WARM­ING UP TO WIN­TER SPORTS

Buildup to 2022 Olympics helps make ski­ing hol­i­days pop­u­lar

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHANG YU in Shi­ji­azhuang

Chongli, about 150 kilo­me­ters north­west of Bei­jing, has be­come a mecca for China’s fast-grow­ing band of ski­ing en­thu­si­asts in the three years since the cap­i­tal suc­cess­fully bid to co-host the 2022 Win­ter Olympics.

Even though 35-year-old Wang Yang, a me­dia worker and en­thu­si­as­tic skier from Bei­jing, knows the ski re­sorts will be crowded at this time of the year, he’s main­tain­ing his weekly rou­tine of trips to Chongli, a district in Zhangji­akou, He­bei prov­ince.

To es­cape the stress of city life, he drives three and a half hours ev­ery week­end from his home in western Bei­jing’s Gongzhufen area to Gent­ing Re­sort Se­cret Gar­den, a ski re­sort in Chongli.

“I have been en­chanted with ski­ing for seven years,” Wang said, adding that the thrill of ski­ing down a snow-cov­ered moun­tain at high speed al­ways makes him ea­ger to go again.

He used to ski closer to home but has opted for Chongli as a reg­u­lar ski­ing spot in re­cent years be­cause it has be­come a “big star” in the ski­ing world since July 2015, when Bei­jing won the right to co-host the 2022 Win­ter Olympics.

Chongli will hold 50 Olympic events in six dis­ci­plines — snow­board­ing, freestyle ski­ing, cross­coun­try ski­ing, ski jump­ing, Nordic com­bined and biathlon — ac­cord­ing to the Bei­jing Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee for the 2022 Olympic and Par­a­lympic Win­ter Games.

“It’s a great thrill for a ski-lover like me to play at a host venue for an Olympic Games be­cause all of its in­fra­struc­ture must be at in­ter­na­tional level,” Wang said.

Host­ing the Win­ter Olympics has given Chongli great mo­men­tum to fur­ther de­velop its win­ter sports in­dus­try.

A win­ter sports des­ti­na­tion for two decades, the district now boasts seven re­sorts for ski­ing and skat­ing, four of which are listed among the top 10 in China, ac­cord­ing to its tourism bureau.

The re­sorts have 169 ski slopes with a to­tal length of 162 kilo­me­ters, and can host more than 50,000 skiers a day.

In 2017, about 4 mil­lion tourists vis­ited Chongli, mainly for ski­ing, three times as many as in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the district’s tourism bureau.

Thai­woo Ski Re­sort, a re­sort in Chongli with 34 ski slopes cov­er­ing 800,000 square me­ters, ex­pects to re­ceive 250,000 vis­i­tors dur­ing the 2018-19 win­ter sea­son, which runs from Novem­ber to April, ac­cord­ing to its mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Wu Qiong.

“The num­ber of vis­i­tors will be five times greater than dur­ing the 2015-16 win­ter sea­son, the first af­ter Bei­jing won the bid,” Wu said.

He said the re­sort will see many more win­ter tourists in the com­ing years be­cause a high-speed rail­way line link­ing Bei­jing with Zhangji­akou will be put into op­er­a­tion this year.

“About 90 per­cent of our vis­i­tors are from neigh­bor­ing places, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Tian­jin and other cities in He­bei,” Wu said.

The train will cut the travel time from Bei­jing to Zhangji­akou to about one hour and make tourists’ travel much eas­ier, he said.

Tourism flour­ish­ing

The win­ter tourism boom in Chongli is em­blem­atic of a wide­spread phe­nom­e­non.

Chongli and Bei­jing’s Yan­qing district, spurred by prepa­ra­tions for host­ing the 2022 Win­ter Olympics, are just two pop­u­lar win­ter tourism des­ti­na­tions at­tract­ing grow­ing num­bers of tourists.

China’s north­east­ern prov­inces — Hei­longjiang and Jilin — have long been the coun­try’s tra­di­tional hot spots for win­ter tourism due to their cold, snowy win­ters, and there are also some emerg­ing des­ti­na­tions for win­ter tourism, in­clud­ing the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and the prov­inces of Liaon­ing, Qing­hai and Gansu, ac­cord­ing to the China Tourism Academy.

Yang Xue, a 29-year-old res­i­dent of Bao­tou, In­ner Mon­go­lia, started to ski last year af­ter be­ing in­trigued by her friends’ so­cial me­dia post­ings about the sport.

“Many of my friends have been par­tic­i­pat­ing in win­ter sports in re­cent years and they seemed to be hav­ing much fun,” Yang said, adding that she had skied twice at a new re­sort in a sub­urb of Bao­tou.

To pro­mote win­ter sports, In­ner Mon­go­lia plans to build more than 200 skat­ing rinks and 30 ski re­sorts by 2025, In­ner Mon­go­lia Daily re­ported.

The num­ber of win­ter tourists in China reached 170 mil­lion in the 2016-17 sea­son, with rev­enue from win­ter tourism reach­ing 270 bil­lion yuan ($39 bil­lion), ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the China Tourism Academy. It fore­cast that win­ter tourist num­bers will rise to 340 mil­lion in the 2021-22 sea­son, with rev­enue of 670 bil­lion yuan.

The flour­ish­ing win­ter tourism in China has also at­tracted over­seas en­thu­si­asts.

Ted Wood, 56, founder of the In­ter­na­tional Sports and Me­dia Devel­op­ment Group, grew up ski­ing in his home­town close to Lake Placid, New York, which hosted the Win­ter Olympics in 1932 and 1980.

He said win­ter sports are be­com­ing a big­ger part of Chi­nese leisure ac­tiv­i­ties as the coun­try pre­pares for the Win­ter Olympics.

“Win­ter sports are get­ting more Chi­nese out of their homes to do healthy ex­er­cise in the cold, es­cape from the stress of life, and en­joy the fresh air that us skiers love, ” Wood said.

At­tracted by the rapid devel­op­ment of win­ter sports in China, Wood plans to spend part of the year in China in the fu­ture.

He is ex­plor­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of an “East West win­ter sports as­so­ci­a­tion”, which would fo­cus on win­ter sports devel­op­ment in China and link those in­ter­ested in it with the rest of the world.

“Prospects for win­ter sports in China are very good be­cause many peo­ple in the West want to visit China, to ski or skate or to do re­lated busi­ness,” Wood said.

In­fra­struc­ture strength­ened

How­ever, Chi­nese peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in win­ter sports is still at a low level, and most peo­ple only go ski­ing or skat­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, Li Shuwang, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hu­man­is­tic Olympic Stud­ies Cen­ter af­fil­i­ated with Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China, said in an in­ter­view with Guang­ming Daily.

The num­ber of vis­i­tors par­tic­i­pat­ing in win­ter sports only ac­counted for 27.6 per­cent of tourists dur­ing the 2016-17 win­ter sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the China Tourism Academy, with the rest trav­el­ing to see win­ter scenery or ex­hi­bi­tions.

A study by the Na­tional Sur­vey Re­search Cen­ter at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity showed that about 62 mil­lion Chi­nese par­tic­i­pated in ice and snow sports from 2017 to 2018, around 5 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

“In­suf­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture is the big­gest bar­rier for the masses to par­tic­i­pate in win­ter sports,” Wang Wei­dong, deputy head of the cen­ter, told Guang­ming Daily.

He said China has 0.2 ski re­sorts per mil­lion peo­ple, com­pared with 31.75 in Aus­tria, 24.25 in Switzer­land, and 8.23 in Canada.

Con­ve­nient and eco­nom­i­cal ski re­sorts are needed to pop­u­lar­ize ice and snow sports, Wang Wei­dong said.

China launched ice and snow sports devel­op­ment plans in 2016 that aim to see the value of the in­dus­try reach 600 bil­lion yuan by 2020.

The coun­try also aims to have 650 skat­ing rinks by 2022, up from 200 in 2015, and 800 ski re­sorts, up from 500.

Win­ter sports are get­ting more Chi­nese out of their homes to do healthy ex­er­cise in the cold, es­cape from the stress of life.” Ted Wood, founder of the In­ter­na­tional Sports and Me­dia Devel­op­ment Group

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Skiers com­pete in a race at Thai­woo Ski Re­sort in Chongli district, Zhangji­akou, He­bei prov­ince.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

There are 34 ski slopes cov­er­ing 800,000 square me­ters at Thai­woo Ski Re­sort in Chongli district, Zhangji­akou.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A pro­fes­sional ath­lete skis in a com­pe­ti­tion held in Chongli district, Zhangji­akou, He­bei prov­ince, in Novem­ber.

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