Sensational Ski: Head north for the fresh powder snow of China’s many premier winter resorts
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics placed China on the global stage as a major winter sports venue and underscored the ongoing success story that is China’s ski industry. From only about 20,000 visits to the ski slopes in 1996, numbers soared to 15 million by 2012, and last year’s sporting fiesta was a further fillip to this burgeoning industry. Plentiful powder snow now attracts visitors from around the world to mountains that historically have played a rich part in Chinese cultural identity.
There are more than 20 large ski resorts across the country in areas as diverse as Jilin, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Hubei provinces. These resorts obviously gained a huge boost from Beijing being chosen to host the Winter Olympics as many locals suddenly wanted to learn to ski or partake in some way in the run-up to the Games. The slopes across China have been built on the back of successive rounds of investment and this money is crucial to their continuing maintenance. Recent funding has focused on upping the luxury level of hotels and amenities, as well as opening more runs and facilities for beginners.
Two of the largest ski resorts in China’s far north are Beidahu Ski Resort in Jilin and Heilongjiang’s Yabuli Ski Resort, the latter being situated about 200 kilometres southeast of the famous winter ice city of Harbin, home of the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival from December to February.
Beidahu Ski Resort, which played host to the 2007 Asian Winter Games, has established itself as one of the country’s premier ski resorts. Located in a tiny village some 50 kilometres south of Jilin City, the resort has runs over two mountains plus the adjoining valley and is served by an excellent network of gondolas with limited queuing required. It is famous for its steep slopes and boasts the highest vertical drop of any resort in China. The runs from the top of the right-hand mountain would be considered intimidating to most beginners, but recent investment has created slopes suitable for less advanced skiers and the resort now caters to all levels of skiing proficiency.
Most lodging at Beidahu is at the base of the mountain. The original 200-room hotel created for the Asian Games is an option, although five- star accommodation with superior eating and dining facilities is now available. The nearby village also hosts a clutch of decent restaurants.
Covering an area of 22 square kilometres, Yabuli Ski Resort has the distinction of being China’s first and largest destination ski resort and the training area for the Chinese Olympic ski team. After an influx of investment since 2009, the resort has grown considerably and now spans two mountains with a good division of advanced, intermediate and beginner runs as well as an international-standard competitive alpine skiing area. High-quality lodges have been built to cater to more discerning visitors who want somewhere to relax and recuperate in style after a gruelling but exhilarating day spent skiing or snowboarding on the slopes.
Many seasoned skiers believe Yabuli offers the best all-around facilities and ski experience in China. The alpine ski runs here are the longest in Asia, with nine downhill runs, seven cross-country ski trails, six ski lifts and synchronised platforms, and a 90-metre- high alpine jump platform among the attractions. Access to the slopes is facilitated by three chair lifts, three cable-car lifts and a towing cableway. Snow is usually guaranteed as there are multiple snow-making machines to ensure good skiing throughout the season.
A visit to Harbin can be combined with a wide choice of skiing destinations. Scenic Jihua Changshou Mountain Ski Resort is located about 45 kilometres from the city in Binxi National Forest Park. This basin setting surrounded by beautiful mountains provides shelter from the severe winter winds. One run here extends over 2.3 kilometres, while another is 100 metres wide, and the vast complex can accommodate 5,000 skiers at any one time. It is considered ideal for cross-country skiers.
Moon Bay (Yueliang Wan) Ski Resort in Harbin’s Songbei district is easily reached from the city centre. It has a comprehensive range of accommodation, entertainment and leisure facilities. Nearby attractions include the Siberian Tiger Park to the north, home to magnificent Siberian tigers in near wild surroundings, and Sun Island Park to the east, the location of the beautiful winter snow sculptures. The Ice and Snow World here features illuminated full-sized buildings made from blocks of ice that stand among the finest examples of ice art in the world.
The skiing at the Window of Eurasia Ski Resort in Nangang district, located within a theme park housing the world’s classic architectural landscape in miniature, is tailored to beginners. Beidahuang Agricultural Park Ski Resort in Xiangfang district is noted for its abundance of seasonal activities aside from skiing, such as horse riding, hunting and dog sledding. The picturesque setting at Longzhu Erlongshan Ski Resort, situated about 60 kilometres from downtown Harbin in the Erlong Mountain Scenic Zone, elevates its attractions including slopes suitable for all abilities. A good choice for the next generation of Olympic champions is the centrally located Mingdu Ski Resort in Harbin as it has a ski run specifically for children.
The city’s International Golf Club Ski Resort is convenient for transportation, hotels and shopping malls. The complex comprises ski training, jumping and snowmobiling slopes, a fishing lake and golf driving range, and ice and snow and entertainment areas. The country’s first ski race venue was established at Wujimi Ski Resort in 1964, 100 kilometres from Harbin. The location – Shangzhi – has earned the title of “ski town of China” as a result. Yuquan Weihushan Forest Park Ski Resort is only half that distance from Harbin and has skiing, skating and ice hockey among other winter activities.
Recent slopes to be developed include one on the border with North Korea at Changbaishan, about 15 kilometres from the local airport. Wanda Changbaishan International Resort has a fantastic luxury alpine village offering top-of-the-range hotels, restaurants and private condominiums, and it operates a guest pick-up service from the train station or airport.
Skiing at the Beijing Olympics (apart from the downhill competition) took place around the village of Taizicheng in northwest Hubei province, where a cluster of resorts welcomes enthusiastic amateurs. These include Wanlong Ski Resort, a premier ski destination known for its powder snow, the family- friendly Thaiwoo Ski Resort, and Genting Resort Secret Garden, which has won awards for the quality of its skiing.