Winter sports are enjoying a burst of popularity in Shanghai, even though the city receives only one or two dustings of snow a year. For people from colder climates, skating on the eighth floor of a shopping mall or skiing indoors in an industrial district might seem to be missing the original spirit of winter pursuits. But rising incomes have given Shanghai residents new alternatives: the rink and the slopes. The Super Brand Mall recently opened the city's fourth skating rink. Of the other three, two are indoors while the third is outdoors, placed over a public swimming pool in winter. At the mall, the ice-cleaning Zamboni machine and Abba music piped over the loudspeakers during the public skating session are authentic enough. But the venue is about half the size of a regulation hockey rink, and there are two posts in the corners, which can be hazardous. For 60 yuan, customers can stay for two hours with rented skates - hockey skates for people with large feet and figure skates for others. The venue also sells socks and gloves. 'Everyone must wear gloves,' the counter attendant said. The reason: something to cushion the inevitable fall. On the ice, as far as the eye can see, is a conga line of novice skaters clinging to the boards as they hobble around the oval-shaped rink in pursuit of fun. The centre is occupied by attendants showing off for the shopping mall crowds and youngsters learning to figure skate under the instruction of expensive coaches paid for by their parents. A handful of expatriates, some obviously ex-hockey players, try to impress their girlfriends. Still, a sense of camaraderie pervades the crowd - a noticeable difference from the usual aggressiveness of a Shanghai mob. Perhaps the cold temperatures - or the realisation that everyone is only a step away from sprawling onto the ice - has a calming effect. The Yinqixing indoor ski site has been open since 2002, and the National Day holiday last week brought large crowds despite fees of up to 218 yuan. The US$36 million venue, said to be one of the largest in Asia, is a joint venture between Chinese and Japanese companies. The slope is nearly the length of four football fields and about as high as a 14-storey building. Downhill skiers who have tested the slopes around Beijing and other parts of northern China will recognise a similar feature: beginners hurtling down the slope with little idea how to stop, and spectacular wipeouts. Still missing from Shanghai's winter sports scene are snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and ice climbing. But, given the success of basketball star Yao Ming and record-breaking hurdler Liu Xiang , how far can Shanghai be from fielding a champion Winter Olympics athlete?