China's Great Ski Jump Forward

China wants 300 million to hit the slopes ahead of 2022 Winter Olympics

If you want an illustration of China's changing economy -- and the heavy hand of state guidance -- look no further than its ski fields.  

Government officials in the northeastern rustbelt province of Jilin are touring cities in the south to promote ski vacations; China Vanke Co. has acquired and renovated a resort in Beijing (where heavy snow falls are rare) and former gymnast Li Ning is building another retreat in inland Shanxi.

They're part of a headlong rush to get 300 million on the slopes by the time Beijing and nearby Zhangjiakou host the 2022 winter Olympics (at a cost of $3.1 billion) despite a lack of any real tradition in winter sports, scarce natural snow and heavy air pollution.

So while golf is taboo (the target of a Communist Party campaign against the luxurious lifestyle of some comrades), China's increasingly wealthy middle class is being encouraged to splurge on ski lessons, hot spring retreats and ice hockey training sessions for the kids. 

In Beijing, a government statement has outlined plans to boost revenue from winter sports and related sectors to about $6 billion and get 8 million people -- or a third of the metropolis’ population -- to participate in winter sports by 2022.

The number of ski resorts in China more than doubled from 270 in 2010 to 568 last year, and will keep growing, according to a report by Beijing Carving Ski Group, an equipment provider.

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In the mountainous region bordering North Korea, Jilin aims to "turn snow into silver" by building up to three "world-class ski resorts" and bring the total number to 60, along with 500 winter sports schools. Dalian Wanda Group Co. is among developers getting busy in the region.

Ice hockey is also gaining popularity. Beijing has expanded its youth club league to the biggest in Asia, boasting 19 clubs, 130 teams, about 1,800 athletes and 698 matches this year, according to the city government. In the financial center Shanghai, more than 500 young athletes are taking training sessions.

Welcome to China's great ski leap forward.

 

— With assistance by Xiaoqing Pi

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