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Chongli grabs the Winter Olympics to grow rapidly

BY The Young Reporter / Hong Kong Baptist University | 30-Oct-2020
A man wearing a white snowsuit with red words “China freestyle ski team” stretched out his arms horizontally, keeping his body and skis at 90 degrees, acting as a beautiful arc across the sky, and landed at the bottom of a slope approaching 40 degrees.
A man wearing a white snowsuit with red words “China freestyle ski team” stretched out his arms horizontally, keeping his body and skis at 90 degrees, acting as a beautiful arc across the sky, and landed at the bottom of a slope approaching 40 degrees.

Genting Resort Secret Garden, the site of the ski jump, lies in Chongli County, the venue for six Olympic events in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Chongli was once an extremely poor inland county, with limited agricultural income and slow industrial development, only relying on the rugged mountains to develop animal husbandry. With the success of China’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Chongli entered the public eye as Chinese snow town, instead of the past impression of poverty.

“It is a qualitative leap for the economy of Chongli to develop snow and ice industry,” says Shu Wen, the senior vice president of Genting Resort Secret Garden.

In the 1980s, local villagers only lived by developing animal husbandry because of cold weather and mountain terrain. These harsh natural conditions are not suitable for the development of agriculture. In addition, Chongli is backward in industrial development. Thus, Chongli was regarded as a poor county during that time, which is filled with adobe houses as people cannot afford to brick house.

This ski industry of Chongli began to sprout almost 20 years ago.

Saibai ski resort, the first ski resort in Chongli, is established in 1996. However, its facilities are rudimentary, since there are only one 300 meters snow course without no ropeway.

Until 2003, Chongli snow industry began to move towards a mature and standardized operation mode. Wanlong ski resort opened, which is the first modern ski resort in Chongli and the first AAAA scenic spot featured with skiing in China.

Luo Li, the chairman of Wanlong Paradise Resort, is a ski lover. When he was skiing in Korea in 2002, he realized the snow industry is a rising industry but there are few professional ski resorts in China, “Since then, I wanted to build the first modern ski resort in China to let the ski lovers enjoy the same experience without going abroad.”

The process of finding the right spot to build ski resorts is difficult, “I have been to almost every snowing place in China,” he recalled with a smile, “Chongli seems like a treasure for me when I was almost desperate.”

Mr. Luo, wearing a military overcoat, explored the terrain of each mountain pack in Chongli on foot led by local villagers. He said that in the winter of 15-20 degrees below zero, his face was blown like an “apple” by wind, leaving “plateau red” with local characteristics. Through this terrain exploration, he decided to build my ski resort at Chongli Honghua Liang.

“The natural conditions here satisfy all my assumptions about the construction of the snowfield,” he said.

Chongli Honghua Liang is the highest point in North China, where the hot and cold air masses meet on the Mongolian plateau and the north China plain to make heavy snowfall. The average annual snowfall can reach 63.5 cm; the cumulative snowfall is about 1 meter and the snow storage time can last more than 150 days. In addition to heavy snowfall, the complicated terrain provides a condition for the construction of different slopes.

According to Mr. Luo, another advantage is that it is located in Zhangjiakou, a city near Beijing, which provides a stable market for snow resorts.

Although it has the advantage of geography and humanity, Wanlong ski resorts experienced a decade of huge losses as few people are interested in skiing in China.

Mr. Luo said that the snow season of 2015 is the first time for Wanlong ski resorts to make profits.

It is reported by the Guardian that Beijing and Zhangjiakou of China defeated Almaty to obtain the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics on July 31, 2015.

This year is also called the first year of the Chinese ski industry. “The successful bid for Winter Olympics increases the popularity of Chongli and improve the overall environment of domestic ski tourism,” said Mr. Luo.

China's successful bid for the Olympic Games cannot be separated from the help of another ski resort – Genting Resort Secret Garden.

Lim Chee Wah, the owner of Genting Resort Secret Garden, invited his friend Gerhard Heiberg, who was the member of the International Olympic Committee, to visit his ski resorts in Chongli in 2009.

After the visit to Chongli, Mr. Heiberg put forward that Chongli is similar to his hometown Lillehammer, which hosts the 1994 Winter Olympics. Considering such superior conditions, he suggested China making a bid for the Winter Olympics.

With the help of Mr. Lim and Mr. Heiberg, Zhangjiakou became the partner of Beijing and jointly bid for the winter Olympic Games in 2013, while it is not the first time for China to bid for Winter Olympics. In 2002, the "ice city" Harbin bid for the 2010 winter Olympics but failed to make it to the second round.

Liu Shuai, the stuff in Genting Resort Secret Garden, attributed Harbin's failure to its inability to meet the Olympic committee's demand for a one-hour switch, while the distance between Chongli and Beijing allows athletes to be picked up at different venues in an hour. Besides, he said that the latitude of Chongli is lower than Harbin, and the temperature is more suitable for the outdoor competition.

Mr. Shu pointed out that the competition venue in Chongli is relatively concentrated compared to PyeongChang, which can provide better visual effects for the audience and the media and relieve the pressure of athletes who participate in multiple competitions.

“The success of bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics brings Chongli onto the world stage,” he said.

Esther Whitefield, an American girl, wearing a thick jacket, stepped on her skis and slide expertly to the cable car in Wanlong ski resort.

It is her first time to visit China. She chose Genting Resort Secret Garden as her first stop after receiving an invitation from her friend who trained here.

“I like here so far. I am so excited that I cannot wait to start skiing on the snow course of the Winter Olympics.”

Liu Rong, a snowboard lover, was carefully putting on her skiing gear in the hall of Genting Resort Secret Garden. After wearing all her protective gear, she was about to embark on her first ski run in two years, carrying skis that were almost as high as her head.

“I was a little bit scared but excited. This is the first time on a real ski track in two years, and where I stand is the venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics,” said Ms. Liu.

She is from Shen Zhen, a place where there is no winter and snow. However, since China was announced as the host country for the 2022 Winter Olympics in 2015, she got to learn about snowboarding, and she took a three-hour flight to Chongli to feel the ski course of the Winter Olympics.

There are many people like Ms. Whitefield and Ms. Liu who are influenced by the Winter Olympics and expect to come to Chongli to experience skiing.

Mr. Luo pointed out that there were less than 50,000 visitors to Wanlong ski resort before 2013, while after the successful bid for the 2015 winter Olympics, the number of skiers rose from 130,000 in the 2014-2015 snow season to more than 400,000 in the 2018-2019 snow season.

According to the latest statistics announced by Cultural, Radio, Television and Tourism Bureau of Chongli, ski resorts in Chongli have received more than one million skiers for the first time, with an increase of 25.9%.

The growing demand for skiing promotes the construction of ski resorts and infrastructure in Chongli.

In recent years, Wanlong has built high-speed cable cars, which can lift 13,000 people in one hour. Zhu Ling, the financial director of Wanlong, said that the snow gear hall has been increased from 4,000 square meters to 20,000 square meters. In addition, a new hotel and a mountain dining room have been put into use this year.

Genting Resort Secret Garden also completed the snow tracks for six Olympic events, including aerials, crossing, mogul, and freestyle.

The ski resorts in Chongli increased from 2 to 7, among 6 with an elevation drop of more than 300 meters.

With the development of the ski industry, Chongli county removed its poverty label in 2019. The government of Hebei province issued a notice to officially approve the withdrawal of Chongli district from the list of poverty-stricken counties.

Many years ago, there was a folk song popular among local residents which is “a road is full of pits, a policeman regulates both ends, a lamp lights in the cross street, and a 15-watt light bulb shines on the city”. Nowadays, snowflake-shaped street lights, smooth road, tall buildings are built everywhere. The side of the road is covered with different kinds of hotels and snow shops. Skiing competition is broadcast on the outdoor screen at the side of the road.

Zhangjiakou-Beijing railway network will be put into use at the end of 2019, which reduces a 3-hour long journey into 50 minutes.

Mr. Shu said that thanks to the winter Olympics, Chongli's GDP per capita rose from 6,000 to 10,000RMB.

“I am making more and more money since recent years,” said Liu Suying, a villager who runs a farmhouse in Chongli, “My hotel is always filled with people who come to Chongli for skiing.”

But after the winter Olympics, how to continue the development of the snow and ice industry in Chongli is still unknown.

President Xi Jinping pointed out the expected Chongli to be built as “Davos of the east” instead of another big city.

Mr. Shu said that some Olympic venues in Chongli will be preserved as Olympic heritage, “These venues will be used to host international forums or exhibitions.”

As for the ski tracks set up for the Olympic Games, he thought they will be put into market operation to host international events or receive professional athletes from other countries. He also pointed out that more and more national teams from different counties are willing to train their athletes here.

The snow slope approaching 40 degrees is facing the window of the hall of Genting Resort Secret Garden. A man in black snowsuits with words “Japanese ski team” complete his freestyle moves in the air, landing smoothly after the Chinese athletes.

“There is no doubt that the Winter Olympics brings more opportunities and motivation to Chongli’s future,” Mr. Shu said.