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Snowboarders need to stop going to North Korea

From the moment I discovered the below video of Jamie Barrow, my mind has been awash with questions and confusion. “Britain’s fastest snowboarder sets off to experience first hand this country we know so little about.”

Wait, snowboarding in North Korea? Again? Britain’s fastest snowboarder? What? Why?

As many may remember, last January a group of riders including Terje Haakonsen, Danimals, and Mike Rav were scheduled to visit North Korea under the loose description of, “World’s top snowboarders to tour Kim Jong Un’s new ski resort.” The trip was scheduled to take place over the week from January 9th to 16th and tickets were being sold to the public to join in on the fun. The week was set to be the “cultural adventure of a lifetime.” Then it all unraveled.

On January 2nd, 2016 an American student, Otto F. Warmbier, was detained in North Korea for reasons that at the time were not released. Turns out, he tried stealing a poster and was eventually sentenced for fifteen years of hard labor. (Editors note: Since this story was first published, Otto was returned to the US in a coma after serving 17 months in a North Korean prison, he has since passed away) Four days later on January 6th, North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb against international law.

Needless to say the initial plans for the trip were thrown out.

However, 21 days later on January 27th, after a substantial effort from many to dissuade the group, a second trip was executed by much of the Nitro Snowboards Team. On board was Austin Smith, Markus Keller, Nils Arvidsson, and Chinese Nitro rider, Wang Lei. The trip was largely described by Austin as, “scripted,” and “censored,” with the caveat that, “I can’t say I have any plans for a return visit.”

Fast forward to present day, the world is still teetering on the verge of what could be the third World War, and more snowboarders are still on their way to North Korea. From the very beginning this video portrayal of North Korea has it’s immediate faults and raises a slew of red flags. While the government’s censorship efforts, and the overt use of propaganda is clearly acknowledged and communicated, the happy-go-lucky behavior of Jamie Barrow is largely disconcerting.

“Thanks to the love and care of our Marshall Kim Jong-Un [Masikryong Ski Resort] has been turned into a pleasure place for the people’s lives”…What the fuck?

Jamie is seen joyfully playing with his North Korean handlers, laughing over stuffed animal cranes, enjoying tours, and immersing himself in the many displays of North Korea’s military might. The first time I watched the video I expected it to end with a hotline for North Korean tourism, (if only there was such a thing). In a country that has remained on the human rights watch lists for the 70 years of its existence, in my opinion, Jamie was eating up the bullshit. For a country that readily threatens the lives of its citizens and the lives of humans all around the world, there is an extremely unsettling Disney World-feel to the whole presentation. But even with all of the clear indidcators aside, like the empty trails, the absence of a website, choreographed presentations, we still haven’t gotten to discussing the snowboarding. And is it even worth discussing?

All in all, finding this video in our inbox has left us deeply confused and to the brim with questions. Should we post it? What do we say about it? We don’t typically discuss topics covered by traditional journalists. At Snowboard Magazine we write stories about snowboarding, we take photos, we snowboard, we drink beer, and we critique the shit out of everything. One thing we definitely don’t do, is make tourism videos for North Korea. And can we honestly tell ourselves that this is anything shy of a polished piece of choreographed propaganda from North Korea? If one thing is for sure, it certainly isn’t a snowboard edit by any reasonable criteria that we hold ourselves to on this site.

Our advice? Stay the hell away from North Korea’s “pleasure place”.

Read also: Filtering the noise: An Andrew Sayer interview

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