SKIING IN XINJIANG WITH THE LOCALS
The autonomous region’s picturesque slopes offer a unique experience for winter sports’ enthusiasts.
It was just before sunset on a winter day and I was standing on top of a small hill in Hemu village in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. I looked at the village down below and said to myself that I had found the real winter wonderland described in fairy tales. Winter in Hemu, hidden deep in the Altay Mountains that border Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, can last as long as seven months with heavy snowfalls.
Everything in the peaceful and small village was covered with a thick layer of snow as white and fluffy as marshmallows. Nothing was disturbed until smoke began to rise from the chimneys of the villagers’ houses that had steeple roofs designed to prevent heavy snow from accumulating.
“Look, let’s hurry down because people have started to cook dinner,” a young Tuvan next to me said as he pointed to the smoke that was rising higher. Three others nodded their heads in agreement.
The breathtaking view had made me forget all about the skiing competition between me and the Tuvans, who are the residents of village. Tuvans are believed to be a branch of the Mongolian ethnic group.
As I put my boots into the bindings on a modern snowboard, the Tuvans began to strap tightly to their feet their unique skis made of horse skin and pinewood. Each one of them would then use a long wooden pole to balance the body when skiing.
Some archaeologists believe the design of their skis could be traced back to the late Paleolithic era, also known as the Old Stone Age, around 12,000 years ago, judging by a rock painting of human figures skiing that was discovered near Altay, about 200 kilometers from Hemu.
After we were all set, it was game on. Although the snow was very thick, the bushes buried under it caused many problems for me as I went down. It didn’t seen to bother the Tuvans, who used to hunt moose in the forest in the winter on their fur skis.
I had the perfect excuse to lose. After all, the Tuvans invented skiing and they have carried on the tradition of teaching their children to ski at a very early age because they still rely on skies as basic transportation to get through the winter.
After the intensive competition (for me, not for them) I sat down with my Tuvan friends with a cup of their traditional milk tea, and they laughed at how clumsy I was. “Modern doesn’t necessarily mean better,” one said. It was so far the best skiiing experience in my life, and an experience that one can have only in Xinjiang.