masik Pass - home to North Korea’s first and only ski resort.
We are in North Korea right now and eager to answer your questions about the trip!
It's about 10pm in the DPRK right now. Ask us about the people, places and sights. Now is your chance to get a more in-depth understanding of why we are undertaking this trip and what we hope to achieve with it. We look forward to your questions!
UPDATE: We have intermittent power outages, so we might be a bit slow with some replies. Hang in there reddit and we will try our best to answer all your questions!
UPDATE#2: Thank-you so much for all your questions reddit. We've had a blast. It's getting late here and we have another action-packed day on the slopes tomorrow. We will be back tomorrow with more members of our team for more questions at 23:00pm est / 12:30am Pyongyang time. Basically if you want more in-depth information, photos of our trip and discussion - stay tuned!
UPDATE #3: The team is online again, back from our morning runs. It's 12:30pm here in DPRK (Masik Pass ski resort) and we'll answer questions for about an hour. Send them in! Thanks everyone.
Here’s our all-important proof:
More proof incoming:
We consider ethics all the time. Money is always going to go to the government in some part. But also, the money we spend at the resort goes towards it's operations, the food we eat, making the lifts run, creating jobs. The normal stuff. All things considered, we think our presence here does more good than harm. We've built genuine friendships here.
The reason I ask is because my friend and I had the same dilemma when we visited Burma in 2014. Second only to NK, as one of the most authoritarian, repressive regimes on earth. We contacted opposition activists before we went, they gave us a list of hotels and businesses they believed were secretly owned by the regime and we avoided those places. They also asked that we not visit any of the holy shrines, because the fee you pay to get in goes directly to the regime. We tried to follow their wishes, but when we came across the Shwedagon Pagoda we just had to see inside. So we both funded fascism to the tune of about $10 a head.
We like your point. There's an ethical dilemma anytime you spend money or pay taxes for anything. But again, we think our presence here has a greater value.
Praise the supreme leader Kim Jong Un and the glory of the People's Republic!
Tell me comrade, how glorious is the resort built by men of the worlds most powerful army? How soon should we expect to see the first gold medals from skiers of this magnificent nation?
Which other parts of the illustrious nation have you visited and what are your general impressions?
Comrade, the gold medals will come soon and they will be copious!
Before coming to the resort our group spent a couple days in Pyongyang; for some of us it was a return trip to Pyongyang and for others it was a first trip. We were able to check out some of the more prominent monuments in the city, and also tried out a couple restaurants and a cafe. It's hard to summarize everything into a general impression, but one thing that has struck many of the first-timers is how much the DPRK resembles any other country in terms of seeing people going about their day, commuting, going shopping, etc. - JTD
Did you get the impression that the whole thing was built with slave labor?
The resort was built by the army. There are videos of it being built and a lot of it was done by hand. Many of the people who work here now helped build it, so they have a lot of pride in the resort.
people who work here now
So you're there right now? Why would we believe anything you're saying is not out of duress? I'd sure as shit not speak poorly of NK if I were there.
Edit: I glazed over the part where you say you are in country now. So let's do another AMA when you're out of NK to see how your answers differ.
Haha, no worries!!! Let's do it now. I'm the one on the team asking the most awkward questions to the locals all the time anyways. So far with great response, however if they are really uncomfortable answering questions (like if they do oral sex) they just don't answer 😄
So far I found out (no kidding) They do have sex before marriage, affairs are very rare but it happens. Divorce happens just a very few times also. The favorite actress of one of our guides is Scarlett Johannsen (that was a wow!). Nobody around here knows that Kim Jong Un studied in Geneva. I showed them all Facebook and Insta and we also watched a few episodes of the Simpsons together (I actually picked the one where the couch gag says: America, greatest country of the world). They seem to not get any electronic music so far but they liked Daft Punk, Pharrell and a lot of older Disco music.
If you any more tips or questions I'd be very glad to ask around more. -Markos
People really seem to negatively romanticize the situation over there. I have a few friends who have been there who say that the place is a bit strange but there are normal people who live there who live normal lives. Maybe sometimes we should introspect a bit just and wonder what information that is being fed to us is truthful/exaggerated. Just a thought.
Do you honestly think that NK's government is going to allow foreign tourists to visit the poor starving villages or the concentration camps? No, they'll send you to the city where they have eyes on every citizen and make sure that they seem normal. It's propaganda and it just worked on you.
Honstely I think there's much propaganda going on on both sides. As a person that really travels much I always prefer to just go places and see myself. Obviously they won't bring us to the labor camps and stuff like that, but being here the third time and spending a lot of time driving around the country you get a rough picture at least. If you book A tour to the US would also not check out Rikers island or the projects in Detroit, right? -Markos
Listen, I'm from Germany and we had exaclty the same ting right in front of our doorstep. After the wall came came down it was not like there's a country full of evil people and oppressed people, actually there were totally normal just like us. The "bit strange" part I agree, but it's also very interesting to see. Much comparable to the former socialist Eastern European countries as what I've heard from my friends in Bulgaria. -Markos
To your knowledge, do the locals know anything about the recent nuclear test? If yes, what is their opinion on this matter?
Everyone knows. It's reported on the big newspapers and the event was broadcasted on radios, even in the subway. The public opinion is that they need a strong military policy as a deterrent for bigger powers to invade their country.
Tell them the bomb was fake. The shitstorm will be unreal
I actually talked about that 😂 Then again, with both sides rolling out the propaganda machine and shit it's really hard to even have a clue what's going on. -Markos
This has to be the most pro-north korea thing ive seen on the internet. do you fear reddit will think you're actually paid to say all nice things?
I doubt paid. "Encouraged" seems more plausible.
"We'll let you ski here for $8 a day and use our internet IF you say nice tingz about us. We may even let you go home!!" - N.K.
Well, ski lifts are $8 per HOUR and internet is also not free. So far the cost is pretty much comparable to other destinations. But reading your comment, the misconceptions about this country are actually motivation enough for us to check this place out and talk about it. Also, with my hourly rate they couldn't afford me writing shit anyways, haha! -Markos
What are the people like? What are the major differences between the North Koreans you have met and non-North Koreans? Also, what were some of the limitations the regime placed upon you guys as foreigners (if any)?
The people here are not much different than people in the rest of the world. They are just people living daily lives. They are very earnest, hard-working, and very curious about foreigners. They can be quite friendly once they've overcome their initial shyness.
Do you fear what can happen to you guys if the North Korean government finds out your true intentions are ?
Our intentions are to share this part of the world with others who are interested. Everyone whom we've met understands that and are supportive.
How are the North Korean skiers (at skiing)? Have you gotten to chat with any of them?
Some of them are really good! Given the fact that most of them have only been skiing for a few seasons, it's impressive. There are also a lot of people here to learn. Yes, we have chatted with people (to the extent they can speak English). One member of our team speaks Korean and she has been chatting with a lot of people. Regardless of the language barrier, there is no hesitation by the locals to interact with us.
Can you take picture outside of your room? Also how money costs the whole ordeal?
Picture outside of room can do anytime. 2000 monies costing the whole ordeal. :)
USD 2000? For how long? And does that include flights from Beijing, food, ski hire, etc.?
2000 monies costing the whole ordeal :)
If there's one sentence in here that makes me think this is being typed by someone from NK, it's this one.
Not that you're wrong as this wreaks of what you're suggesting, but I think that sentence was jokingly poking at the question asked and its grammar.
Right that notion it is 😄 -Markos
This particular tour is 7 nights, 8 days and it includes flights from Beijing, hotel, food, visas, tour guides and most admission fees. -Andrea
How does it feel to know you'll never break any of Kim Il Sung's skiiing related world records?
Man, we're trying as hard as we can here. That guy must have been the greatest athlete ever!!! I guess he must have been quite busy running the county in his days, otherwise he would have dominated the olympics LIKE A BOSS! -Markos
How difficult was it to get internet access? Is it censored? Are they monitoring your answers?
What's your favourite non-Korean ski resort in the world and how does this compare?
Internet access is fairly easy. Foreigners can get it in their room at the hotel. We don't know if it's monitored but like anywhere else in the world, it's plausible. There is no one in this room except for our team. Our team has been all over the world to ski. This is a relatively small resort but what it lacks in size is made up for by the sheer cool factor of skiing in North Korea.
That is a bullshit attitude. You know what kind of regime you are in.
You guys are downvoting him because you don't like the answers he's giving?
I'm not down voting anything (and who cares anyway), but I am highly critical of the comparisons he is making.
Look through the answers he is giving. Either the person is laughably naive about the country he is in, or they just don't care and are trying to disguise it.
What the fuck do you expect him to give? If he's in North Korea his internet's monitored, period. We're talking about North korea, not the fucking dave clark five. If he starts sprouting out how shitty NK is and how Kimmy sucks balls et cetera it's possible that he could find himself under arrest for something.
Which is why this whole AMA makes no sense unless he really doubts all the report from UN Human rights watch.
Don't fucking do an AMA unless you can or are willing answer honestly.
Guys, There's always gonna be something about any country that you visit. Nobody ignores the UN reports and I'm sure there's a lot of stuff going on in this country that we're absolutly not OK with. But still, ignoring (and ridiculing) the country/ its people is not gonna change that at all, is it? About the part if we can speak freely. I actually never ever give a shit who's uncomfortable or offended with anything I say an I'm not planning to change that (however I stay respectful at all times). So far here it's all cool and I don't see anybody having a problem with that. -Markos
What is the country like? Are there guides there with you at all times?
Country is beautiful and very interesting. When we're checking out the sites outside the resort, our guides are with us. But at the resort, our guides are available only if we need them. They are not on the runs with us.
Is it possible that you and your team, will be having trouble leaving North Korea. In terms of some information i've been told, plausible information??
The (American) tour company that has organized our trip takes groups into the DPRK all the time. The CEO and COO happen to be on this particular trip and will be back in the DPRK again in the near future. - JTD
Were you allowed to talk to other skiers, and were there fake lodges like their fake supermarkets?
First off, we have never encountered a fake supermarket. In case it wasn't obvious, The Interview was a fictional movie. There is one lodge. We are the only foreigners here. The hotel is fully booked right now and apart from us, it's all locals. We bump into people everywhere and our interactions are usually non-verbal due to language barriers. Some of the kids have tried to ski along with us, and tag along.
Have you ever researched north korea? Sure the interview was a fictional satire but there are plenty of raw footage documentaries about NK showing similar phenomenon. One that comes to mind is a store where nearly all items are only for demo, not for sale.
It seems to me like the ski resort is a nice isolated location where they can welcome tourists and keep them in a bubble where the illusion is maintained without too much surveillance because of the location. You said it yourself, you need a guide when ever you leave the complex.
Do you not have the impression that your perception of NK is being fabricated with what you are shown?
It was a four-hour drive to get the resort, and we took a convey with a couple buses of local tourists stopping at the same places that they stopped (and some in our group have been all over the country). We can see what's going on around us and it's pretty implausible that the entire drive would have been staged just for a few foreign skiers. I generally don't rely on documentaries for my information, and I wouldn't expect a documentary that presented the DPRK as a mostly normal place to sell very well or get many visits online. - JTD
Is there a comparable Western mountain (or mountain with a trail map) that you can compare it to?
What is the mountain vertical?
And any jumps / park features? You'd think a Korean mountain would have a lot of Parks...(rim shot).
As a U.S. skier, it seems comparable to one of the bigger Mid-Atlantic resorts in terms of overall size, but the terrain is much steeper on the advanced slopes. There's a lot of unused mountain surrounding the base and the lodge, and there are plans to expand the resort in the future. - JTD
How much is a lift ticket?
What is their tree skiing policy? Would suck to duck in to the woods and get sentenced to 50 years of ditch-digging.
The dangerous areas are fenced off. There is some opportunity to go off piste in between slopes. Lift tickets are by the hour. It's about $8 per hour.
So what's next, hacky sacking in Iran? Frisbee golf in Cuba?
Come on, Cuba is already a major place on the tourist map. I'll be heading to Iran to check out their Ski resorts soon for sure. I heard they must be really amazing (google it). -Markos
-Were there north korean monitors with you on snowboards? -How was the infrastructure such as lifts, lodging, etc.? -Did they make you stop at photos of the supreme leader etc.?
On the slopes, we are by ourselves (and other local skiers). Infrastructure is actually very good. The Masikryong Hotel is modeled after an alpine ski resort, and it's pretty comparable. There is a new gondola that they bought from Ischgl (Austria). The other gear (groomers, equipment, skidoos) are industry standard and fairly new. We visited the bronze statues of the former leaders in the beginning of the trip. The current leader is not photographed nor are there any monuments of him around.
How is the snow? is it worth the trip?
Also what are some of the strange things you've encountered so far, if any?
There is not much natural snowfall right now, but they make very good use of their snow canons and take great pride in grooming the slopes. As one of the few foreigners who have come to the resort, we are treated like VIPs. We get a lot of attention from the locals, and the kids follow us around. Strange things - there is a lot of Soviet style propaganda music playing all over the place. And you have to wear bathing caps in the swimming pool. ;)
Sounds like a serious adventure! How did you arrange it and plan it? Surely it's notoriously difficult for foreigners to get in North Korea and it's not like there's TripAdvisor or Yelp for the country?
Actually, there is Trip Advisor for North Korea. It's not difficult to get here. There are a number of tour operators (like Uri Tours) that run trips here and get you the visas. You don't even need to submit your physical passport for the visa.
What's the hire gear like?
The rental equipment is pretty new. It did surprise us. One guy got a pair of parabolic Salomons. You have to check out the neon jump suits, which were pretty decent.
How long have you worked for the CIA and what are your plans after you are captured?
Hey, what's up? This is Markos, at least this is my cover name for now. I actually just started recently working for the agency since the latest tension. I guess there's a high demand right now and HR would take almost anybody. I used to be an international underwear model, but you know how it is in the business once you get older... This is actually much more fun so far and the benefits are amazing. I get to drive fancy cars, shoot a lot of bad boys and get to sleep with a supermodel in every episode 😜
Is there a park at the resort? If so mind making a steezy edit and posting it up???
No, there's no ski park at the moment, but it's conceivable that one may be added in the future as part of the resort's expansion plans. It's our understanding that the pro snowboarders in our group (who had to cancel) were going to be permitted to build some jumps. - JTD
When you got to the top of the hill, what was the most breathtaking sight, if any? This actually sounds really cool, I should do this at one point. Have a nice day guys :)
It's actually a very beautiful landscape. The view from the peak is really far all around and you can see the ocean. Apart from that it's mostly mountains and forest as far as the eye can see. -Markos
Looks like there's a lot of ignorant people in here that are giving you guys shit for something they probably don't know a whole lot about. I think it's super cool what you guys are doing and I'd love to one day do something like that of my own. I'd love to go boarding in NK.
Anyway my question is, any terrain parks or features? What are the actual runs like, snow etc.?
Thanks man, glad you see it this way. Doning something in North Korea always comes with the usual comments I guess. One more reason to do the trip ;) -Markos
I understand Terje Haakonsen being invited since he is a snowboard legend, but what made you pick Danimals and Mike Rav to go? How did North Korea even hear about them? Or were they picked by someone else? Those two are usually only known to people who are at the "core" of snowboarding.
We partnered with Snowboarder Magazine for this trip, before they withdrew last minute, and they chose the riders. We had to make an introduction as to who the snowboarders were to the North Korean authorities. Once they figured it out, word spread that the riders were going to come (particularly Terje). It was such a bummer... people starting from the airport all the way to the ski resort were asking where the riders were. They would have had fun at the resort because there are so many curious and fun locals around. -Andrea
I got 2 questions. 1) What's the security like for you? How restricted are you? 2) What is it like interacting with people who are so unconnected with the outside world?
1) From the security side there's actually nothing we noticed. There's some restrictions like we're not supposed to take pics of soldiers, walk around Pyongyang by ourselves. But there's also some flexibility however to what we want to do. Few days ago we wanted to check out a local cafe which was no problem. 2) Its a very interesting situation and process for me and surprisingly they get quite some stuff we'd not expected them to know. Disney's Frozen and the Lion King seem to be very known here and last time a girl told me that her favorite music is James Blunt. So they seem to know a few things about the outside world, however this would obviously only include selected information from the official channels. There's always going little things on the side I guess. -Markos
Thanks for doing this AMA! What is the vertical of the mountain you are on?
Here's information on the mountain: http://uritours.com/blog/north-korea-ski-resort-update
How is the internet over in North Korea?
So far it is pretty decent, except during power outages of course, I've had worse in China. There's even a 3G SIM card you can get to be connected with your own mobile here, but it only works in the big cities. Normal internet obviously is only accessible to foreigners, the locals have their own intranet only for the DPRK. On that they pretty much have the same services and apps. Angry birds seems to be a big deal over here also. -Markos
What are the slopes like? Well groomed or choppy? Is there any off-piste riding?
Dude, we already answered that :)
Hey thanks for this interesting AMA! How restricted was movement? Would you do it again?
At the ski resort, our movement is not restricted. We have the entire day open to ski on our own or to relax at the resort. We basically meet for meals.
What was the airport like? What are the cars like? What other place have you been to that is most comparable to your experience in North Korea? What's the mountain difficulty like?
Oh and Kim, you have a girls name.
The Pyongyang airport has a brand new terminal and it's surprisingly nice. It's a small airport but clean and modern. Only 1 or 2 flights per day so there aren't many delays. Resort caters to all levels. There are really long intermediate slopes and slopes up to double blacks.
Kim is a VERY common Korean last name. Koreans put last name first and given name second.
The hotels you stayed in, restaurants you ate in, ski facilities you used would all have been owned by the government. So the money you spent would be going directly to fund one of the most evil regimes on earth. Did you give much consideration to the ethics of what you were doing? (No judgement, I'm just curious.)
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