Ten years ago, China’s Chongli District had just one properly run ski resort.
But after Beijing was selected to host the 2022 Olympics, the winter-sports scene here has undergone an astonishing transformation.
Rapid development isn’t anything new for the Chinese, yet the speed of how things are unfolding in this rural part of Hebei Province is remarkable.
Soon after Zhangjiakou—a city some 200 kilometers north of Beijing—opened its own airport in 2013, a new highway created a high-speed gateway for skiers and sliced the driving time from city to hill almost in half.
‘When the first resort (Saibei) opened, there were no lifts or gondolas’
At the hub of the ski fields sits Chongli, which has fast developed into a sprawling city of its own as it prepares to host the majority of skiing events in 2022.
‘Chongli is great because it’s so close to the city and boasts good mountains,’ says Wang Lei, a former professional snowboarder, patron of World Snowboard Day in Asia and president of the China Snowboard Association.
‘When the first resort (Saibei) opened, there were no lifts or gondolas. Everyone had to catch a ride in one of the cars that brought people up to the peak.’
Fast-forward to today, and the city is home to a burgeoning number of resorts—with high-tech lifts, no less—and plays host to international teaching programs and top-level progression camps, many of which were launched by Lei.
‘More and more people from all over the world will come to Chongli and enjoy the experience,’ he says.
Indeed, winter sports are now in vogue, and Chinese ski and snowboard enthusiasts are eagerly flocking to the hills to try the latest gear—2015/16 saw a 30 percent increase in equipment rental and sales, indicating that the industry is shifting toward the mainstream.
Add to that brand-new infrastructure, with top-of-the-line chairlifts and gondolas, plus perfectly groomed slopes.
Highly praised Genting Secret Garden—one of the region’s most profitable ski businesses—is one of the sites of the 2022 Olympics and boasts high-end amenities along with an ever-expanding number of slopes.
This is all good news for riders.
‘[Genting has] a rocking park that’s easy to learn on, with tables instead of tombstone jumps, and a world-class halfpipe, my absolute love,’ says restaurateur and avid snowboarder Alan Wong.
Fellow Olympics host Thaiwoo Resort is generating anticipation with its development.
Its peak is at 2,160 meters (on par with some of Vancouver’s best) and it has 28 ski trails—some 20 kilometers of pure slopes, with decent descents—already up and running.
Four high-speed lifts and 11 magic carpets bring guests swiftly uphill. This is less than a sixth of the resort’s planned capacity ahead of 2022.
The big-name hotel companies are also moving in, with Element Chongli opening this season and putting a fresh, eco-friendly stamp on the resort.
Justin Downes, the man behind Canada’s famous Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, manages the development of several resorts within China including Thaiwoo.
‘Thaiwoo is a special place for me,’ he says. ‘While it’s still under construction, the plans and the vision will deliver a truly first-class international destination with great dining, accommodation, shopping and service.
‘If I were to move to the mountains, Thaiwoo is where I’d go.’
Dolomiti, meanwhile, offers proper facilities for freeriders and there are other—albeit smaller—resorts to explore: Changchengling, Great Wall Ridge, Wanlong, Xinxueguo and Fulong, to name a few.
Female halfpipe world champion Liu Jiayu regularly trains at Chongli.
‘More people should join winter sports,’ she says, ‘and like me, they might fall in love with it!’
FOUR REASONS TO HIT THE SLOPES IN 2017
December 31, 2016–January 1, 2017: Cross-Year Carnival Party (Film Festival), Thaiwoo Resort
February 25–26: FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup (Moguls), Thaiwoo Resort
March 7–8: China National Youth Alpine Skiing Championship, Thaiwoo Resort
What’s your favorite ski resort in China? Tweet @momentumtravels.
Photos: Main image – Marcus Rohrbacher; Body images – Thaiwoo Resort, Dolomiti Resort, Imagine