SKI­ING IN XIN­JIANG WITH THE LO­CALS

The au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s pic­turesque slopes of­fer a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for win­ter sports’ en­thu­si­asts.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CUI JIA

cui­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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