Visitors enjoy themselves at a ski resort in Chongli county of Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.
With 2022 Winter Olympics on the horizon, ice and snow sports to spawn a 2 billion market by 2025
Skiing, once a less popular sport among Chinese people, has become fashionable of late, thanks to real estate firms that built multipurpose ski resorts in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in and around Beijing.
The Chongli county of Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, North China, will host many competitions during the 2022 Games. According to the Zhangjiakou tourism development committee, Chongli has seen investors from home and abroad pump nearly 88 billion yuan (.3 billion) by July into development of local ice and snow tourism.
Most of the eight ski resorts in Chongli are owned by leading Chinese property developers such as China Vanke Co Ltd, Dalian Wanda Group and Luneng Group Co, according to Shen Lianchun, marketing general manager of Wanlong Ski Resort.
"Big names in the domestic real estate market all came here," Shen told The Economic Observer, the Chinese-language weekly. "There will be more in the future."
Besides Hebei, Jilin province of Northeast China, which has rich snow resources, also saw influx of investors, including Wanda, Luneng, Vanke and French leisure group Club Med.
"The skiing industry is developing fast in China," said Wu Bin, former chief strategy officer of the ice and snow business department of Vanke.
Wu, who authored the Chinese skiing industry's white paper, said about 15 million Chinese people went skiing in 2016, a sharp increase from 1996 when only about 1,000 Chinese tried their hand at it. "China has become the biggest market for entry-level skiers," he said.
The number of people participating in ice and snow sports is expected to surpass 50 million by 2025, spawning a market worth 1 trillion yuan, according to the 2016-25 development plan for ice and snow sports released by the central government in November last year.
In countries that have a long history of skiing, such as Japan and France, about 10 percent of the population ski, while only about 1 percent of Chinese population go skiing now.
This indicates there is big potential for growth in China, according to a report from Beijing Antaeus Ski Resort Investment and Management Co Ltd.
Agreed Wang Yan, a skiing fan who has visited major ski resorts around the world over the past seven years, including Niseko in Japan and Vail in the United States.
For him, domestic ski resorts are better than expected, but there is scope for immense improvement.
"Very few skiing trails in China are longer than 2 kilometers, while foreign ones are often 3 to 5 km long," he said. "The gradient is about 10 to 20 degrees at Chinese resorts, while those in foreign countries can be as steep as 40 degrees."
Besides, most of the domestic ski resorts have 10 to 20 trails while foreign ones generally have more than 40.
"You may wait in line for 10 minutes to reach the top and take 30 seconds to slide down, making it hard to enjoy the sport to the fullest," he said.
There are more challenges. Wei Wenge, vice-president of China National Sports Group, said the limited facilities and services, as well as single type of tourism products are major challenges facing the industry.
Also, ski resorts are struggling to make profits.
Wanlong Ski Resort, one of the oldest resorts in China that has been running for more than 10 years, broke even in 2014, said Duan Jianjun, its office director. He added the whole profit is less than 10 percent of its revenue.