China will host the next Winter Olympics in 2022, and already in the midst of a ski boom, the country is positioning itself as the world’s next ski destination.
By the year’s end China will have 700 ski resorts — more than all of Europe — and they are developing young talent to ensure a swag of medals.
The site of the next Winter Olympics at Chongli, almost a four-hour drive north of Beijing, already has top notch resorts to rival the best in Europe and America.
In just two decades China has built 646 resorts and is targeting to have 1000 by the time the Olympics begin in February 2022.
The new resort of Fulong in Chongli has just opened at a cost of $5 billion.
Its 37 ski runs seem to be well organised and Chinese skiers, mainly from Beijing, are flocking to the site.
At the top of one of the runs one young woman with skis in hand says “skiing is the thing to do — it’s cool and fashionable and good exercise”.
A snowboarder who could be at home on any slope in the world says before he sets off down the steepest run “President Xi [Jinping] has called on us to ski. There will be more and more people. We’ll stick to the party leadership of communism”.
Currently there are 15 million Chinese skiers.
The government is firmly behind the push toward the sport and has commanded its 300 million nationals to get on the slopes.
Mr Xi has made it a part of his “China dream” as the nation becomes richer and more powerful.
The Communist Party has released a detailed plan to invest heavily in infrastructure, ski facilities and training to ensure success.
When China hosted the summer Olympics in 2008 it was seen as its coming out parade to the world.
The Winter Olympics of 2022 are being billed as China’s crowning glory, where its new prosperity and world leadership will be on display for all to see.
Chongli is ground zero of China’s ski boom. Resorts cannot be built fast enough and the demand for beds and instructors cannot be met, general manager of Fulong Four Seasons, Litao Zhang, says.
“Since we got the Olympics demand is huge. It increases 30 per cent every year but we can’t satisfy it. More ski resorts are opening but it’s not enough.”
Chongli transforms from poor city to winter paradise
Just several years ago Chongli was made up of barren hills and was one of the poorest areas in China, a place where people stored potatoes in caves to see them through the bitter winter.
Now international ski culture has arrived. The streets are lined with fancy cars, the shops with the latest ski brands, and the local economy has been given a massive boost.
But the progress has come with some controversy.
When China was awarded the Winter Games many questioned whether it was appropriate, considering Chongli got very little snow.
It only gets 20-70 centimetres a year compared to Whistler in Canada, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which gets an average of 11 metres.
Environmentalists also criticised the choice because Chongli was earmarked as a national park.
But that hasn’t stopped authorities and construction continues at breakneck speed and snow machines work overtime producing snow.
The water is diverted from Beijing — a city already suffering from water scarcity.
China is well down the track in hothousing Olympic talent.
Mengying Wen, a national mogul champion and Olympic hopeful for 2022, says the sheer weight of numbers and money will ensure China gets a swag of medals.
“China will win many medals, specially in ski trick and ski jump. There are new training programs across China at all levels and in all areas. It will get better and better,” she said.
Skiing is heavily promoted in schools around China and at Chongli, families are everywhere.
There is a strong sense of national pride in China’s ski boom, at how far China has come and the kids seem to relish it.
At a beginner’s class a four-year-boy says, “I feel very excited when I ski down the hill”, and another offers quickly, “I am not sacred. If I fall I just stand up”.
China, it seems, is ready for Chongli 2022.