Beijingers warm up to skiing and ice-skating
2015-01-23, Erik Nilsson and Yang Yang

Beijingers can play a real-life version of the terrorists-versus-good guys video game Counter-Strike on ice at the Bird’s Nest this winter.

They can act out the first-person shooter game as a laser-tag competition while scuttling across frozen water at the iconic 2008 Beijing Olympics venue, also known as the National Stadium.

They can also zorb (roll inside a transparent ball) on ice, swish down “ice slides” in inner tubes, or zip across frozen landscapes on all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles.

Beijing’s enthusiasm for winter activities is soaring as the mercury plummets, industry insiders agree. China’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid has added fuel to the fire. But it is far from the only reason residents are discovering new ways in which ice is nice.

Wukesong Ice World Sports Land was over capacity when it opened Asia’s largest skating rink in early December. Lines snaked outside the arena — which includes an outdoor rink that will be the city’s only outside rink open during the summer, thanks to Dutch technology — during the free-admission period.

On the first day tickets were sold in early December, about 2,600 people visited the arena, which has a 900-skater capacity.

“We expected a lot of people,” says Dong Xiaoyuan, media marketing supervisor at Beijing Wukesong Arena Management. “But far more came than we’d imagined.”

The arena has since opened an online shopping channel to sell tickets and put a chill on overcrowding.

“Winter sports aren’t as popular in China as in Northern Europe,” Dong says. “Beijing is trying to develop them. Demand is huge in the capital because there aren’t many places for people to do winter sports.”

The Wukesong arena, which was renamed the MasterCard Center in 2011, is unique in that skating can be done next to basketball courts, in an area that also hosts events from zombie runs to big concerts.

The arena also contains a 10-meter-high ice slide for inner tubing, plastic seals (as in the animals) that pint-sized skaters straddle like training wheels, and glass booths for magic shows.

“People in eastern Beijing already have a lot to do,” Dong says. “We hope to provide a fun space for people in the west.”

The city’s east is home to the Qiaobo Ice and Snow World, which offers year-round indoor skiing. It takes its name from Ye Qiaobo, China’s speed-skating champion from the 1992 Winter Olympics whose advocacy for an indoor arena for winter sports was the impetus for the facility’s construction.

It is the largest of its kind in China, says general manager Xu Bin. The company operates two equally sized arenas in Beijing and Zhejiang province’s Shaoxing city that lure a total of 300,000 annual visitors, and that are witnessing a 20 percent year-on-year growth rate.

It plans to open similar facilities in southern China’s Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Chongqing cities. Chongqing and Nanjing rank among the country’s “three furnaces”, so called because of their scorching climates.

The existing centers’ peak is summertime when 80,000 guests visit, Xu says. About 50,000 of them come to the Zhejiang facility in the sizzling months.

It seems the areas most interested in snow-and-ice sports are places without snow and ice. “Winter sports have rapidly developed in China in recent years,” he says. “The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and Beijing’s 2022 bid accelerated this.”

He explains that teenagers are the center’s primary targets.

“We started various activities for students, such as spring and autumn outings, and winter and summer camps. We get more than 20,000 students a summer. And 2,000 teens attend our summer camp. More Chinese teens are falling in love with skiing.”

So are older and younger people, Xu adds. “Many practice indoors in the summer and ski in places like Japan, Europe or the United States in wintertime.”

China is supporting its 2022 Olympics bid with backing from the iconic Olympic venue, the Bird’s Nest.

The venue will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics if China’s proposal is successful.

The stadium last month staged the 2014-15 FIS (International Ski Federation) Freestyle Skiing World Cup, and the Air & Style snowboarding competition.

It also opened its sixth consecutive Happy Snow Festival on Jan 10.

The landmark building in Beijing has already adorned a frozen lake inside the park with lanterns designed like humans and buildings, flora and fauna.

The 70,000 sq m area — the largest of its kind in the capital — is divided into zones for ski jumping, skating and kids’ sledding.

A ski slope with a jump that is 15 meters high and 110 meters long has also been constructed in the square south of the Bird’s Nest — a festival first. The main area hosts 11 activities.

Workers Stadium, built in 1959 and used mainly for soccer, is among other iconic venues promoting both winter sports and China’s new Olympic bid.

“We want to represent the winter Olympic hopes of Beijing’s 6 million (government-supported) workers,” says Yuan Hao, Beijing Workers’ Sports Complex director.

The stadium has hosted a snow festival for the past three years on the lake that was formed during its construction half a century ago.

The event offers such recreational opportunities as dog sledding and skating. But this year, for the first time, it also features displays of ice lanterns and sculptures.

“We’ve extended the ice rink’s hours,” Yuan says. “So visitors have time to do winter sports and enjoy the exhibitions.”

The display also features ice carvings of previous Winter Games’ emblems and torches.

“As a Beijinger, I support China’s Olympic bid,” Dong from Beijing Wukesong Arena Management says, emphasizing she’s speaking for herself and not her employer.

“My friends like skiing and skating. If China wins the bid, the government will pay attention to building infrastructure. There will be more places for residents to participate in winter sports.”


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