Beijing might at first glance seem like an odd place to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics. But, when you also factor in some of the other locations like Sochi or Vancouver that have also held this logistically challenging series of events that require a multitude of venues and plenty of snow, maybe Beijing is so crazy that it just might work.
President Xi Jinping announced publicly in July of 2016, that if China were awarded the 2022 Winter Olympic bid, his mission would be to get over 300 million citizens involved in winter sports. That’s a very ambitious number, but if current figures are of any merit, then there is a definite upswing of people hitting the slopes. In 2016, it was announced that Chongli received 2.185 million tourists in an increase of 30 percent during the first snow season after winning the Olympic bid.
We chatted about the growth of skiing with Justin Downes, founder of Axis Leisure who is heavily involved in the development of ski resorts in China, and Pete Tupper, founder of Imagine, an outdoor activities club located in Shunyi. They had some very interesting things to share about the measures being implemented to either spark interest or train newbies in this up-and-coming sport, and some of the opportunities that are available to any of you out there that want to get involved.
Both of these gentlemen started off by saying that skiing is still a very new activity to a majority of the people living here in China, but they have both noticed the growth taking place firsthand. Tupper explained, “When I first came to China in 2010 the ski industry wasn’t very developed. There were fewer resorts, and there weren’t so many tourists or skiers here at that time. The experience opened my eyes to the possibilities because it was already starting to pick up some momentum and from there decided to make it my career and set up Imagine in 2014.”
Alternatively, Justin Downes came to China with a Canadian development company in 2006 to re-develop Yabuli, probably the oldest ski resort in China. Downes said, “At that time Yabuli was pretty much known as the grandfather of skiing destinations in China. Back in 2006, if you asked anybody if they knew a ski resort, Yabuli was going to be the first one they would mention.” He ended up sticking around China to begin Axis Leisure because he wanted to be present as the popularity around skiing began to materialize.
The growth would no doubt begin to intensify over the next couple of years, and now you can find at least six destination ski resorts in the Chongli area alone, with new additions being added every year.
“The Chongli, Zhangjiakou area is probably the greatest concentration of destination resorts in the country, and there are six of them within a 30km drive of each other. They are all at an international standard as far as their quality and infrastructure,” Downes explained.
These areas will only continue to develop as transportation times are cut down to 90 minutes by car and 50 minutes by train beginning in 2019. It is almost certain that the allure of clean air and mountainous landscapes of Chongli will turn it into one of Beijing’s most desirable suburbs.
“If you go up on the weekend, all you see is Beijing license plates. It’s a getaway for people from Beijing, and people are buying homes up there and eventually might make it their home year-round. It has certainly become a lifestyle mecca, but also a significant investment for a lot of people,” he added.
This sort of boom that has been instigated mostly because of the 2022 Winter Olympics, has also resulted in more opportunities for kids to get involved in skiing, whether it be through better instruction or the resorts putting a focus on catering to the needs of not only people who desire to ski but also families. We asked if there were any resorts that were doing a good job in creating a product that was suitable for both young and experienced skiers alike.
Downes answered, “The main resorts that seem to have done the best job in Chongli until now are Thaiwoo and Wanlong. Both of them have developed a good reputation for encouraging parents to deposit their kids rather than being a part of their learning programs. Fulong Resort is probably the only resort in the Chongli area that is purely focusing on young families. They are new in the resort game as of last year, but they are bringing in a Lego Brick Live Play Center for example, and some of the best international quality branding and experiences outside of the ski experience. If you are a kid, you might only be on the slopes for four hours of the day, so it’s also about how to entertain them the rest of the time.”
Pete Tupper and his company Imagine have been working hard to lay the essential groundwork in teaching kids how to ski and develop their skills. During the winter months his organization brings students from all corners of Beijing to different resorts outside of the city ranging from Nanshan to Chongli, and all the way to Japan for their annual Christmas holiday ski trip.
In addition to these trips Imagine also offers private excursions with their European trained ski instructors to resorts in Chongli or beyond. This is great for families looking to give it a try but need the expertise of an English speaking professional. He mentioned that one of the most important things about learning to ski is having a capable instructor to help you along and teach you what is needed to have fun safely.
Tupper said, “Safety is a key topic when skiing in China because a lot of people don’t really know how to stop, to put it simply. You’ll find a lot of people skiing very fast and out of control and an instructor can not only teach you how to control your speed but also how to avoid these other people. The instructor can also help by looking around while the student focuses on his skiing which keeps the kids out of the way from anything that might be dangerous. When going alone, you might not be aware of all of the risks that exist when trying to get down the mountain safely.”
Despite these dangers, risks, and high costs, we asked Tupper why he felt it was gaining popularity?
He responded, “I think skiing is a great family sport. It’s one of the few sports that families can enjoy together. When kids come for our ski competitions, parents often enjoy being there and skiing for themselves at the same time. It’s not like standing there watching a football match; you actually get to enjoy yourself.”
This ski competition he mentioned is the climax of the Imagine ski season calendar, where kids from all age groups get to show off all they learned throughout the winter in this friendly competition. The 2018 International Schools Snow Sports Championships of China will be held from Mar 2-4, at Wanlong Resort, in Hebei Province. We couldn’t think of a better way to ignite the excitement coming in 2022 than actually having kids get their chance to compete.
After all, while it will likely be economic reasons that initially promote the development of these skiing resorts and facilities here in China, it will ultimately be the love of the sport, by families and young people that sustains this trending, healthy activity.
This article appeared on p52-53 beijingkids’ November 2017 issue.
Download your copy here.