Changbaishan Natural Skiing Area - The Only Commercial All Natural Snow Skiing in China
West slope Changbaishan Ski Routes
In 2008 Changbaishan West attractions opened as an alternative to the North attractions that tourists have visited for 30 years. The west slope of the mountain is a long flank (the entrance gate is 40KM from the top of the mountain) leading up to a roughly 25% grade of treeless terrain that allows them to offer 9km of treeless bowl routes up to 2.5km long for free ride skiing without lifts or trails. From a small set of log cabins offering rentals and basic packaged food services they use snowmobiles to transport skiers up as high as they desire (the higher the steeper). A guide accompanies those not familiar with the terrain for their first runs. New in 2009 Atomic skis (and a small rack of 15 or so snow boards) are available for rent at the Base lodge for an additional 150 RMB/day (telemark and XC skis are NOT available). The cost of park admission and ski transport up the lower part of mountain is 468RMB/day. An additional 100RMB per ride will be charged for each ski mobile transport up the top half of the mountain to the top of the bowls. There may be an option to walk up the final 300m of elevation for no additional cost but that is unclear. The locals report that the snow depth can reach 2+ meters during the winter and the activity opens in December and runs through April. However, in Mid-January, the snow on top was still insufficient to safely cover the exposed rocks and was wind packed into patches that varied from hard crust to breakable crust to calf deep powder and so were not yet (justifiably) opened for skiing. When the bowls from the top are closed they groom a 6-8m wide trail that doubles as the snowmobile route up. While this still affords you the spectacular views and a commercial mountain experience unlike anywhere else in China it falls short of the promise of unbroken powder in alpine bowls that you may be seeking. However, according to the locals we were pushing the prime season somewhat. The best skiing reportedly starts late February, continues through March and even well into April in most seasons. Clearly we will have to make a third trip later in the season to complete this report.
Bowls Awaiting Good Skiable Cover
Changbaishan Ski "lifts"
Other than the bowl skiing and the intermediate grade snow road from the top, the balance of the skiing on the lower sections uses the existing mountain road and is suitable for beginner/intermediate skiers with some sections where one can venture off the trail into the less wind packed and deeper powder. (Telemark/XC skis make this much more of a viable option.)
Two cautions that one should keep in mind. The first is that when skiing in the lower woods one needs to be aware that the little runoff streams can cut meters deep trenches in the soft volcanic store creating mini crevices cover by snow bridges. The second is that the north west exposure above the tree line in the Dongbei winter can be very cold with strong wind chill dangers. Even if the wind is not blowing, the snowmobile ride up is at speeds that create dangerous wind chill factors that must be protected against. A final note is that the operation is significantly English-challenged. It will be much preferred to have at least one Chinese speaker in your party to ease the logistics. Also, the skiing operation is cash only so bring plenty of RMB. That being said, this offering is truly unique in China and probably worth a consideration by experienced off-piste skiers looking for real snow on a big mountain or anyone else just needing a fix of real winter scenery and big mountains.
Groomed Trail from Top in Januay
Changbaishan Natural Snow Skiing
Changbaishan Natural Ski on Google Earth
Changbaishan Skiing Area
Google Earth View Wanda
A second, though more restricted, natural skiing option is the Nordic training center in the North attraction area. This is where China's Nordic team trained for the Olympics. At present this area is not open on a commercial basis but is still used for team training. However, we are told that if a group wanted to use the trails on their own and stay at the small hotel at the base of the trail system, then that can be arranged. These trails include an advanced trail that, like the West attraction, is above the tree line and covers wide open bowls and ridges. This could be skied alpine or advanced Nordic/telemark. These trails lie along the ridge that is used to ferry tourists to the top along a steep road using 4X4 SUV's. This is what skiers would also use to get to the top. While there are no lift tickets to buy, the cost of a ride up is 80RMB and it is not clear whether that would be per run or per day! Since this is not operated commercially, anyone wishing to use these trails would need to bring all their own gear and to make the actual arrangements with the Hotel before heading there.
Snow cat fleet in Nordic ski area
North slope peak road in late October
North side Nordic training trail
Nordic Training Center trail map
Olympic training center hotel in North attraction area
Landscape Days Hotel Resort at West Gate
Other than the new Wanda International Resort, for hotels serving Changbaishan mountain there are three basic options. Baihe, on the north side, is currently the most developed with the widest choice of hotels and other amenities. It is 36 km from the North Attractions entrance gate and 88 km from the West Attractions gate. If you are arranging to use the Nordic system, staying in the park at the AthletesVillage hotel (Yun Dong Yuan Cun) is probably required. If you are only going to the West attractions free ride operation, you can stay in Baihe but a better option would be the hotels servicing the west gate. One is the new 4 star Days Hotel Landscape Resort right at the West gate and only 17 km from the airport. From there you can walk across the parking lot to catch the internal bus for the 30 minute ride up to the skiing area. A cheaper option would be one of the 2-3 star hotels in Songjianghe about 35 km from the West gate. Fusong is another option with inexpensive rooms but is a hour plus ride to the gate (about the same as staying in Baihe.) While these west options are more convenient be aware that they are more isolated with more limitations on choices of amenities and less English friendly. With the possible exception of the AthletesVillage hotel, all these can be accessed on line through Elong or CTRIP.