Winter Olympics Revitalize the Old City of Zhangjiakou

By staff reporter ZHANG HUI

IN 2013, Zhangjiakou entered the world spotlight after it announced its application to jointly host the 2022 Winter Olympics with Beijing.

Seated at the juncture of Hebei, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, the modest sized city was a famous military stronghold and battleground in ancient China. Its Zhuolu County is deemed the cradle of Chinese civilization. The city’s heyday was in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, due to the Zhangjiakou-Ulan Bator trade thoroughfare, which shaped the city into the nation’s most burgeoning land trading center. One third of the Qing government’s border trade revenues came from Zhangjiakou. However, the city was left behind in China’s more recent development, and its inland location hindered its development.

Now, thanks to its hilly topography and chilly climate, the city has emerged as a center for winter sports. Chongli, a suburban county in north Zhangjiakou, is now billing itself as “China’s Snow Capital.” All these efforts are paying off and bringing the city closer to the Winter Olympics.


Snow Capital Chongli

It’s a half-hour drive from Zhangjiakou to Chongli. Despite its diminutive size, the skyline is clustered with skyscrapers and upscale hotels, a tremendous change from the poverty of 10 years ago. In 2001 the county’s total revenue was a mere RMB 16.76 million. Now, with multiple large-scale ski resorts and eight internationally-certified ski tracks, the country’s income from tourism alone exceeds RMB 1.1 billion, receiving over 1.5 million visitors per year.

Genting Resort Secret Garden is the largest ski resort in Chongli, its ski grounds integrated with the Genting Grand Hotel. From the hotel’s second floor, visitors can take a cable car directly to the mountain’s summit. “Currently all 1,300 guestrooms have been booked. Guests have to book at least one week in advance,” vice president of the Genting Resort Miao Jun told China Today. Most of the cars in the hotel’s parking lots carry Beijing plates.

Chen Xu, an amateur snowboarder in her 20s, came here with her ski club. “It’s worth the four-hour trip. Here the snow is well maintained and compacted every day. Besides, there are many tracks available, which avoids the situation where many skiers huddle together on one snow track, as often occurred in many other ski resorts, and which spoilt skiing enjoyment.”

Secret Garden opened to tourists in 2009, a project developed by Malaysian-owned Genting Group and VXL Group. In its first-phase there are 34 ski routes. In the future the project will include 87 ski routes with a total length of 70 kilometers. With a capacity for 19,610 tourists, it will be Asia’s largest ski resort.

In spite of its natural advantages, Chongli is a latecomer to the winter sports industry. Chongli was first identified as a ski location in 1996, when world champion Shan Zhaojian visited the county looking for a skiing field on behalf of the State Sports Commission. Shan chose Chongli for two reasons: first, its proximity to Beijing, and second, its natural landforms which make the site ideal for skiing. In 1996 Chongli opened its first skiing field. Increasing tourism and profits have since attracted more and more investors.

In 2003, the Holiland Group opened Wanlong, China’s best ski resort of the time, which soon became the designated training ground for athletes from Japan and South Korea. Wanlong is also the country’s first 4A scenic spot with skiing facilities, and the first open ski field, where skiers can freely go between forests and snow lanes.

Chongli is the site of four large-scale resorts, with 82 ski tracks of a cumulative length of 69 kilometers. As the only place in China with more than two ski resorts, Chongli truly deserves its reputation as China’s Snow Capital. The county plans to expand to 228 ski lanes with a total length of 500 kilometers.

Chongli has hosted a dozen international ski tournaments since 2005, including the FIS Alpine Ski Race, making the county a seasoned hand at international games.


Snow Industry Fuels Local Development

The winter sports industry is bringing jobs and wealth to local people. Three kilometers from the Wanlong Ski Resort, swarms of tourists are bringing lucrative business to farmyard hotels in Huangtuzui Village, which have sprung up in succession over the past decade. Yue Zhiyun, a local farmer in his 50s, formerly worked as a migrant laborer with an annual income around RMB 6,000-7,000. Now, thanks to Wanlong’s booming business, Yue makes over RMB 400,000 annually from the inn he runs at his home.

“In the past, most of the young adults in my village moved to big cities for work. Houses here were all made of adobe and we only made around RMB 1,000 per head per year. Now there are 37 farmyard hotels and per capita income is over RMB 10,000; motorcycles are a household necessity, and some of us even own cars. So, villagers are no longer willing to work outside. They want to run their own business or work here in their hometown, “ Yue told China Today.

Moreover, the winter sports industry has also created jobs for urban citizens. During peak seasons local resorts need more experienced waiters and ski instructors. Zhang Wei, a 26-year-old from Zhangjiakou’s downtown, now works as a ski coach for Wanlong. “In the past, people from urban Zhangjiakou would never consider working in the suburbs. Now it’s different. I’m proud to work for Wanlong because I can be in touch with all sorts of people from other parts of the country. I like skiing, and now it is earning me a living. This is my ideal job,” Zhang said. Of Chongli’s 120,000 residents, nearly 20,000 work in ski-related industries.

Such industries, including ski equipment, accommodation, catering, and transportation, are also booming. Chongli even established the country’s first snow-themed museum, showing the history and development of winter sports. Skiing schools have also been set up. All of these are making Zhangjiakou even more dynamic in its bid for the Winter Olympics.

Ma Chi, manager of the Flower Ski School, told China Today that there was a noticeable increase in inquiries after Zhangjiakou’s Olympic bid became public. “China’s application for the 2022 Winter Olympics has greatly promoted winter sports among its people, and sparked public interest. Moreover, I think the application greatly enhances Chongli’s fame nationwide and has attracted tourists,” Ma said.


All-out Support for Olympic Bid

A survey by France-based Ipsos indicated that 99.5 percent of Zhangjiakou residents support Beijing and Zhangjiakou’s joint bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Li Yanxiang, a community leader in Qiaodong District of Zhangjiakou City, explained the reasons for local support. “The application makes Zhangjiakou well-known across the country. To prepare for the Winter Olympics, Zhangjiakou will have to improve a lot, especially its environment and employment, which directly benefit the local people. Besides, in the process of promoting the Winter Olympics, people’s health consciousness and love of their hometown and country will be heightened.”

In schools across Zhangjiakou, students and teachers are rooting for the city in their own ways. No. 2 High School held an exhibition of papercut artworks to share students’ anticipation of the Winter Olympics and love of their hometown. Papercuts from Zhangjiakou’s Yuxian County have been inscribed on the list of national intangible cultural heritage. One of the students, Chen Shibo, made a papercut of the Great Wall, a Zhangjiakou landmark, festooned with Olympic rings and skaters nearby. She said, “I hope we’ll succeed in the bidding, and then present my beautiful hometown Zhangjiakou to the world.”

He Liang, a high school student, said that all his classmates are excited about the Winter Olympics and regard it as a great honor for their hometown. The school has produced Olympic Games posters and brochures to equip students with more knowledge about the Olympics. In addition, one hour each of every day is set aside for exercise, another form of Olympics preparation.

Abbas Muhammed from Pakistan is studying for his Master of Medicine in Zhangjiakou’s Hebei North University. He has lived there for seven years. “In recent years, Zhangjiakou has grown by leaps and bounds. Skyscrapers are rising up and urban infrastructure has improved significantly. It’s like a metropolis now,” Abbas said. He also hopes Beijing and Zhangjiakou will win their Olympic bid. “I’m quite pleased that the city where I study is applying for the Winter Olympics. After graduation I want to stay and work. If Zhangjiakou wins, I hope to serve as an Olympic volunteer,” Abbas said.

Hebei North University now has more than 22,000 students including 510 from foreign countries. To prepare Zhangjiakou for the Winter Games, the university is constructing the city’s largest gymnasium, with an indoor skating rink, all planned according to Olympic specifications. In addition, the university plans to set up a department of winter sports, in order to train more professionals.

Across the city, Zhangjiakou is promoting ice and snow sports. While building more winter sports facilities, the city has introduced more ice and snow activities such as carnivals and winter marathons, for mass participation.


Clean Air, Another Zhangjiakou Trademark

While most cities in northern China are plagued by haze, Zhangjiakou enjoys clean air. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Zhangjiakou’s air quality index topped the list of 37 cities north of the Yangtze River. In locals’ words, Zhangjiakou is a city where you can breathe deeply.

There is an anecdote popular among locals. One day a tourist wanted to measure the pollution index in the grasslands of Zhangjiakou’s Bashang. When the apparatus didn’t move, he decided it must be out of order. After checking, he realized that the reason was that there was perfect air, with no pollution at all. No one is certain whether the story is true or not, but it shows how proud Zhangjiakou’s people are of their fresh air.

Chongli’s considerable accommodation capacity and complete infrastructure also qualify Zhangjiakou as a suitable candidate for hosting the Winter Olympics. Currently Chongli has more than 30 major hotels, including 11 starrated ones, and over 100 farmyard inns. By 2020, there will be more than 20 star-rated hotels in Chongli with a combined capacity beyond 20,000 guests per day, with a yearly capacity over four million person-times.

Beijing and Zhangjiakou’s joint bid for the Winter Olympics is breathing new life into the old city, whose trade flourished in ancient times. To revitalize through green development, Zhangjiakou is developing its snow industry and tourism, and is poised to seize the opportunity.