Winter sports tourism is becoming increasingly popular in China, in large part at the impetus of Bejing. With the Beijing Winter Olympic Games coming up in 2022, China is keen on promoting itself as a major force in global winter sport, and the Chinese government reportedly wants to have 300 million winter sports enthusiasts someday. Despite the rising popularity of skiing and snowboarding in China, as well as the proliferation of resorts, most skiers are seemingly disappointed with the quality of skiing experiences in China.
According to the China Ski Industry White Book’s 2017 report, there are 703 ski resorts in China, a number that grew by 8.82 percent over 2016. Most of China’s ski resorts are located in the country’s northeastern region, with the province of Heilongjiang having the most at 124. The eastern coastal province of Shandong came in second with 61. In total, 2017 saw 12 million Chinese skiers making 17.5 million domestic ski trips.
While these numbers are quite large, only a tiny portion of the Chinese population skis and it’s a far cry from the 300 million Chinese winter sports enthusiasts the government is hoping for.
There are still some encouraging signs that there is substantial room to grow for China’s ski industry. For one, according to the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, 80 percent of Chinese skiers are beginners, although most skiers only ski once per year. There are even apparently employees at Chinese ski resorts to help inexperienced skiers up after they fall and retrieve equipment. With some luck, these new skiers will merely form the basis for future, explosive growth as the Chinese winter sports market establishes both itself and a large core of dedicated enthusiasts.
There is a significant downside to this. China’s resorts being full of inexperienced skiers unaware of etiquette and protocol may very well turn off a great number of experienced skiers. Moreover, the quality of these resorts is still very low. Only around 25 resorts could be considered close in quality of Western standards.
Fortunately, for China’s winter sports enthusiasts, Japan and South Korea both have a relatively large number of winter sports facilities. According to data from Ledian, cited in the China Ski Industry White Book report, 55 percent of Chinese skiers who go abroad, go to Japan. 18 percent go to North America, and 20 percent go to Europe.
Expecting Chinese ski resorts to have the same quality of facilities overall when compared to resorts in countries with established ski cultures is somewhat unreasonable considering skiing and snowboarding have only been somewhat popular in the Chinese market for less than a decade. But if Chinese resorts won’t, or can’t, catch up with their Japanese, American, and European counterparts, many of China’s planned 300 million winter sports enthusiasts may simply go abroad.
While this may be bad for China’s domestic ski industry, it’s an enormous opportunity for the international industry. It may even help the Chinese government better promote China’s prominence in the international winter sport industry. After all, having a large number of Chinese skiers isn’t simply about the revenue from these activities from a government perspective, it’s also about prestige around the world.