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China: Trouble with Ski Culture?
In China, skiing is consumed as a form of entertainment rather than sport.
The number of skiers in China is growing quickly and is currently estimated to be more than 12 million.
According to the 2018 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, attendance increase since 2000 has been dramatic with a big boost coming in 2015 when China was selected to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, generating further enthusiasm for skiing.
“It therefore seems that China will soon rank among the major players in the industry,” suggests Laurent Vanat, author of the 2018 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism.
At this stage, however, the market potential remains mostly untapped. The number of skiers estimated by the UNWTO in 2003 was 27 million, a figure revised to 120 million in the plans of the Chinese government to encourage winter sports (this is just the share of skiers in the government’s global plan aiming at 300 million Chinese participating in winter sports).
“Support from the government seems to be very strong,” says Vanats. However, when this figure will be reached is pure guesswork even if it is likely that by 2022, China will have more than 1,000 ski areas and achieve 40 million skier visits.
Ski resorts: Playground instead of sport
Vanat is convinced that: “there is really no culture of skiing in China”. Most Chinese skiers do not ski more than once per season and 80 percent are beginners. “Some ski resorts even have paid employees to help skiers get up when they fall and to retrieve their equipment!” continues Vanats.
Most ski areas offer two hour skiing packages, including equipment rental. Skiing is consumed as a form of entertainment, more like product than a sport that requires repeated practice.
For the time being, ski resorts are considered more of a ski playground than mountain resorts, and one-time skiers account for a considerable portion of all skier visits. “Skiing is nevertheless becoming increasingly more popular among Chinese between the ages of 25 and 35. About 80 percent of all skiers are under 40,” explains Vanats.
Evolution of skier visits in China. Photo: 2018 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism
The learning process presents a major challenge for the ski business in a market such as China. As various foreign surveys have already indicated t, the first ski experience is often very disappointing for beginners, with extremely low return rates.
“Unfortunately, ski areas crowded by uncontrolled beginners do not offer ideal conditions for a good learning experience,” says Vanats.
Besides, the traditional alpine ski teaching methods are mostly designed for skiers staying at a ski resort for one week and they may not be the best for the current Chinese consumption pattern.
Vanats’ advice is therefore clear: “The industry needs to quickly develop a suitable ski teaching curriculum in order to seize this huge market potential and not drive people away from skiing for good!” ts