Nan Shan 南山: Skiing Chinese Style

Skiing? In China?

Is that a thing?

It's not the reason most people visit China, for certain. 

And as for the participation of the local population, I'd heard Chinese people approach skiing much the same way they approach, say, hot air ballooning. That is, you plan to do it once in your life so you can boast about it to friends, and you take millions of pictures of yourself doing it so you can post them on Weibo and say - oh yeah, this is me hot air ballooning. 

Young Chinese woman takes a classic ski selfie: note pouted lips, absence of actual skis.

I'd heard Chinese ski resorts were struggling because nobody stuck around for long enough to actually learn to ski, rather, they took a lot of photos of themselves in ski outfits at the snow, had one or two disastrous runs on the beginner slope, had some pot noodles and went home. It being all about the experience, rather than the development of long term skill that would guarantee repeated business winter after winter for the ski resorts.

Well, turns out that's all rubbish.

From what I can see skiing and snowboarding are hot in China, and growing hotter by the minute.

We spent all of this last week skiing at Nan Shan Ski Village, about 75km north of Beijing, where I learned a few surprising things about the Chinese ski industry:

1. It's Cheap
I must say I did wonder what kind of ski experience I was going to get for $25 a day. I imagined dodgy rope tows, creaking rusted lifts and people skiing in jeans.

Here's what we actually got for $25 a day: 
Airconditioned shuttle bus to and from our hotel in Beijing
Ski hire and lift pass
Thirteen runs: Seven green, five blue, one black

$25 would buy me about 45 minutes' ski time back home, and the prohibitive cost means we ski way less than we would like. Welcome to Ski China. It's affordable.

2. It's Well Run
The slopes are groomed, the lifts run like clockwork, and the ski hire shop is a well-oiled machine.
There is close attention to safety, and the longest time I spent queueing for a lift was five minutes. Impressive.

3. There's Something for Everyone
Snowboard slope: beginners
Although it's not a resort where advanced skiers might enjoy spending an entire week, Nan Shan has enough variety and complexity for everyone for several days. There's a long steep black run, a snowboard park, mogul fields of varying levels of difficulty, beginner slopes aplenty (separated for skiers, kids and snowboarders - brilliant idea), a kids' playground and two toboggan runs, one of which is actually a high-speed luge that starts on the mountaintop.

Snowboard slope: advanced
Flying Saucer Toboggan Run: super icy spin.

4. The Food is Great
Spicy noodles. Bibimbap. Hamburgers. Hot chocolate. And my personal favourite: fragrant lamb kebabs yang rou chuanr cooked on the outside grill overlooking the slopes.
Canada Ski Cafe - burgers, fries, sandwiches, hot chocolate, passable coffee.

Which is not to say there aren't some classic Chinese moments on the slopes: the guy who stopped in the middle of a narrow run to take a business call on his smartphone; the Chinese princess who lost the plot close to the top of one of the slopes dissolutely kicked her skis and beanie down the mountain, sobbing loudly and dramatically. When someone on a passing lift called gave her grief the sobbing immediately gave way to a torrent of high octane abuse.

Or the messages over the loudspeakers:

"Child Wang, Child Wang, please return immediately to the Ski Cafe where your mother is waiting for you." 

Half an hour later: 

"Child Wang, Child Wang, please return immediately to the Ski Cafe where your mother is still waiting for you"

Later still:

"Child Wang, Child Wang. Your mother is getting very angry. Return to the Ski Cafe at once!"

Child Wang wasn't having a bar of it. He had discovered the joy of skiing.

Nan Shan Ski: Details

Nan Shan Ski Village

A daily shuttle bus service leaves the San Yuan Qiao and Wudaokou areas in Beijing
40 yuan pp return
Departs 0830 daily
Returns 1630, 1700, 1730 daily
Pre-book seats the day prior by calling or texting 010 8909 1909

Ski hire and lifts: 
Weekdays 155 yuan full day (advance booking - call or text 010 8909 1909 the day before to reserve)
Weekends 255 yuan full day

Weekdays 260 yuan full day (purchase on arrival)
Weekends 390 yuan full day

On snow accommodation is available at the Shirton Inn (580 yuan per night, standard double) or in a six-bedroom Norwegian Villa (4880 yuan per night).
Many people opt to stay in Beijing and travel to Nan Shan each day. The San Yuan Qiao area has a Novotel, an Ibis Hotel, and Oak Chateau apartments nearby.

Ski Clothing:
Ski and snowboard clothing (including goggles, helmets and gloves) can be hired at Nan Shan. There are several snow gear shops on site but be warned - they carry only expensive European and Canadian/American brands.
Decathlon sports store has several outlets in Beijing with a  wide range of ski and snow board clothing, helmets and goggles.

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