The joint Olympic bid of Beijing and Zhangjiakou has made Chongli the venue for the snow sport of 2022 Olympic Winter Games, under the global attention. Below is In-depth report about this snow city.
1.57 million visitors received annually
Set off from downtown Zhangjiakou, one arrives at Chongli – the northern snow town 45 kilometres away after a half-an-hour ride. The ski resort is five kilometres away from downtown Chongli County, and one would be forgiven for mistakenly believing one has arrived at a Scandinavian town thanks to its European-style hotels and residential buildings.
It is three in the afternoon, and the reception at Wanlong Ski Resort is still buzzing with people. Looking out of the window, the silver ski courses stand erect at the top of the mountains under the blue sky, while large forests of Japanese white birch and dahurian larch stretch for miles on both sides. The double and quad chairlifts are carrying the visitors to the peak. If the bid for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games succeeded, the resort will be one of the main venues for ski events.
Along the intermediate ski course, 8-year-old Yu Xiaoyang is practicing slalom. He skilfully raced past the poles before gravitating sideway and lightly tapping his ski poles to come to a quick stop. Yu comes from Chaoyang District in Beijing and has joined the Youth Ski Camp for the third year. In spite of his age, Yu has grasped manoeuvres such as snowplough turn, parallel turn, giant slalom and mogul skiing.
"This is our sixth winter camp,” says Li Kaida, who is in Charge of Wanlong Ski School. The 65 students come from all over the country, over half of which are from Beijing, while 2 are from Hong Kong, 8 from Shanghai and over a dozen from southern China. “More and more children from southern China are learning to ski in recent years, who have actually never seen snow before. This illustrates the increasing popularity of ice and snow sports in China.”
Snowfall begins towards the end of each October in Chongli and continues until the following April. Its ski season is well over 150 days, and ski enthusiasts from everywhere are drawn here each winter. Last year, the county received 1.57 million visitors. Starred hotels in the county will reach as many as 20 by 2020, which will be able to receive 4 million visitors annually.
82 ski courses
Ski in Chongli began in 1996, when the first ski champion of new China Shan Zhaojian arrived there in search of a venue for competitive and non-competitive skiing on behalf of the then National Sport Committee. His arrival changed Chongli forever.
Shan recalled three reasons for choosing Chongli: firstly, it is close to Beijing and has an expressway; secondly, the mountains here are not precipitous, thus suitable for building ski resorts; and thirdly, it has great ecological environment with a large area of forests covering the mountains.
Ski resorts back then were something very new. Would anybody actually visit them? Could they really stimulate tourism? Government officials from Chongli decided to give it a try and found an investor from Beijing. The first ski resort in Chongli, Saibei Ski Resort, opened in the winter of 1996. An investment of merely tens of thousands yielded over RMB300,000 net profit in a single winter.
"300,000 was no small amount at the time. It was equivalent to the annual income of hundreds of farmers," explained Ren Xiang, then Deputy Director of Chongli County Tourism Bureau.
Since then, more and more people began travelling to Chongli to ski, and, very soon, the ski resort could no longer accommodate the number of visitors. The county then began to build more ski resorts.
Ski enthusiast Luo Li visited the ski resort in Chongli in the spring of 2003. He wanted to build a resort according to foreign standards. "It was during the SARS outbreak, and hotels in the county were closed. The county tourism bureau had to find him a place to say," remembered Ren. Luo invested and built a first open ski resort in China by the end of 2003: Wanlong Ski Resort.
Thereafter, a number of large ski resorts began to be built in Chongli, including Great Wall Ridge Ski Resort, Duolemeidi Ski Resort and Genting Resort Secret Garden. Currently, Chongli has 82 ski courses of all three levels measuring 69 kilometres in total. 4 courses recognised by the International Ski Federation (FIS) has been built, and the number will reach 12 this year. China Chongli International Skiing Festival has been taking place in the county for thirteen consecutive years since 2001. Meanwhile, the county has also accumulated extensive experience in hosting international events, including FIS Race and FIS Far East Cup.
1/6 of the population is involved in the snow industry
Few knew that Chongli was a country living in poverty during the 90s. The annual income per capita of the farmers was below RMB1,000. However, thanks to the snow, the economy of Chongli advanced. With measures such as tourism boost and snow development, the net income per capita of the farmers in the county has reached RMB6,071 in 2013, which is well above a five-fold increase compare to 1996.
Huangtuzui Village is a small village tucked away in the mountain. Nowadays, the cement road leading to the ski resort is lined with houses, some of which are even in European style. Skiing has revamped the village. “There used to be adobe houses, and the village was in a squalid condition. After the ski resort was built, the county subsidised the reconstruction of the roads,” explained Xie Liang, Village Party-Branch Secretary of Huangtuzui Village.
The development of the ski resort has completely broken the silence of winter here. Nowadays, the villagers are making a living through different means. They used to travel to another city for work, but now they may find a job or create their business in their hometown. Almost the entire workforce of the village work at the ski resort, from snowmakers, ski coach, chef to construction workers, while those who stay in the village started their own guesthouses and public fruit and vegetable gardens.
Qiao Zhigang is a ski coach at Wanlong Ski Resort from the village. He has been working here for five years. "I normally drive a tow truck in the county. There isn’t much work during winter, so I work at the resort. I can earn over 30,000 in just one winter."
Liu Chunzhi, owner of a restaurant that serves local cuisine, said: "I can earn at least 100,000 a year thanks to skiing, which is much better than farming." Liu began running the bed and breakfast in 2008, which has expanded to a medium-sized hotel with over 20 guestrooms and a restaurant that may accommodate 50 people over the years.
A booming industry stimulates hundreds of others. The "ice and snow economy" has boosted the popularity of Chongli. The large number of visitors has directly prompted spending in accommodation, food and beverage and transport. In addition, it has given birth to emerging industries related to skiing, such as tourism and rental as well as production and maintenance of ski equipment. According to statistics, among the 12,000 residents in the county, 20,000 are involved in skiing-related industry.
Create a zero-pollution snow industry chain
"Chongli has a wealth of mineral resources, and mining has always been its primary industry. Many mines have been included in the closing plan this year. It doesn’t matter even if the income from mining drops drastically," stated Li Li, Secretary of the CPC County Committee.
"While the mining industry is gradually being reduced, the three major industries – ecotourism, organic farming and new industry – must increase in quality and efficiency," believed Li. The bid for the Olympic Winter Games brings more than simply the opportunity for rapidly developing new industry, but also reversed pressure and restrictions of the elimination and transformation of outdated industries.
"The production of ski outfits and gear is currently being evaluated for its environmental impact. If it will pollute the environment, then we will most certainly not go ahead with it. But we will distribution centres for ski gear and outfits to make Chongli an outlet of Chinese ski gear and outfits." announced Li.
As a key link in the ski industry chain, the medical rehabilitation industries targeting skiing are converging on Chongli. Health Centre for Skiers opened in Chongli a few months ago. It is the first private medical-treatment chain institute specialised in treating skiing-related injuries in the country.
In the centre, skiing enthusiast He Xing was undergoing rehabilitation training. He suffers from Sinding-Larsen-Johansson disease due to frequent skiing over the years. He was being massaged by a device that relaxes fascia and reduces inflammation. "Skiing is a high-risk sport. Beginners tend to suffer from acute injuries, while frequent skiers tend to suffer from chronic strain on the knee and waist. We built this medical facilities exactly in response to such demand," said Qu Zhi, Director of Health Centre for Skiers.
Rare density of ski resorts
Should Beijing’s bid for the Olympic Winter Games be successful, Taizicheng in Chongli County will be the main venue for the skiing events, which will hold the competitions for ski jumping, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, Nordic combined, biathlon and cross-country skiing.
What are Chongli’s advantages compare to the ski resorts of four other Olympic applicant cities?
"The density of ski resorts in Chongli, Zhangjiakou, is rare in the world, making it an obvious advantage for our Olympic bid." An Yinchun of the Olympic Winter Games Bid Office of Zhangjiakou Municipal said that the four main ski resorts in Chongli are within 10 kilometres from one another, while Genting Resort Secret Garden and Wanlong Ski Resort occupy the two sides of the same mountain.
After his field trip to Chongli in 2013, a seven-time Olympic Winter Games venue planning and evaluation expert stated in his evaluation report: "The venue is uniquely and centrally located. Any competition venue may be reached within 10 minutes by car from the Olympic Centre. The degree of concentration is becoming a key focus of the IOC."
Ski resort in Chongli possesses many more advantages. Xing Guohui, President of Zhangjiakou Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee and Secretary of CPC Zhangjiakou Municipal Committee, told reporters that: "The temperature and wind of Chongli are just right, with an average winter temperature of -12ºC, which satisfies the evaluative requirement of the Winter Olympics of no lower than -18ºC during the snow season in April. The average wind speed measures a mere scale 2. The mountain range in the county is mostly of medium and low heights with an altitude of between 814 metres and 2,174 metres. The degrees of incline of the hills are mostly between 5º to 35º."
"Chongli may be considered as having its own climate. Judging from the past record, even if other areas in Zhangjiakou see no snow, Chongli will still have flurries. Its annual snowfall is at least more than a metre, and the dry snow season occupies two-thirds of the snowfall period, which meets the snow volume requirements of the IOC." said Xing.
Gerhard Heiberg, Chairman of the IOC Marketing Commission, commented after his field trip to Chongli: "Chongli is by far the best location capable of hosting the snow events of the Olympic Winter Games." The General Administration of Sport of China also considered Chongli as the "most ideal natural ski area in northern China".