The world's most populous nation against a new kid on the block. A global capital that hosted an Olympics just a few years ago against a city which many people may not be able to find on a map. A Chinese region with few big mountains and little natural snow against a former Soviet winter sports resort surrounded by towering peaks and plenty of real snow. Such is the study in contrasts between the two contenders for the 2022 Winter Games: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. There is no question the Chinese are still the favourites. It is an open race, but in principle most people believe the Chinese are automatically the favourites Gian-Franco Kasper, IOC member The International Olympic Committee will be faced with two starkly different choices when it selects the host city on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, wrapping up a race that began with six candidates but wound up with just two after a series of withdrawals. While Beijing is seen as the big favourite, Almaty impressed IOC members at a presentation in Switzerland in June and the contest is now considered closer than many had expected. "A lot of the members were pretty agreeably surprised to see there were now two candidates in the race," Canadian member Dick Pound said. Beijing remains the city to beat - largely because of China's geopolitical might. "There is no question the Chinese are still the favourites," said Gian-Franco Kasper, a veteran IOC member from Switzerland who is president of the international ski federation. "It is an open race, but in principle most people believe the Chinese are automatically the favourites." "Why?" said Kasper. "You know. China." A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine the Olympic vote would come down to Beijing and Almaty, neither of which is well known for hosting major winter sports events. But they were the only ones left after four European cities - including Oslo and Stockholm - pulled out for political or financial reasons. Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics and is seeking to become the first city to host both summer and winter games, is viewed by many IOC members as a safe choice, one that can be relied upon because of China's experience, manpower and political will. We are convinced that there are multiple reasons why Beijing would be the ideal, athlete-centred, sustainable and economical choice Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun "We are convinced that there are multiple reasons why Beijing would be the ideal, athlete-centred, sustainable and economical choice," said Beijing mayor and bid committee chairman Wang Anshun as he led a delegation to Kuala Lumpur for final presentations and the vote on Friday. Almaty - the former capital of Kazakhstan, a central Asian country which became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union - is a lesser-known quantity, but one that offers a Winter Games setting and atmosphere along with a compact layout. Beijing says the Games would help develop a winter sports market for more than 300 million people in northern China - a strong selling point for the IOC's commercial interests. "We're already seeing these trends," bid committee deputy general Zhao Yinggang said. "Holding the Olympics in Beijing would be a huge boost to their popularity." Almaty scored points with its presentation in Lausanne in June, showing images of deep, natural snow. Almaty's slogan, "Keeping it Real", is a not-so-subtle dig at China's reliance on man-made snow. Beijing insists it has sufficient water supplies for snow-making and can provide excellent conditions for ski competitions. Beijing lacks high mountains in the immediate vicinity and its winters are known for being cold and dry, with only intermittent light snow. That requires situating the ski and sliding events at venues in Yangqing and Zhangjiakou, 60km and 140km outside the city, while indoor events will use venues in the city centre. "In the unlikely event of an extreme weather condition, we have the capacity to rely entirely on artificial snow-making facilities and comply with all snow requirements," said bid spokeswoman Wang Hui. In the unlikely event of an extreme weather condition, we have the capacity to rely entirely on artificial snow-making facilities and comply with all snow requirements Wang Hui, Beijing bid spokeswoman A high-speed rail line is being built to Zhangjiakou that organisers say will cut the trip to 50 minutes, putting Beijing in easy reach of the Chongli ski area at the base of the Great Wall where the Nordic skiing events will be held. Organisers say they have a plan to cut air pollution through a 75 per cent reduction in coal use, factory closures and vehicle restrictions. Both countries have been assailed for their human rights records. Human Rights Watch issued a report criticising Kazakhstan's "hostility and abuse" toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. China has recently cracked down on rights lawyers. With the majority of IOC members not coming from winter sports countries, Friday's vote will be influenced by geopolitics, sentiment and other factors. "We vote with our hearts, not with our heads," said Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg.