The Chinese ski scene…
The range of ski options in China is considerable. Beginners learn to ride rope tows near Beijing while intrepid backcountry explorers make first descents in the Himalaya. A business mogul flies the whole family to an all inclusive luxury resort destination while someone else plans a budget day trip to a local ski area. Intermediate skiers can enjoy perfectly manicured groomers and après at the Chongli resort cluster while advanced powder hounds scout fresh lines on Changbaishan or in Altay.
Despite the variety of ski experiences in China one thing is certain: the industry is growing more here than anywhere else in the world. Fueled by China’s economic boom and increased discretionary income, upper middle class and wealthy Chinese are driving the construction of new resorts and the consumption of ski product. Both Chinese and international brands have taken notice of this movement and have already made inroads into the luxury resort and retail spaces.
The draw to pristine mountain environments and lifestyle destinations is evidence of a new pattern emerging in China; people are looking for more meaningful ways to spend their money. In smog choked cites citizens face the pressures of modern life and the unashamed consumption of luxury products cannot offer an escape. Active and healthy lifestyle getaways are becoming more popular because they cater to traditional family values and recreational needs.
We encourage people to spend more time in the mountains because it will help them respect and appreciate the natural environment. This is especially true in China because it is facing such rapid development yet still offers stunning mountain ranges and ski options.
Although the ski culture is young and the natural snow destinations are limited there are big mountain options and unlimited backcountry potential for the soul-searching free skier. Evidence of that pursuit can be found in our first film called Up One More and in the photos on our website.
Listed below are the highlights of the Chinese ski industry:
- Nanshan is China’s most accessible resort at only an hour from Beijing. Although it is small it offers a steep bumps run and China’s best terrain park. (www.mellowparks.cn)
- The Chongli cluster of resorts, Wanlong, Doulomedi and Secret Garden, provide clean mountain air, luxury facilities and wonderful groomers just 3.5 hours from Beijing. This is the proposed site of the 2022 Winter Olympics if China wins the bid.
- Beidahu, arguably one of China’s top ski resorts, delivers decent vertical, natural snow, pretty forests, progressive ski culture, and luxury slope side accommodations all in a sleepy picturesque valley setting.
- Changbaishan has natural powder, big mountain terrain and snowmobile access up to 2500m along with the lift serviced luxury offerings at the newly built and all-inclusive Wanda resort.
- Xinjiang province in northwest China deals out sunny cold days, decent snow and light winds for resort skiing near Urumqi and in Altay. Big mountain backcountry skiers could also find powder in the Tian Shan Mountains or Altay range in Xinjiang.
- The Himalaya, although too high and dry for commercial skiing, offer the last untapped resource for big mountain backcountry skiing. Just look what Jeremy Jones and Sherpas Cinema in doing in the Nepalese Himalaya. skiChina has scouted similar zones in China.
Terrain and conditions
The terrain and conditions in China range from small 100m hills with limited snowfall to the massive spines of the Himalaya or deep snow of Changbaishan. In between these extremes you can find the areas surrounding Beijing that offer decent vertical and peaks up to 2000m but natural snow is limited because of the proximity to the Gobi desert. Resorts in regions further north and east in China offer more natural snowfall and peaks up to 2500m. Xinjiang province is home to the Tian Shan and Altay ranges. These peaks rise to over 4000m and average 3000m. Snowfall here is continental in nature but powder can still be found. The Himalaya are generally too high and dry for commercial skiing but skiChina remains interested in the backcountry options here.
Resorts and Skier profile
It is stated that there are over 200 ski areas in China but 90% are small rope tows and beginner lifts with limited snowfall and vertical. skiChina has chosen to only focus on the top ten resorts because these destinations are the only places that would be considered ski areas by international standards. The major resorts we detail all have modern ski facilities with services and lodging ranging from basic to luxury. Where snowfall is not naturally abundant it has been supplemented by advanced snowmaking. Most of the resorts we cover have decent vertical and you can find specific details on each one on our website.
In 90s there were only a few thousand skiers in China but by the end of 2012 estimates were hovering around 5 million. Averaging the last four years of total skier visits show 7 million visits with the 10 million skier visit mark reached during the winter of 2012/13. CIConsulting, a research firm in China, predicts that the Chinese ski industry will grow to be worth $629 million US by 2015. Three quarters of the ski population are either beginners or under the age of 40. For more statistics and sources please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Companies, brands and hotels
The Wanda Group and Mountain China Resorts have backed ski projects in China and currently the SE Group, designer of Stowe, Deer Valley and Revelstoke has listed future development plans on its website. Foreign hospitality brands like the Sheraton, Westin, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and Club Med can be found in the northeastern resorts. Large ski and outerwear brands Salomon, Rossignol, Elan, K2, North Face and Burton have developed a strong presence in the industry. GoPro, Redbull, Helly Hanson and Nike are pushing ads on Chinese ski slopes. Smaller progressive and specialty brands are present in optics and headwear: these include VonZipper, Skullcandy, Electric, Thirty Two, and Bern. Finally brands not as popular in major international markets seem to have very strong presence in China: Goldwin, Halti, Ozark Gear and Jack Wolfskin. For more information please reach out to email@example.com
The Future of Skiing in China
The draw to pristine mountain environments and lifestyle destinations is evidence of a new pattern emerging in China; people are looking for more meaningful ways to spend their money. In smog choked cities citizens face the pressures of modern life and the unashamed consumption of luxury products cannot offer an escape. Active and healthy lifestyle getaways are becoming more popular because they cater to traditional family values and recreational needs.
When analyzing the potential of the Chinese snow sports industry it is important to consider the following forces: the rise of the upper middle class, flight from pollution, desire for lifestyle family oriented getaways, and the similar trajectory of skiing in developed nations. Just this year we met with management at Wanda, China’s first truly all inclusive luxury resort designed to cater for the family vacation experience. We discovered that it attracted 80k skiers in its first season and it nearly doubled that in its second season of operation. The well-managed resort is defining luxury skiing in China by attracting people with discretionary income. We found this analysis from McKinsey to be interesting because they comment on the segment of the population that will define the future of skiing in China:
“The evolution of the middle class means that sophisticated and seasoned shoppers—those able and willing to pay a premium for quality and to consider discretionary goods and not just basic necessities—will soon emerge as the dominant force. To underscore this group’s growing importance, we have described it in past research as the “new mainstream.” For the sake of simplicity, we now call consumers with household incomes in the 106,000 to 229,000 renminbi range upper middle class. In 2012, this segment, accounting for just 14 percent of urban households, was dwarfed by the mass middle class, with household incomes from 60,000 to 106,000 renminbi. By 2022, we estimate, the upper middle class will account for 54 percent of urban households and 56 percent of urban private consumption. The mass middle will dwindle to 22 percent of urban households.”