Na­tional boom sees more take to the slopes

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Page Two - By PRIME SARMIENTO

Deep in the Al­tay Moun­tains in North­west China, cave paint­ings on rocks de­pict skiers with a herd of an­i­mals run­ning be­low them.

The paint­ings in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion have not been car­bon dated, but Wang Bo, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist from the Xin­jiang Mu­seum, es­ti­mates that they are more than 10,000 years old.

“The pat­tern and paint used, and tools made of stones dis­cov­ered in nearby caves, all sug­gest that the paint­ings could have been made by prim­i­tive peo­ple who used the cave as a shel­ter in the late Pa­le­olithic Age,” he said in an ear­lier in­ter­view. Wang added that skis were used for hunt­ing around the snow-cov­ered re­gion.

The paint­ings prompted a group of Chi­nese ar­chae­ol­o­gists to de­clare Al­tay pre­fec­ture the birth­place of ski­ing, chal­leng­ing the In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion’s find­ings that ski­ing orig­i­nated in Rus­sia. Al­tay re­mains a haven for skiers. Now, how­ever, they are not hunt­ing for food but in­dulging in one of China’s most pop­u­lar win­ter sports.

And while the cave paint­ings show that ski­ing may have orig­i­nated in China, it is only in re­cent years that large num­bers of Chi­nese have taken to the sport.

Tourism in­dus­try play­ers at­tribute this in­ter­est to in­creased wealth and the gov­ern­ment’s pro­mo­tion of win­ter sports ahead of Bei­jing host­ing the 2022 Win­ter Olympics.

“The (stan­dard) of liv­ing in China has im­proved tremen­dously and peo­ple can af­ford to (spend more on) leisure ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Lau­rent Vanat, a ski in­dus­try re­searcher in Geneva, Switzer­land.

Bei­jing’s suc­cess in win­ning the bid to host the Win­ter Olympics has boosted the Chi­nese ski­ing in­dus­try, giv­ing rise to some of the world’s big­gest state-of-the-art ski re­sorts, Vanat said.

Ac­cord­ing to Wu Bin, pres­i­dent of con­sul­tancy firm Bei­jing Carv­ing Ski Sports De­vel­op­ment, more peo­ple are now trav­el­ing around China to ski. “But I see the Chi­nese ski mar­ket as a be­gin­ners’ mar­ket,” he said.

Wu com­piles an an­nual re­port that traces the de­vel­op­ment of the na­tion’s ski in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est edi­tion, there were 703 ski re­sorts in China last year, a year-onyear in­crease of nearly 9 per­cent.

About 20 per­cent of them are in the north­east­ern prov­ince of Hei­longjiang, where some of the coun­try’s ear­li­est ski re­sorts were built as the town of Yab­uli hosted the 1996 Win­ter Asian Games.

The num­ber of skiers has risen, reach­ing 12.1 mil­lion last year.

The in­creased in­ter­est in the sport has boosted en­roll­ment at ski schools. The re­port said the Magic Ski School, a pop­u­lar ski schools chain in China, had 10 branches by the end of last year, up from three in 2016. The num­ber of teach­ing staff mem­bers rose to 23,000 last year, from 10,900 in 2016.

Speak­ing to Xin­hua News Agency, Zhang Yan, dean of the Magic Ski School, cred­ited the 2022 Win­ter Olympics for his school’s suc­cess.

“Pre­vi­ously, many schools in Bei­jing con­sid­ered ski­ing a dan­ger­ous sport that they did not al­low us to teach. Even the ski les­sons we of­fered for free were not al­lowed. But now, we are warmly in­vited to schools and they pay for the ski les­sons,” he said.

Wu, from Bei­jing Carv­ing Ski, said ski­ing only started to evolve into a leisure ac­tiv­ity in China around 2000. Be­fore that, it was the pre­serve of ath­letes head­ing to the north­east­ern prov­inces of Jilin and Hei­longjiang, where the moun­tain­ous ter­rain and long, bit­terly cold win­ters are ideal for ski­ing.

But when an in­door ski cen­ter with ar­ti­fi­cial snow opened in Bei­jing 18 years ago, it at­tracted peo­ple to ski dur­ing the win­ter.

In the fol­low­ing years, sev­eral ski re­sorts were launched to cater to grow­ing num­bers. Most are in Bei­jing’s Miyun dis­trict and in the north­ern prov­ince of He­bei, a three­hour drive from the cap­i­tal.

Wu said in­ter­est in ski­ing es­ca­lated in 2015 af­ter China won the bid to host the 2022 Win­ter Olympics, which saw Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to take up ski­ing and other win­ter sports.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has is­sued a plan that aims to de­velop the ice and snow sports sec­tor into a tril­lion-yuan in­dus­try by 2025. Un­der this plan, China aims to build 650 skat­ing rinks and 800 ski re­sorts by 2022, and en­cour­age 300 mil­lion peo­ple to take up win­ter sports.

The strong gov­ern­ment sup­port has en­cour­aged the in­dus­try’s rapid growth in the past three years.

New ski re­sorts and in­door ski cen­ters have been built na­tion­wide. In­dus­try re­searcher Vanat said China now has 21 in­door ski cen­ters, the most in the world.

Some of the coun­try’s big­gest com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing prop­erty de­vel­oper China Vanke and con­glom­er­ate Wanda Group, and in­ter­na­tional

com­pa­nies such as Malaysia’s Gent­ing Group, have in­vested in ski re­sorts and snow parks.

In­dus­try play­ers wel­come China’s grow­ing in­ter­est in ski­ing.

Wu said the coun­try is now the world’s big­gest mar­ket for novice skiers, while Vanat said it is one of the fastest-grow­ing ski mar­kets, and he ex­pects China to have more than 1,000 ar­eas for ski­ing by 2022.

The chal­lenge is how to sus­tain this in­ter­est to ex­pand the in­dus­try. Vanat said one way to do this is to cus­tom­ize the ski teach­ing cur­ricu­lum to suit the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Jeff Oliveira, founder of re­search and con­sul­tancy com­pany skiChina, said: “You have a ski mar­ket which is 90 per­cent be­gin­ners and they’re happy to ski any­where. But what hap­pens if they be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced and want to ex­plore a larger ter­rain?”

Oliveira, who has tested the slopes at sev­eral Chi­nese ski ar­eas in re­cent years, said that Al­tay in Xin­jiang and Chang­bais­han in Jilin have the po­ten­tial to draw more ex­pe­ri­enced skiers, but need to be de­vel­oped to be­come world-class des­ti­na­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.