Projects like Masik are often criticized abroad as golden albatrosses that suck money away from more pressing concerns in North Korea — such as building the nation's basic infrastructure, improving its electrical grid or providing more food to its people, who according to international aid agencies are still often not getting an adequate diet.
But Masik — completed after 10 months of furious labor by specially mobilized "shock brigades" of soldier-builders — has been intensely portrayed domestically as a concrete example of Kim's concern for his people and of the nation's ability to successfully build whatever it sets its mind to, be that a first-rate ski resort or a viable nuclear weapons program.
On the slopes, that line was repeated frequently during interviews with skiers, who were mostly from Pyongyang, though a smattering of foreigners, generally with foreign-based tour groups that tout Masik as the world's most exotic ski resort, were also visible.
"The Marshal Kim Jong Un worked very hard to build this resort, and if (national founder) Kim Il Sung and (the late) leader Kim Jong Il could have come here, I am sure they would be pleased to see all of our smiling faces," said 53-year-old Ri Yong Hui, who came to Masik from Pyongyang with her daughter's family.
Kim and his coterie of advisers have vowed repeatedly to lift North Korea's standard of living, which is among the world's lowest. They have focused on boosting tourism, providing the impoverished country with the accouterments of a "civilized" nation and, most visibly, encouraging a broader interest in sports. The development of Masik Pass dovetails nicely with all three policy goals.
Officials at the resort refused to say how much North Koreans must pay to use the slopes and rent their gear — for foreign guests the price is $27 for four hours, which would be prohibitively high for most local skiers. The cost of a night's stay in the hotel for foreigners — upward of $100 — would also be too steep for most North Koreans.