Business / Industries

Snowsports industry faces challenging race ahead

By Nick Bevens (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-11 08:03
Snowsports industry faces challenging race ahead

Skiers at the 15th China Chongli International Skiing Festival in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, Dec 8, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

There's been a ton written this year about the very rosy future of golf in China, with its numbers of players growing like never before.

Now there's encouraging news, too, on another sport I dabble in myself, which appears to be flourishing just as strongly, again particularly among aspirational young professional Chinese: Skiing.

I heard all about it from Tania Alliod, a snowsports coach normally based in the Scottish highland town of Grantown-on-Spey.

She's head of marketing at the British Association of Snowsport Instructors and was in Chongli for a week, China's ski Mecca just 40 minutes drive northwest of Beijing.

The growing town is due to host all the snowsports events during the 2022 Winter Olympics, and it was suitably basking in temperatures of minus 19 C when we met, with snow thick on the ground, and plenty of enthusiasts enjoying the slopes.

Alliod had just fired the starting gun on an important national training initiative in the run up to 2022, which could see hundreds of young Chinese skiers become qualified instructors.

A former British ski-team member, Alliod has agreed to work exclusively with local training firm CASSI Snowsports Service Ltd, on bringing the first ever British-accredited instructors' courses to China.

She and her team have particularly enjoyed pipping rival Swiss, Canadian and United States associations to the Chongli contract-something of a skiing coup for a country still considered a lesser power in the sport.

BASI's focus is not elite-athlete coaching, but the rapid training of instructors to satisfy what has become an explosion in the number of recreational skiers in the country.

Its first three-week course in Chongli attracted 30 participants, and Alloid was not only impressed by their quality and dedication, but also by the scale and potential of the booming Chinese town itself.

"Skiing and coaching are still very young industries here but they are attracting astounding investment, and Chongli's coaching facilities are already on a par with anything I have seen elsewhere," she told me.

That's quite an accolade, that given Alliod has competed and worked in some of the world's most recognized winter sports resorts. "I've been here just under a week and no one can tell me how many bed spaces Chongli actually has, as it's growing so quickly-the scale is mind-blowing."

She gave me a copy of the 2015 International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism, by the recognized industry consultant Laurent Vanat, which estimates there are now 350 recognized ski areas in China, but the vast majority of those are still considered suitable only "for beginners".

Wu Qian, CASSI operation manager, said Europe and North America have a 4 percent ratio of snowsports participants to total population. Half of that in China would mean 30 million enthusiasts.

The country hit its first 10 million skier visits in 2012-13, the report shows, and some estimates suggest the potential number could even be as high as 120 million.

Qian believes China's snowsports market to be worth 6 billion yuan ($936 million) annually, but based on CASSI's own figures calculated from individual spending during just five annual ski days, that could mushroom into a national industry worth 46 billion yuan by 2025.

"But at this stage, the market potential mostly remains untapped," said Qian.

"According to a recent Canadian study, the number of skiers in China grew from just 10,000 in 1996, and it quotes the Chinese Ski Association as believing there could now be 20 million."

Very much like golf in the country, however, China's budding ski industry is already facing a huge challenge.

As its middle class grows-the sector's target market-with more people having more money to spend on leisure, the real test will be convince its domestic customers from going elsewhere to pursue their passion.

With Asia's most recognized ski country Japan so near, and the world's most traditional venues such as those in France, Italy or the United States, easily reachable on reasonably priced flights, China's snow sports industry certainly has a race on its hands.

As Alliod left Beijing, it was shrouded in smog, images of which were being flashed around the world-something else which is unlikely to either attract skiers here, or convince the country's wealthy novices to choose Chongli over Chamonix or Val d'Isere.

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