Here at Circle Square Diamond, we’re kind of obsessed with ski resorts. We’re not ashamed, since we have over 200 different prints available in our collection for purchase, and are always looking to expand. Sometimes people suggest new resorts for our line, and we end up going down the rabbit hole, finding some pretty unique resorts in the process.
Recently, we were asked about our most unique resorts. We thought that’d be a great list to share (If you're a P&R fan, we’re going try and vie for the “Best Top 10 Listicle” Pulitzer Prize). Here are some of the strangest, most oddly placed, and downright most North Korea-y resorts on the planet:
- Cloudmont Ski Resort – Alabama, United States
Let’s be honest, when someone says “Alabama,” most people think football, not ski poles. Located in Mentone, Alabama, Cloudmont proudly proclaims itself the “Southeasternmost Ski Resort in the U.S.” With little to no natural snow, Cloudmont relies on artificial snow making, but still manages to cover a 150ft (46m) vertical drop, 2 trails and 9 skiable acres. For where it’s located, that's a pretty impressive feat. Southern brethren who don’t want to fly or drive too far, Ski Bama might be for you!
- Monterreal Ski Resort – Mexico
Behind the white sand beaches, swaying trees, and roving gangs of chihuahuas, lie Mexico's mountains. Numerous peaks, some snow-covered, dot the Central American nation better known for body shots than bunny slopes. While Monterreal has some real snow between December and January, they supplement this with artificial snow and are able to offer skiing year round, even when the snow machines aren't churning. How? Magic! Or, you know, science. Monterreal has a dry ski slope made entirely of small bristles that resemble coarse horse hair. This dry slope is somewhat common in the UK and the Netherlands, but hasn't caught on in this hemisphere. It's actually pretty cool to watch if you've never done it before. With only two trails, Monterreal isn't the best bet for a week of intensive skiing, but it offers a fun and surreal sidetrip from the windsailing, ruin climbing, and wine tastings of a more traditional Mexican escape.
- Oukaïmeden – Morroco
With a base of 8,530ft (2,600m), a summit of 10,689ft (3,258m) and a location 46mi (74km) from Marrakech; Africa’s highest ski resort, Oukaïmeden, is a bargain in the desert. The gear might be outdated (many of the shops only carry gear from the 1980’s), but don’t let that stop you: prices are also stuck in the 80's, with $10/day lift tickets and boss $16/day gear rentals. Oukaïmeden has 20 trails, but they aren’t very well maintained, making it functionally all back country. If you’re too scared to make it down the peak alone, you can hire a guide (AKA a Moniteur) to make sure you don't fall in a tree well or ski off a cliff. Fun fact: When you're ready to try a new lift, it'll be time to saddle up pardner! There’s no bus service between the four lifts. There’s only donkey service. We're not kidding. Bring carrots or a stick for faster service.
- Mauna Kea Ski Area – Hawaii
Anti-establishment skiers, this one is for you. This isn’t an operating ski resort (or ski area), although it has plenty of history and acolytes. Located on the Big Island, the Mauna Kea “Ski Area” is one of the most unique ski areas in the world. With no lifts and no official runs, the Mauna Kea is pseudo-operated by a local ski association and a couple of tour groups. A single road up the dormant volcano acts as the lift. To ski the mountain, skiers and boarders are ferried from the base all the way to the 13,796ft (4,205m) summit in a four wheel drive vehicle.
Besides being located on a tropical island, what makes Mauna Kea interesting is the backdrop – the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the large volcanic crater dominate almost every picture taken of the mountain. One thing to note before booking a trip is that the snow on Mauna Kea is very unpredictable and melts pretty quickly. Call ahead or risk being stranded in Hawaii with nothing to do but drink, surf, and enjoy the wildlife, you poor thing. Depending on the El Niño or La Niña cycle, there are some years that you can ski the peak in July. The best part about this ski trip? You can hit the beach, be chased from the beach for your poor life choices, and hit the slope for new poor choices in the space of an afternoon!
- Ski Dubai – Dubai
Ski Dubai is the pinnacle achievement in climate control: it’s an indoor ski resort, in the middle of a mall, in the middle of a desert, a la Michael Scott. Ski Dubai is so ridiculous that it belongs on a list "of things that shouldn’t exist, but absolutely do." Located in the United Arab Emirates, Ski Dubai is an impressive engineering feat. With 5 runs (including the world’s first indoor black diamond run), 2 lifts, 5.5 acres (22,500m2) of ski area and 279ft (85m) of vertical, Ski Dubai is larger than some real ski resorts. Heck, it even has penguins and a 3,000 square meter Snow Park. Want to visit, but can't afford to go to Dubai? There’s apparently a couple of groups trying to build one near Dallas, Texas, so maybe just wait a few years for plans to become finalized.
- Sky Resort – Mongolia
Located near Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Sky Resort is Mongolia’s first ever ski resort. With 9 runs, 2 chair lifts, and a max elevation of 5,150ft (1,570m), Sky Resort is completely covered by artificial snow. That’s pretty odd considering that the area has an average winter temperature of -4F (-20C) and is frequently below -20F. However, Mongolia is incredibly dry and only receives a few inches of snow each year, forcing it to rely on artificial snow on even the coldest of days.
This resort is rather unique because it’s almost a perfect “western style" resort in the middle of a pretty underdeveloped region. In fact, financiers poured over $28,000,000 in investments into improving and developing the resort. The area is pristine, the prices are reasonable, the skiing is actually pretty good. Plus, the Mongolian people have some customs and traditions that would make a trip to this resort a pretty unique experience in and of itself (seriously, don't touch their hats or leave yours on the floor).
- Malam Jabba – Pakistan
Being the only ski resort in Pakistan, Malam Jabba has quite the history. Located in the Swat Valley, Malam Jabba is surrounded by peaks and trees similar to the Colorado Rockies. Plus, the snow is deep and plentiful. The area could support multiple ski resorts if there was enough investment. At one time, Malam Jabba was an international destination. Between 2000-2007, Malam Jabba quickly became the site for Olympic training in the region. However, in 2007 the Taliban took control of Swat Valley and Malam Jabba turned into a militant strong hold. In 2009, the hotel at the resort was torched and the entire ski region seemed to be lost. Luckily, in September 2014 a tourism group and the government of Pakistan signed an agreement to turn Malam Jabba into the first ever mega ski resort in the region.
- Yabuli Ski Resort – China
Located in the Heilongjian Province in northeastern China, Yabuli Ski Resort is hands down the best and largest ski resort in the country and probably the region. Boasting world class amenities and fluent international ski instructors (they claim over 50 English speaking instructors), Yabuli could easily be a ski resort found in Europe or the United States. In 1996, Yabuli hosted the Asian Winter Games. Since then, a significant amount of capital has been invested in the region. The resort is currently undergoing an expansion project to increase coverage to three mountains with 46 total trails, with an end goal of creating a premier Olympic training site.
- Dizin – Iran
International politics aside, Iran has some of the best skiing in the world. Located just south of the Caspian Sea, Dizin is one of the highest ski resorts in the world with a top elevation of 11,800ft (3,600m). Because of its location and altitude, Dizin gets dumped with snow and the ski season typically lasts from December to May. As an added benefit, the powder quality is superb and some skiers believe it’s better than the skiing in the Alps. Dizin is also fairly large with 23 trails and 15 total lifts. Hopefully with improved international relations, Dizin will once again be an option for foreign nationals.
- Masikryong Ski Resort – North Korea
Alright, stick with us on this one – we’ve done a lot of research on this particular resort. We even went a little crazy and made a minimalist print (Don’t worry, none of the money goes to North Korea).
Unbeknownst to many, North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un went to school in Switzerland. Rumor has it, that while he was in Switzerland, he noticed all the ski resorts in the region and believed that skiing was a symbol of status. When Kim Jong-Un returned to North Korea after the death of his father, he demanded a ski resort be built in North Korea.
Here’s where the story of Masikryong becomes crazy: It was built in less than 10 months. That’s right, the 120 room hotel, ice skating ring, multiple restaurants, four lifts, and 9 trails were all built in less than 10 months. It's amazing what forced labor -- erm, dedicated comrades -- can accomplish.
Masikryong sparked international controversy when North Korea attempted to purchase a Swiss-made lift. North Korea purchased a brand new $7.5 million dollar lift, but the manufacturer was blocked in August of 2013 from exporting it because ski resorts are classified as “luxury" goods and are prohibited under a UN Security Council Resolution. North Korea called it a “human rights violation,” but eventually compromised, instead purchasing a Chinese-supplied 30 year old gondola from Ischgl, Austria. North Korea then copied the "cutting edge" technology and is planning on expanding the resort.
It turns out, cognac, ski lifts, and iPods are all luxuries, but you aren't! You can visit the resort legally for about $1,500.00 + Airfare to China via Kyoro Tours. It might be worth getting put on an international watch list just so you can say that you’ve skied in North Korea.