China / Across America

Untapped winter sports potential

By Mao Weihua in Urumqi and Chen Mengwei in Beijing (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-02-17 13:24

Enthusiasts say Xinjiang, where skiing may have been invented, offers some of the best snow in China

When people think of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region a great many things come to mind, from sweet fruits like the Hami melon to the scorching Gobi Desert.

But few realize that the region, in the northwest of China, boast some of the best skiing in the country.

Thanks to its high latitude it enjoys a long ski season, with snow for up to five months per year - surpassing more popular destinations such as Heilongjiang province.

As most of the ski resorts in Xinjiang are located close to cities, they offer convenient transportation options that save visitors' time. The temperature, meanwhile, rarely drops below -20 C.

Archaeologists consider the Altay prefecture of Xinjiang to be one of the first places that skiing was developed, with rock paintings hinting at aboriginals using skis about 10,000 years ago.

Some of the locals still employ similar equipment to their ancestors - skis, wrapped in horse skin, hacked out of a single piece of lightweight wood and a single pole instead of a pair, used as a kayaker would a paddle.

To keep this ancient form of skiing alive, Meng Fanjiang formed a team in Hemu village, near Kanas Lake, that now has more than 20 players age 18 to 40-plus.

They offer training to both locals and tourists, adults and children alike, aiming to offer a sense of how nomads got around thousands of years ago.

"Xinjiang has so much tourism potential. It should develop more snow programs to enrich the skiing business, so that more people will fall in love with the region," said Xu Ergang, a tourist from Chongqing.

In 2006, the region launched a winter tourism industry exposition, which turned into a national fair in 2012.

As of March 2016, Xinjiang had welcomed 100,000 more tourists groups than it did the previous year, representing a year-on-year increase of 123 percent.

For some, such as Ding Yiming, who turned professional at age 12, the region offers the best skiing in China.

"I have skied all over the country, but the ski resorts in Altay are the best I have seen," he said, adding that the thick snow and lack of wind was what made the conditions so ideal.

The biggest problem with the region for Ding is getting there.

"If there was a direct flight, the distance would not be such a big deal," he said.

Hao Shihua, founder of a skiing school in Altay, said she chose the region because it has "the best snow", compared with those in Austria, Canada, Argentina, New Zealand and other world renowned ski destinations.

She has found many skiing enthusiasts in the region, she said, and appreciated the local government's support.

As the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics draws close, Hao said she wants to contribute to finding more Chinese skiing talent.

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Untapped winter sports potential

Untapped winter sports potential

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