Giv­ing the cold sea­son a warm wel­come

Beijing is gear­ing up to host the 2022 Win­ter Olympic Games by rais­ing the num­ber of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in ice-and-snow-based ac­tiv­i­ties, Sun Xiaochen re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As Beijing ramps up prepa­ra­tions for the 2022 Win­ter Olympic Games, mass par­tic­i­pa­tion in win­ter sports and recre­ations has soared, a fact high­lighted by bustling scenes of peo­ple play­ing on ice and snow around the cap­i­tal.

De­spite winds blow­ing in deep win­ter chills, the laugh­ter and high spir­its of chil­dren slid­ing down the snow slopes at the Na­tional Sta­dium in north Beijing have brought vi­tal­ity to the venue, which is host­ing the an­nual Bird’s Nest Happy Ice and Snow Car­ni­val.

An au­di­ence-in­ter­ac­tive gala event fea­tur­ing out­door win­ter recre­ations, the car­ni­val has be­come one of the hottest leisure des­ti­na­tions in town dur­ing the win­ter hol­i­day sea­son, thanks to grow­ing pub­lic in­ter­est in win­ter sports since July 2015, when Beijing was awarded the Games.

The car­ni­val of­fers 11 types of win­ter sports and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in three zones span­ning 70,000 square me­ters both in and out­side the sta­dium, bet­ter known as the Bird’s Nest, which was built for the 2008 Beijing Sum­mer Olympic Games.

The land­mark venue will be re­fur­bished to host the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies of the Win­ter Games in 2022.

To cater to the grow­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors, or­ga­niz­ers have ex­panded the par­tic­ipa- tion area this year, adding an 800-sq-m curl­ing rink, a 1,500sq-m ar­ti­fi­cial ice rink that can be re­assem­bled else­where and a row of vir­tual-re­al­ity ski­ing sim­u­la­tors in­side the sta­dium.

Even so, the venue is still strug­gling to meet the soar­ing de­mand from ur­ban win­ter sports fans.

Housewife Wang Jing has brought her 6-year-old son to the event three times since it opened in this month.

“Last year it was a lit­tle bit crowded on the week­ends, but this year it seems crowded even on work days. The fun here is play­ing in the snow — even though it’s man-made, it re­ally in­trigues kids,” she said.

Li Zhiqun, as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager of the Na­tional Sta­dium, said vis­i­tor num­bers have been be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Al­though we ex­panded our

site and ex­tended our op­er­a­tions by open­ing ses­sions at night, we were still run­ning far be­yond our ca­pac­ity dur­ing the first cou­ple of days,” he said.

“It’s a sweet headache, re­ally, so we have to fur­ther op­ti­mize the lay­out to al­low more ac­tiv­i­ties in­side and to ex­plore new spaces in the squares out­side,” he said.

Started in 2009 as one of the venue’s post-Olympic projects, the car­ni­val has attracted more than 1.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors. Some high-level com­pe­ti­tions, such as the In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion Freestyle Ski­ing World Cup and the Air and Style Snow­board­ing Con­test, have also been held at the venue al­most every year.

The car­ni­val is open from 10am un­til 9pm every day un­til Feb 26. Adult tick­ets cost 120 yuan ($17) at week­days and 160 yuan on week­ends, and this year, a pref­er­en­tial pol­icy has been adopted that of­fers free en­try for chil­dren age 12 and younger to en­cour­age more youth par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Mean­while, the first 10 chil­dren check­ing in every day will be given free ski­ing lessons on the ar­ti­fi­cial snow trails, guided by the for­mer na­tional cross-coun­try ski­ing cham­pion Xu Wen­long.

“Com­pared with big­ger re­sorts in re­mote city sub­urbs, here we pro­vide ac­ces­si­ble train­ing on peo­ple’s doorsteps. It’s an ef­fec­tive way to al­low ski­ing to catch on with more peo­ple at the en­try level,” said Xu, who won mul­ti­ple cross-coun­try ti­tles at the 12th Na­tional Win­ter Games in 2012.

“White opium”

Cit­ing the ad­dic­tive fun of ski­ing, some young Chi­nese en­thu­si­asts have dubbed the sport “white opium” be­cause their bodies itch for ac­tion every year when the snow sea­son ap­proaches.

The crowded scenes at ma­jor ski re­sorts around Beijing in late Novem­ber sig­ni­fied China’s surg­ing ap­petite for the sport, which was in­tro­duced in the early 2000s.

When the Jun­dushan Ski Re­sort in the north­ern sub­urb of Chang­ping opened trial op­er­a­tions on Nov 25, gen­eral man­ager Qiao Wei was im­pressed by the large crowds lin­ing up in the re­cep­tion hall to check in, and by the long lines of skiers wait­ing to take ca­ble lifts to the top of the trails.

“This year, we opened the re­sort as early as the weather per­mit­ted, but we didn’t ex­pect so many cus­tomers dur­ing our test run. It turned out to be a big sur­prise,” he said.

Boast­ing a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 6,000 skiers on 150,000sq-m of rugged ter­rain, Jun­dushan up­graded its ca­ble lifts and pur­chased more high­end ski­ing and snow­board­ing equip­ment to pre­pare for peak busi­ness dur­ing the New Year hol­i­days.

“The in­creas­ing num­ber of ad­vanced skiers among the health-con­scious mid­dle class has prompted us to pro­vide bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices. It is proof of the sport’s ris­ing profile,” Qiao said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Beijing mu­nic­i­pal win­ter sports ad­min­is­tra­tion, the city’s 22 out­door and in­door ski re­sorts reg­is­tered 1.69 mil­lion vis­its dur­ing the 2015-16 snow sea­son, the high­est num­ber na­tion­wide.

Boom­ing in­dus­try

As high­lighted in Beijing’s bid plan, China is rolling out a na­tional cam­paign to en­cour­age 300 mil­lion peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in win­ter sports by 2022.

The call has in­spired greater in­vest­ment in the win­ter recre­ation sec­tor, which has seen 108 new ski re­sorts built since Beijing and its co-host Zhang - ji­akou, He­bei prov­ince, were awarded the Win­ter Games last year.

China has more than 200 skat­ing rinks and 500 ski re­sorts spread across 25 provin- ces, and about 30 mil­lion peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in win­ter sports and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport of China, the coun­try’s top sports body.

In Novem­ber, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and seven min­istrylevel de­part­ments — in­clud­ing the Min­istry of Fi­nance and the Na­tional Devel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion — is­sued long-term na­tional plans for the devel­op­ment of win­ter sports and con­struc­tion of in­fra­struc­ture.

The coun­try aims to build 650 skat­ing rinks and 800 ski re­sorts by 2022, lay­ing the foun­da­tions for the win­ter sports in­dus­try to gen­er­ate 1 tril­lion yuan in gross rev­enue, in­clud­ing spend­ing at venues, equip­ment pro­duc­tion and train­ing fees, by 2025.

De­vel­op­ers of win­ter sports venues will be of­fered rea­son­able and flex­i­ble poli­cies on tax in­cen­tives and land ac­qui­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to Wang Wei­dong, di­rec­tor of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s eco­nomics depart­ment. He said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will work with the Fi­nance Min­istry and the Min­istry of Land and Re­sources to fi­nal­ize the mea­sures.

“The ac­cel­er­a­tion of the con­struc­tion of win­ter sports fa­cil­i­ties is not just about host­ing elite com­pe­ti­tions, but also to stim­u­late mass con­sump­tion in the sec­tor,” said Gao Zhi­dan, vice-min­is­ter of sport.

De­spite the gov­ern­ment’s en­thu­si­asm, ex­perts have warned that the in­dus­try should be de­vel­oped cau­tiously, with in­te­grated plan­ning and an em­pha­sis on ser­vice and staff train­ing.

“The in­vest­ment in the in­dus­try is mainly for the 2022 Olympics, but what hap­pens af­ter the Games?” said Yang Hua, a sports so­ci­ol­ogy ex­pert and the Party chief of Beijing Sport Univer­sity.

“To avoid a waste of re­sources and op­er­a­tional dif­fi­cul­ties af­ter the Olympics, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and prop­erty de­vel­op­ers should take lo­cal tourism, ac­com­mo­da­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion into con­sid­er­a­tion in the big­ger pic­ture,” he said.

Yang’s sug­ges­tion has been adopted by Yan­qing county in north­west Beijing, the pro­posed venue of the Olympic alpine ski­ing, bob­sled and skele­ton com­pe­ti­tions.

Af­ter sign­ing a part­ner­ship agree­ment with Wanke Prop­erty Devel­op­ment Co ear­lier this year, Shi­jin­g­long Ski Re­sort in Yan­qing, which was built in 1999, has been ren­o­vated and now boasts bar­ri­er­free fa­cil­i­ties and an in­ter­net­based man­age­ment sys­tem of­fer­ing on­line book­ing, pay­ment and cus­tomer re­views.

The ser­vice up­grades, such as re­quir­ing skiers to wear hel­mets — and pro­vid­ing 3,000 free hel­mets — have earned pos­i­tive feed­back since the re­sort re­opened in early De­cem­ber.

“From fa­cil­i­ties to ser­vices and se­cu­rity mea­sures, we are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences for con­sumers that will make them want to come back,” said Cheng Jia, the re­sort’s as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager.

Youth par­tic­i­pa­tion

China has pledged to de­velop prow­ess in win­ter sports by 2022 and be­yond, so in­volv­ing more schools in win­ter sports ed­u­ca­tion is a pri­or­ity for the au­thor­i­ties.

Since last year, Beijing has se­lected 18 schools in the city’s Haid­ian dis­trict and in Yan­qing as pi­lot schools of­fer­ing win­ter sports train­ing dur­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes. The mu­nic­i­pal sports bureau is propos­ing adding win­ter sports to the manda­tory cur­ricu­lum of the city’s pri­mary and se­condary schools, al­though no fi­nal de­ci­sion has yet been made.

The cap­i­tal will also en­cour­age schools to work with down­town skat­ing rinks and sub­ur­ban ski re­sorts to of­fer stu­dents free, gov­ern­ment-funded, train­ing ses­sions off cam­pus, said Sun Xue­cai, di­rec­tor of the mu­nic­i­pal sports bureau.

So far, 10 mo­bile ar­ti­fi­cial rinks, which can op­er­ate in warm tem­per­a­tures, have been in­stalled in schools for test use in PE classes, ac­cord­ing to the bureau.

Since Novem­ber, ski in­struc­tors and ex­ec­u­tives from the Jun­dushan re­sort in Beijing’s Chang­ping dis­trict have vis­ited 16 ele­men­tary and high schools and given lec­tures about win­ter sports to 6,000 stu­dents.

The first group of 200 stu­dents took a ski­ing class at the re­sort on Dec 13, and more batches will be sent to the field this win­ter.

Since 2014, Yan­qing’s No 2 Pri­mary School has or­ga­nized an­nual ski­ing camps for stu­dents at the nearby Shi­jin­g­long Re­sort, which pro­vides train­ers and fa­cil­i­ties funded by the dis­trict ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion.

“Through tak­ing part in ski­ing cour­ses, our stu­dents have a bet­ter sense of win­ter sports. The train­ing helps to im­prove their phys­i­cal con­di­tions, while tough­en­ing their minds,” said Li Jun, the school’s vice-prin­ci­pal.

China has set a goal to ex­pand win­ter sports ed­u­ca­tion to 5,000 schools by 2025, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Win­ter Sports Devel­op­ment Plan is­sued in Novem­ber.

How­ever, the move has prompted a mixed re­ac­tion.

“With the Olympics com­ing, it’s good to de­velop win­ter sports in schools, but it should not be con­ducted like a move­ment,” said Tan Jianx­i­ang, a sports so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at South China Nor­mal Univer­sity.

“The of­fi­cials should re­spect re­al­ity and the stu­dents’ in­ter­ests. What if the school doesn’t have the fa­cil­i­ties or stu­dents just pre­fer sum­mer sports, how can you make it com­pul­sory then?”

Ren Hong­guo, head of the Na­tional Win­ter Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tive Cen­ter, con­ceded that im­ple­men­ta­tion of the cam­pus pro­mo­tion should be im­pro­vised when nec­es­sary.

“Over­com­ing the lack of train­ing ex­per­tise and qual­i­fied staff for win­ter sports ed­u­ca­tion is a chal­lenge that will re­quire cross-min­istry col­lab­o­ra­tion. It’s good to see that some progress has been made,” he said.

With the sup­port of the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity, a na­tional out­line for school win­ter sports ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing com­piled and will be pub­lished in 2018, Ren said.

FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

A fa­ther and daugh­ter play curl­ing dur­ing the trial open­ing of the eighth Bird’s Nest Happy Ice and Snow Car­ni­val at Beijing’s Na­tional Sta­dium, on Fri­day.

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