Winter sports gain popularity on northwest China's loess plateau
Loess slopes, dry and gullied, used to be natural slides for children living in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, regardless of the dust covering their bodies and faces, but now the special terrain is gradually becoming a paradise for winter sports.
"It's so exciting, and my heart beats faster. Skiing here brings me back to my childhood, but the snow is cooler and cleaner than dust," said 34-year-old Li Ming, a local who was born on the loess plateau.
Apart from skiing, there are other programs in this ski resort such as snow tubing and snowmobiling. Though the temperature has dropped more than 20 degrees Celsius below zero, laughter and cheers warm the freezing air.
Surrounded by a loess plateau, the ski resort is located in Huanggu Village, Tongxin County, Wuzhong City of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The place belongs to Xihaigu, one of China's poorest areas that was labeled the "most unfit place for human settlement" by the United Nations in the 1970s.
"I used to slide down the slope when I was a child, and I also herded my sheep here," Tian Shiming says pointing at the trail and reminiscing. Now, he is one of 30 security guards at the ski resort.
China's poverty-alleviation campaign keeps improving local people's living conditions, and more and more villagers have moved to better places, including Tian's family. To promote local development and the enrichment of people's lives in winter, the local government established this sports town in Huanggu Village in 2017.
"The height and slope of the loess plateau, as well as the cold climate, makes this area perfect for developing winter sports," said Yang Hongyu, head of the resort.
At the beginning, the less-known mountainous region attracted just a few tourists from outside, and local tourists were also scarce and limited by consumption levels and ideas. Besides, most of them had little knowledge of winter sports.
However, the number of tourists has surged in recent years.
According to Yang, consumers are mainly locals of Ningxia. "Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our tourists in 2020 doubled compared with that in 2019," Yang said, adding that there were over 2,000 people here each day during the three-day New Year holiday.
Li Ju is a villager in Haiyuan, a neighboring county of Tongxin. She and her family drove here to experience skiing and other programs. Sitting in the tire-like snow circle with her 4-year-old son in her arms, they slide down the 600-meter-long trail while cheering with joy.
"We used to stay at home to keep warm in winter. This year, I happened to know this resort, so I took my boy here," Li said. "Exercising this way in winter is fun and can keep us healthy."
At present, there are just primary and intermediate slides at the ski resort, because winter sports are still new to locals.
"In recent years, locals begin to pay more attention to health and entertainment. Tourists here during Spring Festival are even more than usual," Tian said.
In 2019, China proposed to take the opportunity of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to develop winter sports and aimed to engage 300 million people.
According to the Sports Bureau of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Ningxia has been promoting winter sports in recent years in order to stimulate sports consumption and have more people participate, with measures such as holding winter sports competitions, cultivating professional coaches, and training teenagers for free.
Yang said his ski resort has been training teenagers for free for two successive years. "With more and more locals getting familiar with winter sports, we are going to build an advanced ski trail," he added.