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Delivering five times the fun

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-21 08:54
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New cut-price multi-resort pass touted as major boost for winter sports industry

With snow sports gaining momentum ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the launch of China's first ever multi-resort ski pass looks set to entice even more people onto the slopes.

Local kids find their feet on a baby slope at Beidahu in Jilin province. The resort has teamed up with four other destinations in China to offer a competitively priced new season-long ski pass. [Photo/Xinhua]

Inspired by the national plan to involve 300 million people in winter sports leading up to the Games, five major resorts across northern China-Wanlong in Hebei province, Beidahu in Jilin, Yabuli in Heilongjiang, Aoshan in Shaanxi and Silk Road in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region-have joined forces to introduce a season pass that grants skiers and snowboarders access to all five destinations at an extremely competitive price of 2,022 yuan a year (about $287).

The resorts offer a total of 101 slopes, covering a combined skiing area of 6.48 square kilometers, boasting diverse terrain that varies from the forested mountains of the northeast to the spectacular western highlands.

The pass, which could add new resorts that are up to standard in the future, is the first of its kind in China and models itself on the worldwide 37-resort 'Epic Pass' and the US-based 41-destination 'Ikon Pass'.

Among the founding five properties, only Wanlong has assigned blackout weekends for pass holders during its 2019-20 season, which begins on Dec 9, while the other four resorts allow unrestricted access, barring equipment rental.

"It will prove to be a revolutionary move in the history of winter sports' development in China," Luo Li, chairman of Wanlong Paradise Resort, said at the launch of the pass in Beijing on Monday.

"A small pass like this combines unlimited attractions at five unique resorts across the country at a price which we believe is affordable enough to turn more one-off visitors into diehard skiers," said Luo, a co-founder of Chinese bakery chain Holiland.

Located in the Chongli district of Zhangjiakou, Beijing's co-host city for the 2022 Olympics, Wanlong has developed 32 ski trails spanning an area of 30 sq km.

Seven major resorts are now operating in the mountain ranges of Chongli, about 220 km northwest of the capital, making the cluster one of China's newest and best-equipped ski zones. More established resorts, such as Beidahu and Yabuli, nestle in the country's colder northeastern corner, which boasts more abundant natural snow.

Resorts in the country's lesser-visited regions will also reap the benefits from the membership plan, reckons Li Jianhong, president of the Silk Road International Resort in Urumqi.

"More people will learn about our resort and the unique ethnic culture in Xinjiang because of the access available through the pass," said Li, who has invested about 1.6 billion yuan ($228 million) in Silk Road since 2004.

"The price makes it a real bargain that significantly lowers the threshold for the sport and will help boost consumption at resorts by increasing the number of repeat visitors."

To put things into perspective, for the same amount of money that the pass costs (roughly $287), an adult could only ski four day sessions (including equipment rental) on weekdays at Wanlong and 10 sessions at Silk Road, while an equivalent Ikon Base Pass with blackout periods costs $799 in the States.

Christian Jensen, a representative of Colorado-based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns 14 of the 41 Ikon Pass member resorts, is sure China is onto a winner with the new pass.

"It's definitely a right move to give guests more options in one pass at such an attractive price," Jensen said in Chinese at the launch on Monday.

According to the latest China Ski Industry White Paper, published in January by industry analyst Carving Ski, there were a total of 742 ski resorts in China, including 149 equipped with ropeways, by the end of 2018. They recorded 21 million visits during the 2017-18 season.

Despite the growth in numbers, observers have warned that resorts, especially new ones, need to diversify their business to increase revenue streams.

"A tough reality is that most resorts in China rely heavily on revenues from their parent companies' real-estate subsidiaries, while running with heavy debts to fund continuous facility upgrades," said Li Tie, the chief economist with the China Center for Urban Development at the National Development and Reform Commission.

"The anticipated increase in visitors from the new pass should help with other tourism options rather than just skiing to help boost business throughout the year."

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