Look out Rockies, watch out Alps—millions of novice Chinese skiers may be headed your way

Skiers line up at the Nanshan ski resort in Beijing.
Skiers line up at the Nanshan ski resort in Beijing.
Image: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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China’s growing middle class is hitting the slopes. As the country bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing is hoping to get 300 million citizens involved in skiing and skating in coming years, the head of China’s Olympic Committee said this week. That’s up from an estimated one million downhill skiers in the country right now.

While China boasts several ski areas of its own, crowds are thick and snow is scarce. Resorts in the Alps are already clamoring for Chinese tourists to come to Switzerland, France, or Italy, even if they can’t ski very well. European resorts and ski apparel manufacturers have been trying to promote overseas skiing to wealthy Chinese as a “lifestyle” vacation, rather than a sporting one, by holding glitzy events in China focused mainly on après ski and clothing.

There’s a simple reason why—Chinese guests spend twice as much at German guests skiing in Switzerland, Bloomberg reports, at more than $350 a day.

Skiing is already seen as a trendy, daredevil sport in China, one that is increasingly embraced by entrepreneurs and the newly wealthy, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall). But there’s a downside to all this new-found enthusiasm:

The crowds of novices have made skiing in China dangerous. Daring new skiers hit the advanced slopes after just a day or two of practice, racing down in straight lines. Resort operators have lined the slopes with nets, but instructors say skiers still fly over them on a daily basis.

So far, Chinese tourists’ presence in American Rocky Mountain states like Colorado is tiny, and many of those visits are quick summer-time stops on the way to destinations like Las Vegas or Yellowstone National Park. Right now, Western US ski areas see almost no Chinese tourists during the winter, the US’s Mountain Town News reports.

An influx of Chinese skiers, regardless of their ability, would probably be welcomed by most US resorts with open arms—alpine skiing and snowboarding participants have dropped sharply in recent years. Still, they might want to get those slope-side nets ready.