The sport of roller skiing will be showcased at the forthcoming FIS China Cross-Country Skiing City Sprint Tour. Provided to China Daily
Streets to be paved with snow as new series brings endurance event to urban areas
Cross-country skiing in the city? You better believe it.
China's bid to boost the country's winter sports scene knows no geographical limits, with a new International Skiing Federation-approved series set to bring the excitement of the Nordic endurance event to urban areas.
The FIS China Cross-Country Skiing City Sprint Tour will kick off in northwestern tourist city Yan'an, Shaanxi province, on March 21, with over 100 athletes set to race against each other on streets carpeted in man-made snow.
A second and final stop of the series will be held in Harbin, in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, on March 24, with plans afoot to expand to more cities in the future.
Dubbed a "marathon on snow", organizers hope the races will connect the sport with affluent fitness-conscious urbanites.
"Just imagine how cool it will be to enjoy a cup of coffee on the street while watching such a world-class skiing competition on your doorstep," said Ding Dong, executive deputy director of the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.
"The proximity of the action makes the city series a perfect tool to promote the sport to a new audience. We believe this is an effective way to popularize the sport and eventually draw more people out to the mountains," he said.
A relative novice in snow events, China is rolling out an ambitious plan to involve 300 million people in winter sports leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
A lack of snowfall and suitable terrain in most parts of the country pose an obvious problem to achieving those figures. However, not even nature can discourage China.
"It won't affect the host city very much in terms of traffic and energy," said Zheng Liangcheng, a representative from Norwegian company SWIX, a major ski wax and equipment manufacturer and operating partner of the series.
"As long as the temperature is cold enough, paving a street track as long as 1.8 kilometers using snowmakers can be done on the eve of the competition day and it doesn't even consume much power," he said.
World governing body the FIS hopes the street version of cross-country skiing will appeal to China's increasing number of winter sports fans as a safe and accessible option.
"This is going to be a very important step on the road to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics - having the best athletes in the world compete closely to an urban audience will raise the profile of the event," said Sarah Lewis, secretary general of the FIS.
The relatively flat city tracks, compared to mountain slopes, will make it much easier to participate in than other skiing events, especially for children, added Lewis.
On a roll
The sport of roller skiing, an off-snow training method for cross-country skiers in which athletes use wheeled skis on tarmac, will also be showcased during the series.
Invented in the 1940s, roller skiing has now grown into a competitive sport in its own right, with its world championships held every two years in summer time.
After the snow has melted in Yan'an and Harbin, roller-skiing contests will be staged for local amateurs on the same street tracks.
Meanwhile, SWIX has appointed four-time roller skiing world champion Ragnar Andresen of Norway to front a youth project to develop a roller-skiing curriculum in Chinese schools.
"My heart is popping for ski sports and if I can help China improve in cross-country skiing I will be very happy," said Andresen.
"All the world's top cross-country skiers use roller skiing to train in summer time, which helps you maintain your stamina, core strength and cardio capacity to the high level needed for the start of the snow season."
Andresen plans to spend at least a third of the year in China to oversee the construction of tracks and the development of the curriculum.
SWIX will also donate 10,000 sets of roller skis worth 40 million yuan (.2 million) to support the program, which is expected to reach at least 100 schools this year.
"This program will be expected to break the limits in climatic and geographic conditions to make skiing an all-time fitness exercise across the country," said SWIX representative Zheng.