Skiing in Nanshan, China: come for the culture, not for the snow
I admit it, there's an element of tick-box tourism at play here. As part of my stint in Beijing, the first stop on my Trans-Siberian trip, I was cajoled into a day out at Nanshan Ski Village. My travel partner-in-crime Normal Matt is a huge snowhead, and couldn't resist testing the pistes in China. What could go wrong?
As green Beijing first-timers, we were pretty pleased to find the right bus towards Nanshan and rope a local taxi driver (read: dude with a car and nothing better to do) into taking us on to the ski village. We even doodled ski boots and skis in a notebook, labelling them with our heights and shoe sizes, to ease the gear hire (Chinese language skill level: laughable).
|Suspiciously snowy pistes surrounded by arid hills. And the blue and pink passes,|
key to keeping track of your hired gear. Images by Anita Isalska
The ski area isn't huge, but it's served by a handful of lifts, has mostly beginner pistes and a couple of highly steep advanced ones. The real delight of Nanshan for a foreign visitor is the local flavour to the ski area: huffs of fragrant steam from dumpling stalls by the piste, temple-like roofs atop the ski lift stations... It's all very refreshing if you're used to ski culture in Europe or North America.
Scenery-wise, it would be unfair to compare it to the Alps. China is cold, but very dry. Artificial snow powers a large proportion of the snow at Nanshan, meaning the pistes are well covered; but from the lifts you're surrounded by fields of bracken and arid brown hills misted in smog.
“It's a bit like the French Alps,” offered Normal Matt as we soared on a rickety ski lift.
“Are those chickens?” I countered. The farmyard below the lift was dotted with clucking, scratching birds. Not to mention the odd stray dog prowling the rubbish bins near the piste-side cafes.
|Normal Matt sips a well-deserved latte; and some views around Nanshan.|
Images by Anita Isalska
The same ramshackle approach applied to boarding ski lifts. Five or six people would pile in front of a four-seater, only to be barked at by the lift attendant before two of them panickedly dived out of the way.
It was hard to gain much speed in our seldom-waxed skis, but we spent a couple of enjoyable hours dodging the more suicidal skiers and sipped a pretty good piste-side latte. A late-afternoon light was penetrating the smog, which could only mean one thing: the approach of rush hour.
Somewhere on the standing-room-only two-hour bus ride back, I felt twinges of regret for our excursion to Nanshan. But if you're a snowhead who finds yourself in Beijing, I suspect you'll be curious enough to try it too.