Ice, snow sports gain increasing popularity across China
BEIJING -- Winter sports lovers in other parts of China had to travel a long way to northeastern regions for rare chances to get close to ice and snow, but such a paucity of resources and sports venues is now a thing of the past.
Recalling his childhood travel experiences, Qi Xintong, an ice hockey enthusiast from north China's Tianjin Municipality, said he had to take long overnight train trips to the final destination of Jiamusi in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
"There were few suitable training venues in Tianjin and I could only practice on the frozen surface of Haihe River in late winter. It took me more than 20 hours to reach Jiamusi, traveling over 1,560 kilometers, where I could find coaches and undergo systematic training during winter and summer breaks," said the 34-year-old Qi.
Qi, who is now an ice hockey coach, said he is somewhat envious of his students given their ease of training today. "They are lucky to be able to receive professional ice and snow sports training in their hometown, without any long-distance travel."
Covering a total area of 1,800 square meters, the ice rink in Tianjin's Olympics center is a favorite daily haunt for local junior ice hockey lovers, where dozens of students can discuss their gaming strategies freely and enjoy one-on-one coaching.
China has carried out its promise on riding high on the ongoing Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games to blaze ahead with its relatively underdeveloped ice and snow sports.
As of October 2021, around 346 million people, almost a quarter of the country's population, have participated in ice and snow sports after China's successful bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2015, according to a survey commissioned by the General Administration of Sport of China and conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Such a staggering proportion has benefited from ice and snow sports' burgeoning development and promotion into more parts of the country, especially its deep south.
Lasting from January to April this year, the southern metropolis of Guangzhou launched its very first ice and snow culture festival for the Greater Bay Area. Sunac Snow Park in the subtropical city has provided venues for ski enthusiasts in 18 local schools and is expected to fuel the skiing craze in at least 30 schools in south China's Guangdong Province.
Further south of Guangzhou, several standard ice rinks are ready for youth hockey games in downtown Shenzhen, said Yan Dong, secretary general of Guangzhou Ice Hockey Association.
Public enthusiasm for ice and snow sports has gone hand-in-hand with China's big construction activity for winter sports facilities over the years. China now has 654 standard ice rinks, an increase of 317 percent from 2015. The number of indoor and outdoor ski resorts reached 803, up from 568 in 2015.
Fifty sports venues for multiple winter sports including skating, skiing and ice hockey mushroomed in east China's Shanghai and another 25 were constructed in its neighboring Zhejiang Province.
To build an indoor ski resort equivalent to 22 football fields in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, Sunac Snow Park uses refrigeration equipment, air cooling and snowmaking machines as well as snow cannons to generate up to 50 centimeters of artificial snow and maintain its indoor temperature at minus 6 degrees Celsius all year round. By far, Guangzhou's Sunac Snow Park has received more than 2 million visitors since it began operation in 2019.
The enormous market potential in the ice and snow industries has generated a new commercial boom. By 2025, the Chinese government wants the industry to be worth 1 trillion yuan.
The Beijing-based Xueleshan sports culture company is committed to providing indoor simulated skiing experience and teaching solutions. The company is testing virtual reality (VR) application for scene simulation and artificial intelligence (AI) recognition technology for skiing posture, hoping that their customers can enjoy the same skiing pleasure offered by world-class resorts in countries like Japan and Switzerland at a nearby shopping mall in China.
"People are turning to domestic ice and snow sports venues partly due to the travel restrictions induced by the pandemic, with the ongoing Winter Olympics sparking significant interest for winter sports," Yan said, expressing confidence in the future prospects of the industry.