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TRAVEL , SPORTS

Hitting the Slopes: Where to Ski in China?

One of China’s top destinations for snow sports, Jilin is full of world-class ski resorts you shouldn’t miss

The Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games may have been held in and around Beijing in 2022, but it’s Jilin which plays host to some of the best ski resorts in the country. Jilin’s geographical position means it is ideally situated for the weather fronts that roll in from Siberia to deposit delightfully light and dry powder in the province’s alpine forests.

The ski industry has only recently taken off in China, and Jilin’s new state-of-the-art resorts continue to expand year on year. After Beijing won the right to hold the 2022 games in 2015, the government set about making China a nation of snow enthusiasts. In 2016, the National Development and Reform Commission announced plans to have 300 million people participating in winter sports by 2022—double the current total number of skiers worldwide. This would mean around a fifth of China’s population could be taking up winter sports. The plans include the construction of over 1,000 ski resorts to make China a renowned international ski destination.

Jilin has already ridden this wave to become one of China’s most popular ski destinations, with three of the nation’s four main ski areas occupying more than 400 hectares. The province welcomes over 2 million ski visitors per year. Three of Jilin’s resorts—the Changbaishan International Resort (长白山国际度假区), Lake Songhua Resort (万科松花湖度假区), and Beidahu Ski Resort (北大湖滑雪场度假区)—receive well over a million ski visitors annually, making them among the most popular skiing destinations in China. They feature six, five, and four detachable aerial ski lifts, respectively.

Skiers at the Changbaishan International Resort

Skiers at the Changbaishan International Resort (Zhong Ming)

Jilin also produced China’s first ever Winter Olympic medalist, Ye Qiaobo, who took silver in the 500-meter speed skating event at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France. She later earned a bronze medal in 1994’s Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway and twice won the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships.

In a 2021 interview with the Economic Information Daily newspaper, director of the Changchun Sports Administration, Li Xiaojie, stated that Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province and the location of a number of ski areas, spends 1.2 million RMB a year from a sports lottery fund to develop winter sports in the city’s schools. The city also developed the New World of Ice and Snow (长春冰雪新天地) park featuring over 140 ice sculptures to rival Harbin’s Ice Festival in the winter months.

In Jilin city, Beishan All-Weather Cross-Country Ski Resort (北山四季越野滑雪场) opened in 2019. The complex is the first of its kind in Asia, with a 1,600-meter outdoor track and 1,300-meter indoor track allowing athletes to train all year round.

As facilities and access improve, more and more tourists are heading to Jilin for the winter holidays. The local government hopes to entice visitors with the promise of a Winter Olympics “experience,” if not the actual events, in Jilin. With development in Jilin’s winter sports continuing to ramp up, now’s the perfect time to strap on your skis and hit some of the best slopes in China.

Changbaishan International Resort

Changbaishan International Resort is one of the largest and most advanced ski resorts in the country, with international hotel brands, well-staffed ski schools, and a base village modeled on the famous Whistler ski resort town in Canada. Built at a cost of over 20 billion RMB, and opened in 2012, the resort’s high level of facilities and service make it well-suited for families and those looking for comfort on their ski holiday, while a couple of steep slopes provide excitement for thrill-seekers—China’s national alpine ski team often trains here.

Ski season starts around mid-November each year

Ski season starts around mid-November each year (Zhong Ming)

Located to the west of the Changbaishan National Nature Reserve (长白山国家级自然保护区), the resort enjoys between 1.5 and 2 meters of snowfall a year. From atop the resort’s 1,200-meter-high mountain, there are spectacular views of the surrounding forests and snowy peaks.

Though small by European standards, Changbaishan International Resort still features a ski area of over 700 hectares on a single mountain that contains 43 slopes. These ski runs cater to all abilities, with steep bumps on the higher altitude slopes for more advanced skiers. When darkness falls, the lights on the piste go up and the mountain takes on a whole new feel, with skiers able to ski long into the night.

The resort places a high emphasis on safety, with marshals stationed at the top of each run ready to help skiers in need of assistance, while nets adorn the slopes to prevent skiers veering off patrolled areas or encountering hazards like rocks and trees.

More than 10 hotels occupy the resort village (including international brands like Westin, Sheraton, and Hyatt), all within walking distance of the slopes. The village also features a water park, golf course, theater, hot springs, and a street dotted with restaurants serving Korean, northeastern Chinese, and Western cuisine. The resort even offers a service where staff pick up children from the airport and provide round-the-clock childcare so that youngsters can ski even if their parents can’t be there.

The resort is easily accessible by air, with the Baishan Changbaishan Airport (白山长白山国际机场) just a 20-minute drive away.

Lake Songhua Resort

Unlike Changbaishan International Resort, the Lake Songhua Resort southeast of downtown Jilin city is not a new development. In fact, its predecessor was the inaugural ski field of the People’s Republic of China, first built in 1962, and originally used to train winter sports athletes. Back when it first opened, there was just one ski run and one building at the bottom of the slopes.

In 2015, a freshly made over Lake Songhua Resort opened with investment from Vanke, one of China’s largest real estate developers. Today, Lake Songhua Resort offers a modern skiing experience within Jilin city, located in Fengman district, just 19 kilometers from the city center. The world-class facilities helped the resort be crowned “China’s Best Ski Resort” at the World Ski Awards four years in a row from 2017 to 2020.

Lake Songhua Resort’s ski area is spread over two mountains in a “V” shape, with 34 slopes across the resort which sees around a meter of snow each year. What the resort lacks in size and snow coverage, it makes up for with convenience and the stunning scenery of the Songhua Lake. Both international hotel chains and cheaper guesthouses cater to most budgets, while beginners can learn to ski at the ski school. There are also plentiful dining options in the resort including KFC, barbecue joints, Japanese cuisine, and local Dongbei (东北, northeastern Chinese) food outlets.

Mount Daqing (大青山), the highest peak in the resort at 935 meters, has a love story behind its name. Long ago, in the village below the mountain, a man named Old Zhang lived alone with his daughter, Daqing, a beautiful young woman. At the valley entrance, another villager named Aunt Wang lived with her son, Shanshan, a handsome, strong, and honest man of 19. Daqing and Shanshan worked in adjacent fields each day, and over time they came to know each other, gradually falling in love as they toiled together. Just as their families were starting to discuss their marriage, a fortune teller emerged and revealed that their zodiac animals were ill-matched, and that they shouldn’t marry. Hearing the news, the two lovers felt like knives had been plunged into their hearts.

With each day that passed, Shanshan became thinner and thinner, and Daqing sunk into a deep depression, until each of them decided they would rather be dead than alive—only once they left this world could they be together. Just before Shanshan died, he asked his mother to bury him atop the mountain with Daqing, and she agreed. Soon after Shanshan passed away, Daqing’s health began to deteriorate. As she approached her own death, she asked her father to bury her with Shanshan, and he agreed. In death they were finally together, buried atop the mountain. To commemorate their story and the love they felt for each other, the villagers named the mountain “Daqing.”

Beidahu Ski Resort

Located just a few kilometers south of Lake Songhua Resort, Beidahu is a popular destination not just for winter sports fans, but also for professional competitions. Completed in 1994, Beidahu served as the snow sports venue for several national winter games, as well as the 2007 Asian Winter Games, the 2016 – 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski Aerials World Cup, and various other professional events.

Beidahu Ski Resort in Jilin city

Beidahu Ski Resort in Jilin city (VCG)

The name “Beidahu” (北大湖,originally 北大壶, “the big teapot of the north”) came from the shape of the landscape around it. Three sides of the resort are surrounded by mountains, with the highest peak sticking out in the middle, just like the narrow spout of a teapot. The surrounding mountains often help to shelter skiers from the worst of windy conditions.

With the highest peak standing at 1,408 meters, the ski area has a vertical drop of 930 meters, while also featuring some stunning runs that wind through the trees at lower altitudes. The focus in Beidahu is very much on the skiing, rather than the off-slope experience as at Changbaishan and Lake Songhua. Long, steep runs at the top of the resort offer challenges for advanced skiers. There’s a snow park for freestylers, and a large number of intermediate slopes further down offer more gentle riding. Beidahu also has areas for off-piste skiing through the trees—perfect if there’s fresh powder snow. Located within the Songhua Lake Scenic and Historic Area (松花湖风景名胜区), Beidahu is surrounded by stunning scenery for guests to explore when not slicing through the snow.

Though more accommodation has sprung up at Beidahu, most notably the vast Club Med hotel that opened in 2016, the resort area still has a more traditional feel to it compared with other ski resort villages in Jilin province, with just a couple of large lodges at the bottom of the slopes rather than the multitude of international hotels found elsewhere. The smaller resort village means there are fewer après ski activities to enjoy, though local restaurants offer traditional Dongbei food at affordable prices.

As a result, the resort can feel quieter and less commercial than its more modern competitors. Local guesthouses located further from the slopes, some of which boast delightful kang (炕, a traditional northeastern fire-heated bed), are a cheaper accommodation option.


Three Other Resorts

Changbaishan Luneng Resort
Like the bigger Changbaishan International Resort, Changbaishan Luneng Resort (长白山鲁能胜地旅游度假区) is also located near the Changbaishan National Nature Reserve. Luneng is much smaller than the two other resorts listed here, but that brings with it its own charm. Many local guesthouses are quaint wooden structures decorated with hanging lanterns, offering traditional kang, and homey local food. Luneng is a great affordable alternative for beginners who won’t benefit much from the more extensive terrain at the bigger resorts.

Jingyuetan Ski Resort
Jingyuetan Ski Resort (净月潭滑雪场) is the go-to ski resort for Changchun locals, and is located in the suburbs to the south of the city. As well as gentle ski slopes perfect for beginners, the area also has sledges, skimobiles, and dog-pulled sleighs for hire. The ski area is located next to the pristine Jingyuetan Lake (净月潭), perfect for photos when visitors want a break from skiing.

Tiandingshan Ski Resort
Tiandingshan Ski Resort (天定山滑雪场) is a new ski resort in the Lianhuashan Ecotourism Resort (莲花山生态旅游度假区) to the east of Changchun city. Opened in 2019, it is the largest ski area in Changchun. The first phase of the resort consists of 16 slopes, making a 7-kilometer run from the top of the resort’s single mountain, which is serviced by two chairlifts. The resort is about 40-minute drive from the city center.

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Sam Davies is the deputy managing editor at The World of Chinese. He writes mainly about society, sport, and culture, with his pieces touching on diverse topics from the future of China’s ski industry to efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

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