Riding the slopes again

Updated: 2013-01-22 04:10

By Tang Zhe (China Daily)

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Growing up in Heilongjiang province, Northeast China, Zhu Hong was a dab hand at winter sports by her early teens.

She started in speed skating and transferred to half-pipe in 2003. However, she never tasted success during her four years with a local sports team in Harbin due to numerous injuries and she left the snowfields in 2007.

Her passion never diminished and when she got a job at the Nanshan Ski Village in 2011, she became acquainted with slopestyle and picked up her snowboard again.

"The whole thing was beyond my expectations. I never thought I could be so addicted to this sport," said the 24-year-old.

"I hated skiing in the past because every day was the same with the team and I had to obey the coaches and managers in my choice of skills and tricks. I had to train no matter whether I was in good shape or not," she said. "I was bored.

"I love what I am doing now. It's free, you can do whatever you like at any time, and I really enjoy learning and competing with my peers here," said Zhu, who works in a Nanshan ski equipment shop in winter and then moves to the indoor Qiaobo Ski Dome in Beijing after the ski season.

At the 11th Red Bull Nanshan Open, a five-star event (second tier on the World Snowboard Tour), held at the weekend, Zhu finished third and became the first Chinese female snowboarder to win points in a WST tournament, and the highest ranked Chinese rider in any WST slopestyle competition.

"I'm satisfied with my performance," said Zhu, who competed against six foreign riders at the Nanshan Open women's final on Saturday. "I was nervous at the start, but after some warm-ups I felt excited and relaxed."

Despite her high finish, Zhu is well aware of the gap between Chinese and the elite foreign athletes.

"The gap is huge, and many foreign stars didn't come to this competition," Zhu said. "There are very few snowboarders who compete in slopestyle in China, and we don't have coaches, just people playing together for fun.

Slopestyle will be included at the Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, but China is yet to set up a national team in the discipline. The Olympics is not on Zhu's schedule, but she is eager to participate in more tournaments overseas.

"The Olympics has no influence on me," she said. "(If there is a national team), the kids must be better than me as they are young and willing to be guided by coaches.

"But I do want to get the chance to compete overseas, and I will learn some new tricks next year to prepare myself for those opportunities," she said.

According to Austrian Steve Zdarsky, who is regarded as the "pioneer of Chinese snowboarding" for his more than a decade of dedication in promoting the sport in China, the number of people snowboarding in Nanshan has increased from no more than 20 at the beginning to sometimes almost 2,000 a day now.

The Nanshan Open also has the chance to be developed into an Olympic slopestyle qualifying tournament as organizers have been approached by the International Ski Federation, which is hoping to set up a top-tier event in China.

"China's best half-pipe riders belong to the national team, but the best ones in slopestyle are 100 percent in Nanshan," Zdarsky said.

Contact the writer at tangzhe@chinadaily.com.cn