Back in January, after it hadn’t rained for over a hundred days, the dust had started blowing in from the ever encroaching desert and the chance of snow seemed to have passed us by for the year, we decided to go skiing.
Around 80km from Beijing is Miyun County, home to the NanShan Ski Village and very little else. The resort is an improbably large area covered in artificial snow, and divided up into 21 runs over 8 ski trails. These range from the beginner slopes and toboggan routes to more advanced runs with moguls and jumps. There’s also an area exclusively for snowboarders with a collection of ramps, rails, a car and China’s only international standard half-pipe for snowboarders.
Surprisingly, to me at least, this is only one of Beijing’s ten artificial ski resorts. Skiing has always been popular in China, but never really had any commercial success. NanShan isn’t the largest or best, but does have the huge advantage of employing 40 international ski instructors, trained in Austria, who will give lessons in the language of your choice. The snow is generated for the November to February season, when the cold weather improves the quality considerably. During the off seasons it’s possible to go grass- or water-skiing, and other resorts offer accommodation and snowmobiling.
It was only £20 for a 2 hour private lesson. I was met by a group of tutors, and was assigned the largest, strongest one in the expectation that they’d be picking me up of the ground regularly. Fortunately he was an English speaker, although I must say that the German speakers were far easier to understand with their Austrian accents.
We went to pick up the equipment and from the 3000 sets of equipment available I was allotted the brightest, most fluorescent orange ski suit imaginable. Now wearing the ill-fitting boots I waddled along like a traffic cone to the next section and was handed a surprisingly short pair of battered skis and some sparkly rainbow poles. There was a sign offering newer (and presumably less garish) equipment for a huge fee, but I figured it wouldn’t make much difference to a learner and followed the instructor to the slopes.
Looking around most people had opted to be taught by friends only a marginally more competent than me but as it turns out standing on skis is quite easy. Unintentionally starting to slide forwards is quite easy. Realising you’re not sure how to stop comes next and then the no-nonsense instructor appears and pulls you back up the slope by the scruff of the neck. After a few lessons in stopping and turning I could move about, but soon realised I wasn’t that bothered by the whole experience and went looking for the après-ski.
All around the edge of the main square overlooking the resort are a wide variety of food stalls, mostly selling North-Eastern Chinese food. The north east is the location of many of China’s natural ski slopes and therefore the homeland of the majority of ski instructors. Unsurprisingly there was no sign of the Raclette or Glühwein I associate with skiing in Europe, so settled for some beef-centred-fishy-balls-on-a-stickTM and the welcome warmth of some hot chrysanthemum tea.
Securing a table on the edge of the slopes I had a great view of the others using the rest of my private lesson to get a few pointers, and then skiing about quite happily on the intermediate slopes. Right in front of me was the snowboarding area, which seemed to be full of a lot of spoilt kids with all the gear, but no idea. On the rare occasion they stood up they got on their board, stood still and jumped an inch or two in the air and then sat down for a rest. The less competent ones jumped in the air then watched as their unattached boards slid down the slopes without them. The others mocked and laughed, then had a go and promptly did the same thing. The background music coming over the tannoy seemed to be 80’s power ballads interspersed with the hits of Barbara Streisand, which was at odds with all the people sitting about trying to look cool and extreme rather than chilly and clueless.
By now my pot of tea had gone a disturbing shade of green which I figured was time to get back to work. Thankfully everyone else was tiring and ready to head back so I did the decent thing and returned my gear before getting in a round of hot drinks.
All in, if you skip the lessons, a good day out including bus fare, equipment rental and snacks can be had for less than 250RMB (£25) each.
Nanshan Ski Village
Shengshuitou Village, Miyun County. (8909 1909)
As a postscript it snowed in Beijing the very next day after 108 days of drought.