Keen on the scene, not snow bored
Updated: 2013-03-01 08:48
By Sun Yuanqing (China Daily)
Developing ski resorts depends on growing enthusiasm for winter sport
Keeping a group of slipping and sliding beginners happy on the ski slopes, as well as on their feet and off their backsides, is a tough task even in the best of conditions.
But for instructor Gregory Abad, the job is made much easier and rewarding if, whatever their potential, he can get them as hooked on skiing and the winter sports scene as their boots are onto the skis.
With 90 percent of his pupils in Yabuli being beginners, Abad says his primary goal is to get people attached to the sport, rather than seeing them improve instantly.
"The first thing is not for them to improve, it's for them to enjoy skiing. And if they like it enough, they will improve quickly."
Although Yabuli was the pioneer resort of the ski industry in China, it like other Chinese ski resorts, is still dominated by first-time skiers. However, Abad has noticed a growing dedication to the sport. Now spending his second winter in Yabuli, he has seen quite a few of last year's novices return.
"I think that is a positive sign that they liked the experience last winter, that people have fun here," he says.
Abad is impressed by how adventurous some of these new skiers, of all ages are.
"Here I see people aged 50 or 60 skiing. A lady yesterday, for example, is about 50. This is her first time skiing. She skied for four days and wanted to try a snowboard, which was more difficult than skis. She did it for two hours and succeeded."
Yabuli is very suitable for beginners, Abad says. Apart from the ample space provided as nursery slopes, the dry snow blown down from Siberia makes a better surface for learners to get to grips with.
"I advise everyone to come here for their first experience," Abad says.
Abad came to Yabuli through collaboration between the resort, Ecole du Ski Francais, where he was an instructor, and the Club Med ski school.
Born into a family with a strong tradition of skiing, Abad took to skis at the age of 3. At 18, he decided to make it his career and trained for two years to become a teacher in the sport.
"In France, it's a long way to accomplish the degree. For almost five seasons, you have to spend all the time learning, because if you pause for one season, you will have to start over again. You have to know how to teach the beginners, as well as the advanced skiers. You have to know the languages, as well as the techniques."
Having been an instructor for almost 17 years, Abad is keen to draw on his experience at Yabuli.
"I came back to make use of the experience I gained last year. We are combining the skills gained on the local slopes with international ones to make the skiers more adaptable and flexible in their ability."
Skiing has long been part of France's sporting culture in contrast with China. This lack of a winter sports and aprs-ski scene has hampered the country's nascent ski market.
"When I go skiing, it's because I love to ski and I love being in the mountains," says Justin Downes, president of Axis Leisure, a resort industry consultancy in Beijing. "I like the cold and the exercise. I like partying and meeting interesting people, and all the people that are there with me are there for the same reasons."
In China, relatively few people have that experience, he says. Most of the employees at China's ski resorts come from nearby villages. They work for a living rather than for the love of skiing.
But the situation is gradually changing with the arrival of international instructors like Abad, Downes says. Club Med's ski school team is made up of 11 nationalities teaching different levels in different languages.
"They need to play a role in showing the customers a good time rather than just offering service," he says.
"The same happened in Japan 10 years ago. They might have been a bit conservative, then all of a sudden, the Australians start flocking to the Japanese ski areas and getting involved with the local skiing scene, and suddenly the Japanese realized 'This is actually fun'."
Abad says the situation was once similar in France.
"If you look at France 40 years ago, the skiers made up a very small percentage of the population. Now they are all over the place. The same will happen in China."
(China Daily 03/01/2013 page12)