Chongli aims for the peak in skiing
Updated: 2015-01-13 08:37
By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)
Olympic bid gives ski resort chance to promote image around the world
A little-known neighbor of Beijing's is using the opportunities created by its joint bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics to kick-start its economy and reshape a green future.
When Italian professional snowboarder Manuel Dioli first came to Chongli county in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, in December, he felt as if he had arrived at an Alpine ski destination in his native country.
"The undulating local terrain, surrounding modern ski resorts, hotels and ski shops lining the road, all those just look like ski towns in Europe except for stretches of the Great Wall on the ridges," Dioli said during a recent media tour to explore the renowned ski center in North China.
Thanks to the surge of the skiing industry in recent years, Chongli is appealing to more international skiers after joining Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics as ski-event co-host.
Beginning in 1996 from a 300-meter rough snow trail hand-paved by local villagers, the ski industry in Chongli has developed into a cluster of four major commercial ski resorts. They operate 82 high-standard slopes and 24 cableways to accommodate more than 1 million visitors a year, mainly from Beijing and Tianjin.
"The bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics will definitely provide a huge boost to the already flourishing ski industry here. More international expertise and investments are expected to come, helping upgrade ski facilities, services and relevant infrastructures within a short time," said Wei Qinghua, president of China Mountain Development and senior consultant of the bid committee.
Zhang Chunsheng, executive director of Zhangjiakou's 2022 bidding office, echoed Wei's sentiment.
"The bid offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Chongli to promote its image to the world, cementing its status as a winter recreation center in North China," Zhang said.
Beijing submitted its official bidding report and guarantee to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan 6. The IOC delegation will visit Beijing for further inspection before making the final decision between Beijing and the other candidate city, Almaty, Kazakhstan, in July.
Chongli will host six snow disciplines, including freestyle skiing, biathlon and snowboarding, at the Genting Resort Secret Garden and a nearby new Nordic ski center if it wins the bid, according to the report.
Skiing tourism in Chongli has already benefited from the bid, which was launched by Beijing in November 2013.
The county hosted a record number of 1.42 million ski tourists from November 2013 to April 2014, while the ski-related income contributed 981 million yuan ($160 million) to local tourism revenue, about a quarter of the county's GDP in 2013, according to the county government.
The major four resorts, Genting, Wanlong, Dolomiti and Changchengling, have seen the number of combined daily visitors increase by 20 percent to 20,000 since early November compared to the same period last "snow season", according to Zhangjiakou tourism bureau.
"The demand for our ski packages, including accommodation and equipment rental, has been soaring since the launch of the bid. Skiers have to make early reservations otherwise hotel rooms will be fully booked during weekends," said Isaac Zhao, marketing director of Genting Resort.
The resort, an investment by Malaysian-based resort and casino developer Genting Group, has opened 35 ski trails. Designed by Ecosign, a Canadian mountain resort planning company serving the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, they cover 800 square kilometers capable of accommodating 8,000 skiers at any one time.
The resort's multibillion-dollar development plan will eventually see 87 trails, 22 cable lines and 10,000 hotel rooms in service by 2020. Special facilities such as a bumpy piste for freestyle skiers, aerial jumps and snowboarding half-pipes need to be built with extra investment.
Despite high charges of at least 1,000 yuan per person including ski rental and accommodation at the weekends, the resort has been operating at a loss and isn't expected to show a profit in the near future, Zhao said.
"Our investor has strong faith that the ski industry will eventually develop into a profitable business. The Olympic bid will give it a strong push," said Zhao.
More ski culture urged
Andrea Coatti, a professional Italian ski resort designer and operator, has been working with local resorts on terrain planning and slope grooming in Chongli for nine years and established his own company, Yibu Snow Parks, in 2010.
Born at the foot of the Alps, Coatti was brought up in Italy's ski culture and was impressed by the progress Chongli has made since 2006.
"In the past, many people in China took skiing as a one-day thing. It wasn't about learning to ski but taking it for a one-time trial," said the 30-year-old, who first arrived to work at the Italian-backed Dolomiti resort.
"Now, a lot of people come back every week, trying to learn and taking skiing as a hobby for fun. China has so many people, it's no wonder about the increase in numbers. I think skiing is growing to become a culture right now."
The lack of talent in ski training, service and resort operation has emerged as an issue for Chongli to develop a ski culture, but it should be strengthened by importing more foreign experts, said Ma Weishan, director of Zhangjiakou sports bureau.
The bureau has signed a talent-exchange cooperation with the Austrian state of Tyrol, a world-renowned ski center that has hosted the Winter Olympics two times in 1964 and 1976. Austrian coaches visited Chongli on Tuesday for a 20-day seminar with local trainers.
Snowboarding skiers take rest aside one of the 35 ready-made ski trails at the Genting Resort Secret Garden in Chongli county, Hebei province. The resort has been recognized as one of the eight official corporate sponsors of Beijing 2022 Bid Committee with cutting-edge facilities and international trail design. Provided to China Dail
A fast cable line transfers skiers from the Genting Resort Secret Garden's five-star hotel to the 2,100-meter-altitude starting point of the trails in 10 minutes. Provided to China Daily
(China Daily 01/13/2015 page6)