One thing catches the eye immediately. No big detective work necessary. For the piercing cold instantly passes to the marrow and the legs. Minus 23 degrees Celsius. Definitely a statement, if you consider that at the end of January this is halfway normal in these latitudes according to the locals. And this temperature becomes even more interesting when you consider that a part of the Olympic Winter Games will be held here in 2022.
This or similar was the train of thought of many participants of the ISPO Ski Resort Tour 2019, when the international travel group,for the first time, stood in front of the Genting Resort Secret Garden at an altitude of about 1800 meters. Instead of the last day at the ISPO Beijing 2019 an informative program was planned for the participants from Italy, Sweden, Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland in three ski resorts in the Hebei province in the Chongli district.
"The climate is very similar to Park City, Utah, for example," explains Benno Nager, Chief Operating Officer in Secret Garden, during his introduction to the ski resort: "The only difference: we work with more artificial snow."
Nagers Resort was of special interest during the two-day tour, as the snowboard events Slopestyle and Halfpipe as well as the Freestyle Ski Events 2022 will be held here. The adjacent Taiwu and Wanlong Ski Resort will also host snowboard and freestyle ski events, and just a few kilometers down the valley, the town of Zhangjiakou will host biathlon and cross-country skiing events.
Zhangjiakou is also home to the Olympic Village and is the arrival point for all spectators arriving from Beijing who travel by high-speed train in just 50 minutes from the capital which is 200 kilometers away.
Reconsidering Nager's issue with the snow: It will probably be necessary to work more often with artificial snow, because on the mountains around the ski area there was not a single white spot to discover - as far as the eye could see.
"The wind from inner Mongolia" is the reason, says Nager: "But at the same time the stiff breeze also means that we never have smog here and the blue sky is almost always visible."
The frosty temperatures and the lack of snow are the only obvious problems, although the people in charge have already met international standards three years before the Olympic Games. The participants of the ISPO Ski Resort Tour convinced themselves of the suitability of the slopes for an entire morning and returned extremely satisfied.
The rest of the preparations are also running effectively as usual with the Chinese. The halfpipe is completely finished, as is the slopestyle course. The mogul slope and the jumps for the aerial competitions should be ready by autumn 2019.
"We have planned our Olympic Arena so that all event stations are very close together," explains Hamish John McCrostie, General Manager of Ski Operations, during a tour of the halfpipe: "The surrounding stadiums are designed for 5,000 spectators and will be dismantled after the Olympic Games. We expect the events to be sold out. Especially the aerials and slopestyle competition as well as the halfpipe will be a magnet for spectators." These were well attended events even in PyeongChang 2018."
A small side blow from McCrosties alluding to the under-utilization of the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea 2018. The main problems in PyeongChang were that the ticket prices were too high and the marketing was weak. A mistake that should not be repeated in China.
"Winter sports are a lifestyle for the Chinese," says Nager: "It's a leisure activity for the whole family. I am firmly convinced that China can be the largest ski nation of the world in ten years." At the moment, however, they are lowering their sights in Genting, because with around 4500 winter sports enthusiasts per day and a capacity of around 800 beds, the Secret Garden ski area is still quite manageable in regard to a European scale.
However, this will change significantly until the 2022 Olympics. The plan is to expand up to 10,000 beds and for up to 19,000 winter sports enthusiasts to be able to pursue their passion on up to 90 pistes (currently 35). In order to focus even more on Genting, new customers are to be acquired, above all through summer activities. Hiking, trail running and mountain biking in the green mountains around Genting during the summer months will become an increasingly popular leisure activity for stressed city dwellers from Beijing.
Sounds too perfect to be true, and of course Nager and his international team are also struggling with some problems. "We don't have enough staff," says Nager. "And we can't just put an ad in the newspaper. The skill set we are looking for simply doesn't exist in China yet. We have to train all our employees ourselves. Moreover, the service mentality of our Chinese employees is not yet self-evident."
And so Nager and McCrostie are not only tinkering on a complete Olympic venue, but also with a completely new profession in China.