China and skiing? I always thought that this doesn’t go well together. And then China, more exactly Beijing got the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Having previously hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. I was shocked. As Beijing is the city where it is cold in the winter, it is also a city with almost no snowfall. And even more, all the competitions on snow would be far away from Beijing. Competitions for luge, bobsleigh and alpine skiing will be held in Xiaohaituo Mountain area in Yanqing northwest of Beijing, 90 kilometers away from the city center using artificial snow given the rarity of natural snow in this region. All other skiing events will be held in Taizicheng Area in Chongli, Zhangjiakou, 280 km (140 mi) from downtown Beijing and more than 150 km away from Xiaohaituo Mountain Area.
I was therefore very interested about skiing in China, as this country is usually not the first place that comes to mind when global ski destinations are mentioned – to my surprise, there are apparently more than 500 ski resorts in the country. China’s ski resorts are not blessed with the abundant powder snow (as for example north of Japan), its resorts are steadily improving their services and infrastructure and offer a viable alternative for skiers living in Asia, particularly those new to the sport. Some of the smaller ski resorts are in the hills north of Beijing, but larger ones are in the Chongli district (approx. one hour drive with a car from Zhanghijakou) – almost 280 km away from Beijing. One of them is Wanlong, which is the largest ski area in China and one of their five best ski resort. Before the Olympic Games a high speed railway is planned to Chongli, until then, car is in reality only viable options. But the fact is, that from the official Olympic village in Zhangijakou one will have to drive almost 100 km to the slopes.
The true center of nordic skiers, freestyle skiers and snowboards will be Chongli. Around there, in the hills which hardly reach 2200m are already some centres, several new – including the expansions of the existing – are being built. Around Changli there are different ski areas, for example Genting, Duolemedi (Chinese named it actually Dolomitti), newest addition Thai woo and the largest of them all – Wanlong. In any case, there is a new ski area built on the outskirts of the Chongli town. Most of these areas will host Olympic events.
With a colleague we went on a skiing trip for two days. Our base was Chongli city, which is 15-30 minutes of driving away from most of the ski areas in the area. Chongli is also full of hotels, restaurants and ski-rental shops – prices there are much lower than in the resort. We paid for rental – everything that was needed, including the helmet – 200 rmb per person for two days (28 EUR), price on a ski slope would be at least double. Actually my main worry (and problem) were ski boots, more exactly their size. I needed a size of ski boots 29.5 (eg. 45-45.5) and the boots of this size was not easy to get. Unfortunately all that was available (and this was actually the largest size available!) was for beginners from Rossignol – ski boots were very comfortable, soft, however didn’t have enough of adjustment and didn’t hold the leg well. Oh, and ski poles. 115 cm high were the highest they had, and thats around 10cm too small for me. We were also searching for ELAN skis, but without luck (lots of Rossignol, Fisher and Stockli for advanced skiers – but again, good luck with longer ones. I got very soft Rossignol Pursuit 100 skis, but they were surprisingly good and easy for carving on softer and less steep parts 😉 Unfortunately not stable enough when going little faster or on hard packed snow.
Thaiwoo Ski Area (太舞)
Thai woo ski area is completely new, it is still unfinished and under serious construction. This holds especially for hotels, which are still under construction, so is the stop of the high speed rail. Most of the ski slopes and devices are open, some of them should be open next winter (after that there are another two phases projected). There are currently four ski lifts available – two cable cars and two chairlifts (and one extra beside the moguls track, but that’s not used by “normal” skiers). Ski area currently lies between 1650 and 2150 meters above the sea level, the longest ski track measures around 3km. Ok, there are some early problems in the ski area (it takes ages to find office and buy a ski ticket). In truth, i didn’t expect a lot from the resort. But i was pleasantly surprised – very positively. The slopes were perfectly groomed (flawlessly), snow was excellent – the temperatures also helped, as it was constantly under zero. Snow was artificial only. Ski slopes are relatively wide and of different difficulties – they are huge fun, and even expert skiers can find one to their liking. There were almost no skiers, you met rarely somebody on the slope when skiing down. I think I got spoiled 😉 Despite the fact that the resort is till relativelly small, it is due to excellent conditions and no crowds pure fun. It takes quite a few hours to start repeating slopes 😉 and there was no visible deterioration of the slopes, no ice, etc…
There are of course some downsides. Despite the modern and new ski lifts (they are oh so comfortable) they are quite slow. All without any example. Ski chair lift has unusually long distance (like 30 seconds) between chairs, everything just moves slowly. One is safety for skiers, but this is going too far. Cable car is also modern and new, but… why the hell they built two, instead of one long one with intermediate stop? Beats me… Issue is also the availability of food and drinks, as only one bar in the whole ski area was working during our visit. At least it was good with great views. 🙂
Ski pass prices are very high for Europe – 4 hour ski pass costs upwards from 320 rmb (44 EUR – more on weekends), and daily from 460 rmb (64 EUR). Fortunately, we got back 60 rmb when we returned the ticket after skiing.
Wanlong Ski Area (河北崇礼万龙滑雪场)
On the second day we went to Wanlong Ski Area, which is only 10-15 minutes away from Chongli (with a car of course). This is more mature ski area, hotels are already built, but ok… they are building new ski-lifts so it will be even larger in a few years. Currently some ski lifts were closed (i suspect they will be substituted with other, newer devices). It is a larger resort than Thai woo, ski slopes are mostly wide and of different difficulties. Ski lifts are much faster than in Thai woo and there are more crowds here. Ski slopes lie between 1550 in 2150 meters above sea level, with the longest one around 4km. There were many more skiers, still, in comparison with Europe, relatively little. Also there was more choice for food and drinks than in Thai woo. And of course, there is still plenty of construction left.
Downsides? Not many. Maybe the prices of tickets. Yes, prices are here higher than in Thai woo – a 4 hours ski pass costs 420 rmb (58 EUR), and a daily whopping 590 rmb (81 EUR).
Well… Whats my opinion on skiing in China? I admit, i changed my opinion about the Olympic Games. The conditions in these mountains are fantastic. Ok, there is not much snowfall, but they produce all the snow in late November, early December and then almost until march the temperatures are constantly below zero. Snow is really dry and “grippy” – on the competitions this will favor athletes that like North American snow. The ski slopes are generally wide and very diverse. One shouldn’t expect long distance slopes, but OK. This is also not a destination for off piste skiing, as there is almost no off piste snow. We were quite lucky, as there was a snow storm in the area just before the arrival (one of the few in the winter) and there was some 10-15cm of natural snow on the trees around the area. Landscape was because of that really beautiful. The were not many skiers, and more than half of them are snowboarders. I was surprised how well they skied, and i really didn’t see many beginner skiers. As with weather, we were also lucky with the crowds, or better, their absence. I bet that during the spring festival there are many many people and all slopes are too crowded. The other thing are the prices, which are really HIGH. But ok, in such a weather, conditions, absence of the crowds, that kind of price can justify the pleasure.