The Chinese ski and snowboard market

The Chinese ski market: how China is going crazy for snow with the upcoming Winter Olympics

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The Chinese ski market is currently small but getting ready to burst. Winter sports in general have quickly gained in popularity in China over the last two decades, and the proximity of the 2022 Chinese Winter Olympics is expected to push this trend even further. In 2002, China only had 130 ski resorts with 2 million total annual visitors, in 2019 it counted 770 resorts and 20 million annual visits for an estimated 13 million domestic skiers. This does not include China’s 45 dry slopes, counting 350,000 visits in 2019 and the ever-growing Chinese ski simulator industry, boasting a growth rate of 34% from 2018 to 2019 with 780,000 visits that year.

China is projected soon to become the largest winter sports market, with people participating expected to reach 50 million by 2025 with 1000 ski resorts to be open by 2030. With the Winter Olympics coming up, the Chinese government has ramped up the construction of new resorts and the promotion of winter sports across the country, supporting the Chinese people’s growing interest in skiing.

2019 China Ski Industry White Book, designed by daxue consulting, the number of ski resorts in China is increasing, but most ski resorts are small-scale and do not have chairlifts.

Data source: 2019 China Ski Industry White Book, designed by daxue consulting, the number of ski resorts in China is increasing, but most ski resorts are small-scale and do not have chairlifts.

The Chinese ski market is still very young and on track for fast growth

Skiing appeals to younger Chinese generations

The Chinese ski market is relatively young and so are its consumers: according to the 2019 China Ski industry white book, 95% of Chinese ski enthusiasts are below 50 years old, the majority of them being between 20 and 30. While Chinese skiers come from all over China, Bejing and the northern provinces of Hebei, Liaoning and Jiling are the most prevalent origin among ski lovers. Gender distribution among Chinese ski resorts visitors is evenly split, with a noticeable exception of indoor ski resorts which are more popular among women.

The incoming Winter Olympics and government’s push to promote snow sports have increased the interest in Skiing among Chinese consumers, families with children being the demographic expected to take up on skiing the most in the coming years.

The 2022 Winter Olympics enthusiasm has also influenced the winter apparel market in China. That market represented last year according to Statista 725M$ in revenue but has remained largely untapped for foreign brands, partly because until recently most Chinese skiers were going to ski abroad. Alongside Decathlon, which has been in China for a long time, Chinese brands such as Snowfavor, Copozz and Free Ski Zone have ramped up their activity too meet the new domestic demand, especially online.

the Chinese ski market attracts mainly the younger Chinese consumers.

Data source: 2019 China ski industry white book, designed by daxue consulting, The Chinese ski market attracts mainly the younger Chinese consumers.

The Chinese competitive ski scene still has room to grow

While skiing has been rising in popularity in China over the last decade, Chinese competitive skiing has not yet taken off. During the 2018 Winter Olympics, China was only able to win 9 medals, only one of which being gold, and most of them in ice skating and freestyle skiing. Domestic ski competitions are also usually dominated by foreign athletes from Norway and Russia, usually leaving Chinese athletes behind on the leaderboards.

Even though China has ramped up the training of its athletes for the Winter Olympics, China still lacks high performing star skiers, Han Xiaopeng being the most successful in recent years despite the fact that he retired back in 2010. This lackluster competitive scene is mainly the consequence of a young industry and the fact that the great majority of Chinese ski resorts do not have vertical drops higher than 100m and thus do not offer optimal conditions for competitive skiers to train, although recent projects have aimed to correct that.

China's ski resorts do not offer very high vertical drop, although this trend is slowly changing.

Data source: 2019 China ski industry White Book. China’s ski resorts do not offer very high vertical drop, although this trend is slowly changing.

The Chinese snowboarding market represents great potential for growth   

Just like skiing, snowboarding’s popularity has grown in China despite being a young industry. Today, the Chinese snowboard market represents 300 to 400 thousand people who have visited stores mainly located around the Beijing area and major ski resorts. A rather small market for a mountainous country of 1.3 billion, but it is expected to grow 30% in the coming years according to local store owners. Burton, an American snowboard company, has been present in China since 2003 and is now about to reap the rewards of their long-term investment.

Holding only one FIS competition a year for snowboarding, you would except the Chinese snowboarding competitive scene to be on par with its skiing scene, however Liu Jiayu has been a rising star in Women snowboarding, scoring a silver medal in Women’s Halfpipe during the 2018 Winter Olympics, she has consistently performed well in other events and has become an inspiring figure for snowboarding in China. She is expected to return for the 2022 Olympics.

Liu Jiayu won China's first medal at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics

Image: Xinhua. Liu Jiayu won China’s first medal at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics

Chinese cross-country skiing: a niche market bound to rise as well

Alongside snowboarding and alpine skiing, the Chinese cross-country skiing market is still in its infancy. Only major Chinese ski resorts like Yabuli and Changchun offer cross country trails to their visitors as most Chinese visitors prefer to go abroad for their skiing needs.

With only three major national events a year (Vasaloppet China, Luneng and Yakeshi), competitive cross-country skiing in China has still room for improvement, something that Chinese officials have been aware of as a new indoor cross-country ski resort has opened its doors this year in Jilin. The facility will welcome local athletes such as Wang Qiang and Li Hongxue and amateurs alike in another contribution to Beijing’s plan to introduce 300 million new participants to snow sports and train its athletes in the run up to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Jilin's new indoor Cross-country ski resort, featuring 1300m indoor and 1600m outdoor ski runs is the first of its kind in Asia

Image: Xinhua. Jilin’s new indoor Cross-country ski resort, featuring 1300m indoor and 1600m outdoor ski runs is the first of its kind in Asia

Ski simulators and dry slopes: an alternative to resort skiing

Although the number of ski resorts in China has surged over the past two decades, the overall quality of the low-end resorts and the lack of affordability of the high-end ones have made casual Chinese skiers to look for alternatives. Indoor skiing has seen a rise in popularity in large cities, especially among women, but other high-tech alternatives also have started to develop. Indeed, China now counted approximatively 140 ski simulator venues in 2019 with 780 000 visitors that year, a 34% increase from 2018. More popular among teens and children than regular skiing, these simulators are also used by athletes to train all year long for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Spearheaded by companies like Skinow and SkyTechSport, that technology has faced a rising demand in China from the public and professionals alike.

Another way to ski all year despite the hot Chinese weather are dry slopes. These synthetic ski slopes are a recent trend in China, starting around 2012, there are now 45 dry slopes areas in China, sporting 342,300 visitors in 2019. They can be found everywhere in China but especially Beijing and Sichuan province.

Together with ski simulators, they represent a market of over 1 million annual visitors that has been booming over the past 5 years and promises even more growth among the increasing interest of the Chinese population for winter sports.

Ski simulators have grown in popularity in the Chinese ski market

Imgge: Skytechsport. Ski simulators have grown in popularity in China

Chinese ski resorts face fierce foreign competition

Although the number of new ski resorts in China has been booming in recent years, it is important to note that out of the 770 resorts in 2019, only 155 of them were equipped with . This is mainly due to the fact that 77% of Chinese ski resort visitors only seek a casual touristic experience, thus the vast majority of ski resorts in China (78%) have a vertical drop of less than 100m and are only equipped with basic facilities and beginner trails. These resorts are fairly inexpensive (About 100 to 150 rmb for a day, rental included) compared to the “premium” Chinese ski resorts which can be up to 5 times more expensive.

These resorts are located mainly in the north of the country, especially around Beijing, and offer a wide variety of ski trails for advanced and beginner skiers alike but are still rather small compared to international standards and rarely include anything more challenging than a black diamond, and rarely include areas for powder, mogul or tree skiing. Because of this lack of overall quality among the Chinese resorts, more advanced Chinese skiers have been going abroad to ski, especially to Japan or in the Alps for those who can afford it.

Premium Chinese ski resorts are mainly located in the Beijing area and the north-west of the country

Source: China Ski Industry White book, Premium Chinese ski resorts are mainly located in the Beijing area and the north-west of the country

The ski market in China is full of potential

The key takeaway from the current state of the Chinese ski market is it is still very young: a vast majority of Chinese skiers are beginners that just now are picking up an interest in snow sports.The current Chinese ski resort infrastructure has not started to offer challenging trails for more experienced skiers yet. The government efforts to promote interest in winter sports in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics have sparked an ever-growing appetite for skiing and the construction of many new ski resorts across the country.

Overall, skiing in China seems for now to be more of a casual tourist experience people can enjoy with their family, meaning that experienced Chinese skiers will, for the time being, keep looking outside of the mainland for challenging slopes, making a potential opportunity for international ski resorts. Meanwhile, the Chinese competitive ski scene has yet to fully develop, with great expectations for the 2022 Olympics. As ski athletes have not yet achieved stardom in China, Chinese travel influencers seem to be the go-to KOLs to promote ski trips in China, especially since the latest are mostly booked online on travel trip websites such as Mafengwo. 

To go further: 2019 China Ski Industry White Book by Wu Bin

Author: Camille Gaujacq

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