North Korea snowboard trip

The snowboarders and skiers on the trip will have a chance to ride some of the most virgin snow in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Uri Tours

Three of the biggest names in snowboarding are set to become the first professional Western snowboarders to test out the snow of North Korea’s mountains in an effort to lure more tourists and powderhounds to visit the Hermit Kingdom.

Terje Haakonsen, Dan “Danimals” Liedahl and Mike Ravelson will join a group of adventurous thrill-seekers for a weeklong expedition through what is considered to be one of the world’s most isolated countries, starting Jan. 9.

The trip is being organized by SNOWBOARDER and Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based travel company that specializes in unique tours through North Korea.

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The trip will take skiers and snowboarders through Pyongyang, North Korea, to the Masik Pass Ski Resort — one of only two ski areas in the country, and possibly the only one open to the public — for three days of skiing some of the most virgin slopes in the world.

Terje Haakonsen Gus Kenworthy

Terje Haakonsen, widely regarded as one of the greatest snowboarders ever to have lived, will accompany paying members of the public on the trip. Photo: Courtesy of Terje Haakonsen

“Our goal as snowboarders is to explore the farthest reaches of the globe and when the opportunity to go to Masik Pass in North Korea surfaced, we were excited to find out what snowboarding and the snowboard scene was in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],” SNOWBOARDER editor Tom Monterosso said via press release.

“The riders were really excited about it as well. These guys have a sense of adventure and they’re always down to go to far flung locales so they were eager to ride Masik Pass.”

“The ski resort is the country’s most notable development in sports infrastructure,” Andrea Lee, CEO of Uri Tours, said in the same release. “We have found that sports is an effective avenue for engagement and interaction between foreign travelers and local people, particularly where language can be a barrier.”

The trip, which will cost skiers and snowboarders $2,400 per person, is part of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s plan to increase the number of tourists who visit North Korea to 2 million annually by 2020.

That reality doesn’t sit well with everyone in the snowboarding community, some of whom see the trip as lending tacit approval to a government that has a history of human-rights violations.

“It’s polarizing because ostensibly the incentive for [North Korea] to do this is to put some PR spin on it,” SNOWBOARDER Creative Director Pat Bridges told GrindTV.

“And, in a way, maybe it is lending credence to one of, if not the most, repressive environments on Earth by our [Western] standards. But, at the same time, we don’t know what the reality is on the ground there. What we hear could be true or it could be hyperbole.”

North Korea snowboard trip

An aerial view of Masik Pass, North Korea’s second ski resort. Photo: Courtesy of Uri Tours

Bridges told GrindTV that for others to roundly criticize the trip as being in poor taste is shortsighted and, in a sense, hypocritical.

“When half the snowboarding gear on Earth comes out of a communist country like China, where there is a record of human-rights violations, and there aren’t a lot of people who have taken a stance against that, it seems like people aren’t looking at the full picture,” said Bridges.

“Plus, we’re not politicians; we’re not lending support. We’re just snowboarders going to see what’s over the next hill. And if that hill happens to be in North Korea, then so be it.”

Bridges noted that, more than simple exploration, he hopes the trip will be a way to expose citizens in North Korea to Western culture and bridge the divide between the two countries.

“I think the more we go in and the more exposure [citizens in North Korea] have to Western ways can only help [increase cultural understanding],” he said.

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