China’s young professionals are developing a serious craze for downhill skiing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 10:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 11:35pm

China’s newly affluent are embracing skiing in a huge way, packing up their ski racks for resorts across snowfall enveloped northeastern China.

The winter sport was brought into focus thanks to backing from President Xi Jinping, who has decreed that the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will transform 300 million non-skiers into downhill enthusiasts. That translates into a more than 20-fold surge, given only an estimated 13 million people in China hit the slopes regularly, according to official data.

While skiing, like golf, has been known as a slightly elitist endeavour, it has been embraced as a populist sport in China over the recent years. Visits to local skill hills in the world’s most populous country have more than doubled since 2010, according to a report by China’s biggest homebuilder China Vanke.

Also rapidly growing are ski resorts across the country, as a construction boom lifted the number to 568 in 2015, up 110 per cent from five years earlier, the report said.

“You have a big part of China that has a lot of snow, and a big group of people who are wealthy and keen on having a taste of skiing,” said Robert Koepp, director with The Economist Corporate Network. “There is so much room to grow.”

Dalian Wanda Group, controlled by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, splashed out 20 billion yuan to build a ski resort with 43 trails alongside Sheraton and Westin hotels in Changbaishan, a mountain range on the border between China and North Korea.

Only scores of miles away lies Club Med’s opulent Beidahu resort, which houses a vertical drop of more than 800 metres. The French resort operator made its debut in China with a premier Canadian-style alpine ski hotel in Yabuli, a remote site in northeastern Helongjiang province celebrated as a national hub of winter sports.

The vacation spot is where China’s prominent business figures gather for the China Entrepreneurs Conference every November.

Until recently, the sport has been dominated by the newly affluent. William Zhong, who works for a venture capital firm in Beijing, has been passionate about the sport since he visited Hokkaido.

“It is cool, and thrilling. I felt like I was flying when hurtling down the hill,” the 26-year-old said. “Instead of staying in smog-blanketed Beijing, I would rather spend my weekend on the outskirts of Beijing skiing.”

He did suffer minor injuries when hitting the slopes as a beginner, but eventually graduated to advanced trails following months of practise. He bought a complete set of gear, including skis, boots and helmet online.

The swelling demand for ski equipment is also nurturing a market for China’s largest domestic sportswear maker Anta Sports Products. The Fujian-based apparel maker partnered with Japanese outdoor equipment maker Descente last year in a bid to jointly promote their brands in China.

“We also plan to launch snow sports goods under our own brand in the fourth quarter of the year,” said James Zheng, executive director of Anta Sports Products.