In light of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics you might think that skiing in China is alive and well. However, a recent trip to the mountain of Beidahu in Jilin Province, China, said otherwise. This, at a time when most of the trails on the mountain were open and the conditions were phenomenally good.
My Trip to Beidahu (北大湖山)
This past weekend my friend and fellow snowboard advocate was in the city of Changchun (长春市) for the weekend, so I decided to buy a plane ticket and meet him there to try out Beidahu Mountain (北大湖山).
We met late in the evening after my plane arrived in the airport. From there we hired a car to drive us an hour and a half southeast, passing by the city of Jilin (吉林市).
Beidahu was a welcomed relief from the normal dreary China ski trips. The trails were long enough for 10-15 minute runs, there was plenty of snow, and the chairlifts were all brand new. Moreover we stayed slope-side, and although it wasn’t cheap, it certainly was a better deal than what I would have got in the states (about 450 RMB a night).
So, nice spring skiing conditions. A large swath of trails open. Heated chairlift seats and a functional gondola.
I’m no Warren Miller, but I believe it safe to say that one would expect the slopes to be crowded…
Yet we rarely had to wait in line to get on the lift and the slopes were desolate.
I know that I shouldn’t complain about it, but I think Beidahu’s brand new equipment and empty ski slopes are representative of ski resorts in China. In fact, the construction of a big, fancy ski resort here was a poor decision for two reasons…
1. Lack of Mountain Culture
Skiing and snowboarding are smaller parts of Mountain Culture. People don’t just go to the mountains to ski, they also spend time with friends, visit towns nearby, and even get married.
“Going to the mountain” is a tradition. These kinds of traditions make up the Mountain Culture.
Traditions take time to establish. Culture takes time to coagulate.
Beidahu has top of the line infrastructure. It has a gourmet food lodge on its peak. But what it doesn’t have is a solid Mountain Culture. And without the Mountain Culture, there aren’t many on the slopes either.
2. Too Expensive!
Do you like to pay a lot of money for something if you don’t know that you like it? I know I don’t. So why are the ticket prices around 400 RMB?
I was willing to pay that steep price because I love riding. But many Chinese still don’t know if that is true for them.
Maybe it’s more important to convince people that skiing is fun then it is to make quick money.
The successful resorts of the future need to get people on the mountain in the early years, whether they make money or not. Don’t worry about people falling in love with it. Nature will take care of that.
Skiing is more than fun, it’s an activity which connects us to nature in the depths of winter. I think for that reason it is inevitable that any group of people, given time, will enjoy skiing.
But it’s not like selling a phone or movie ticket.
Encourage others to learn about it. Become a teacher. Let the community decide that they like it.
These things take time. Time big investors might not have. But sorry to say that there isn’t another way.