A two-hour trip from Beijing, Nanshan is one of the most popular ski areas in China, and a classic example of how the sport is catching on against steep odds. Nanshan is a pint-sized hill with a single white strip of ski run sticking out from the baked-dirt landscape. It is abutted by farmers' fields; from the chairlift, the view through the distant smog is of factories and smokestacks. Skiers are bombarded with ear-splitting, brain cell-zapping dance music broadcast throughout the hill's several trails on Nanshan's public address system. One day I heard it broadcast a startling message: a stern and utterly piercing voice admonished us to treat the slopes as we would the roads. I have never been so scared by a PA announcement. Beijing is a city where driving is a Darwinist, nail-biting fight for survival. Treat the slopes like the roads? Before the average motorist gets behind the wheel of a car, he or she takes lessons and has to pass a test. But skiers and snowboarders - the bulk of whom have never so much as seen a ski anywhere except on TV - grab the rented snowsuit and gear, stand atop a hill covered mainly with artificial snow, and let gravity take over. Cars have brakes. But it takes more than simply stepping on a pedal to counter the downward motion of skis and snowboards, but most visitors forgo lessons. There are no expert-rated roads, or streets that are too difficult for beginner drivers to navigate. Drivers own their means of transport; ski and snowboard ownership is minimal, and we are much less careful with gear we rent. The most dangerous part of skiing and snowboarding in Beijing is being blindsided by an out-of-control, in-over-their-head newbie. The good news for local slopes is that Beijingers are not eager to file lawsuits - for now. I took up snowboarding in the late 1980s in North America, back when skiers and resorts did not trust our ability to safely navigate the slopes. I still do not agree with the rules that some places adopted, requiring us to pass a test before we were allowed on the trails with the skiers. I objected because only snowboarders had to take it. There is a lot of official support for both skiing and snowboarding in the mainland, boosting its popularity hugely. But that support has yet to translate into an effort to teach large numbers of people to ski and ride. Signing up for a lesson should be as natural a step as filling out the ski rental form. Or as natural as the ungainly steps taken by beginners in the crowded chairlift line when they scrape your board jockeying for position. But in and around Beijing, scrapes happen both on and off the slopes.