Winter sports have been growing in popularity in China over the last few years. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. Hitting the slopes here can be a lot of fun if you know what to expect and come prepared. If not, it can be a little bit stressful and overwhelming, so take note. It’s also a great way to experience the “new China” and do something that is not touristy.
One of the great things about living in Beijing is its proximity to winter playgrounds in the freezing cold months of December to February. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting up early on a weekend and getting out of the city into the countryside for some fun and exercise with friends. I’ve taken both the shuttle buses and private transfers for between one to two hours to Nanshan and other resorts like Huaibei and both get you out early and quickly. The excitement is palpable in the air as soon as you step off the bus. It’s quite a few degrees colder than Beijing itself up in the hills, as swarms of people hobble around on ski boots wrapped up and prepared for the chill.
Nanshan is the most popular and the closest resort to Beijing. It has five kilometers of trails and a snowboarding park. Huaibei, with three kilometers of slopes, is a little further so slightly less busy but has the advantage of having wonderful views of the Great Wall while you ski. Top tip: at all the resorts around China if you go on a weekday you are likely to have the slopes to yourselves and for cheaper rates.
I won’t lie that the ticketing, ski rental, clothing rental and locker area can be an uphill struggle. You have to line up multiple times for each item, but the system isn’t too bad. You receive a card with a deposit and swipe the card for each item, but it’s the queuing and at times very grumpy staff and pushy customers that can irritate. Once done with that, it’s time to have fun. The rest of the day is spent whooshing around on the snow, watching the occasional accident (nothing serious I’m glad to say), and frequent breaks for refreshments and a catch up with friends. As I’m not a confident snowboarder, I’m still sticking to the easy slopes, but friends whizz off on the chairlifts to the higher, emptier and more difficult slopes.
If you want a more challenging ski trip than the ones close to the capital, there are ski slopes all over China from Jilin to Sichuan provinces. However, for convenience I’d recommend picking one of the resorts around Chongli in Hebei Province.
Zhangjiakou is the city in Hebei that is co-hosting the Winter Olympics with Beijing, and Chongli is the county near Zhangjiakou that is the focus of the new winter sports hub, with new accommodation making Chongli town an attractive area to be based in. There are several ski resorts in Chongli county where you can also stay. Here are my top picks:
Thaiwoo is one of the newest resorts, a 20-minute drive from Chongli town. It has five lifts and 20 kilometers of trails evenly distributed between beginner, intermediate and advanced. This is one of the best places to come for beginners. Nearby, the resort of Wanlong has some beautiful trails, 22 kilometers in all, with six lifts. Most of the slopes are intermediate red slopes with a few black and beginner runs so it’s one of the best places for non-beginners. Duolemeidi (Dolomiti) resort has Italian backing, as you can tell by the name. This one has three lifts and nine kilometers of slopes and has some fun trails for jumping. Genting Resort Secret Garden is one of the most well-known and oldest of the Chongli resorts. It features five lifts and 16 kilometers of slopes, plus an Olympic-sized half pipe and a ski slalom area.
As of now the high-speed rail line from Beijing to Zhangjiakou is still under construction. It takes about four hours to drive to Zhangjiakou or Chongli, but once the high-speed train is opened the journey time will be just 50 minutes. Expect the slopes to get more crowded but for now, this is one of the reasons to go to Chongli. It’s much quieter than the slopes near Beijing, especially if you are more advanced as those trails are empty. The price is reasonable compared to a weekend to South Korea or Japan, which has better snow.
The important thing to note is that the Beijing and Chongli resorts don’t really get any snow. The snow is all man-made by machines. This means conditions can get icy, particularly around Beijing as it’s more crowded. The strange thing about skiing here is that you are skiing down a white snowy mountain but all the neighboring mountains are barren and brown.
All the resorts have a fairly good standard for China of facilities such as restaurants, bathrooms and lockers. All equipment can be hired from skis, boots and poles to helmets, goggles and clothes. Restaurants serve typical fare such as noodle soups, rice dishes and, if you’re lucky some lamb kebabs. Hot drinks, cold drinks, beers and baijiu are also available if it takes your fancy. This is one of the things I enjoy about skiing in China – it’s very much skiing with Chinese characteristics. In the Alps you may be stopping for some mulled wine and fondue between your runs; in China you stop for some kebabs, local beer and beef noodles.
The ski culture is also very interesting for people watching. The atmosphere is great and everyone is out enjoying themselves. You’ll see people falling all the time but just getting up and laughing; nobody takes themselves too seriously. You also see people kitted out in the brightest and latest snowboarding gear but who seem to have never set foot on snow. That said, it’s not the safest as people don’t know what is considered dangerous practice, and you must get a helmet as it’s common to see accidents as people try out this new sport. Also expect some crazy queuing (if you can call it that) for the lifts and facilities.
With all skiing in China, if you are advanced and come expecting some challenging skiing then you will be disappointed. However if you come expecting some fun and a China experience for a reasonable price then this is your place.