If you are looking for double black diamond, deep powder, Rockies/Alps type skiing, China is not (yet) for you. Most Chinese ski areas are small hills located close to major metropolitan areas. With a 1.3 billion population, China today is said to already have several million (virtually all beginner) skiers. Weekend traffic at these small areas can be horrific. Nanshan, one of the most popular local Beijing hills, cuts off lift ticket sales at 6000! The more popular have hundreds of ski instructors, thousands of rental outfits (including clothing) and sell lift tickets by the hour! China is beginning to love skiing!
But if you are an experienced skier/boarder and went to one of these areas, you might not! However, there are a small but growing number of operators who recognize that this mass of beginner skiers is producing a sizable population of long term skiers and riders looking for real mountains. These companies are building destination ski resorts with names like Beidahu, Changbaishan, Genting Secret Gardenand Wanlong to compete against China's original destination resort, Yabuli. Large developers such as Wanda are putting up the enormous capital needed for large modern winter resorts and resort operators such as ClubMed who began operations in Yabuli in 2009, International Hotels Group, Hyatt and Starwood Hotels are also taking notice and opening properties. They are encouraged by both the potential size of the Chinese local ski market and the apparent willingness of the Chinese government to make sizable investments in supporting infrastructure. Adding fuel to the fire is the effort by Beijing and Zhangjiakou to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. What started as a long shot has become a two pony race between Kazakhstan and China with the winner to be announced in July 2015.
These larger resorts are generally located 4-5 hours from Beijing by car or using a combination of fly and drive. The terrain is New England-like while the semi-arid climate is more like the US west. While natural snow is less than abundant, making reliance on snow making mandatory, the consistent climate and cold temperatures during the winter months make for a predictable season that goes from late November until late March. Elevations in the higher latitudes (around 45°) are in the 3000' range and in the lower latitudes (around 40°) get up into the 6000' range. Verticals are in the 1500-2500' range providing long (2km+), wide trails that can be heaven for the beginning to intermediate skier. Even expert skiers can enjoy these runs to hone their style skills and condition those muscles needed for black diamond skiing. Terrain parks, mogul fields (albeit generally man made) and a variety of other on snow diversions are added to these larger areas to round out the skiing and boarding experience.
Despite their distance, these areas can be quite busy on weekends and during the Christmas/New Years week and the week long Spring Festival period following Chinese New Year (February 19th in 2015). However, for the foreign visitor who is able to avoid these times, skiing at one of these resorts is like having your own personal ski mountain. English speaking staff at these larger resorts are generally available for help with the basics but, like most of China, traveling with Chinese speakers can make things much easier and get you access and insights that you would likely miss otherwise.
How all this evolves over the next decade will be quite interesting to watch or participate in. One new such participant is a new web sitewww.skiChina.comthat states it purpose to bring this evolution out in pictures and film including a planned first film in the 2013-2014 winter.