Chinese skiers cool off at world’s largest indoor ski park

A boy skis at the Wanda Harbin Ice and Snow Park in Harbin. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2017

Chinese skiers cool off at world’s largest indoor ski park

HARBIN, CHINA: It was a hot summer afternoon in Harbin and tourists strolled cobblestone streets with the Chinese city’s famous milk popsicles in hand. But indoors, it was perfect weather for skiing.
At the city’s new Ice and Snow Park, chilly winds blew snowflakes around skiers zipping down the manmade slopes of the world’s largest indoor ski park, a potent symbol of China’s ambitions to turn itself into a winter sports powerhouse ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Kept at a chilly -5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit) by fans and an underground cooling system, the sprawling 80,000-square meter (861,000 square feet) facility boasts six runs, the longest stretching 500 meters (0.31 miles).
“Skiing here is just like skiing in a big refrigerator,” ten-year-old Kane Li grinned beneath his neon goggles, who has his hopes pinned on competing at the games.
A student at a private ski academy in the capital, Kane and his fellow young Olympic aspirants used to spend their summers training in New Zealand, but the opening of Dalian Wanda Group’s indoor ski park this summer means they can now stay closer to home.
“China’s skiing is still not so great (compared to other countries),” Kane said, adding: “We must train hard every day. Train more.”
Not long ago, skiing was considered a luxury activity in China, inaccessible to the average person.
The country is currently home to roughly six million skiers, but President Xi Jinping hopes that number will rise to 300 million in the coming years.
China has had great success at the Summer Olympics, but its few Winter Olympic victories have been centered on speed skating. The country has won just six skiing medals — all in freestyle — including one gold.
There are currently about 200 ski resorts in China. Chinese officials are aiming to increase that number fivefold by 2030.
“We didn’t have anywhere to ski when I was growing up,” said Yi Li, the general manager of Wanda’s indoor park.
The Beijing native first tried the sport 11 years ago while working at a ski resort in northern Hebei province’s Zhangjiakou, which will host the Olympic alpine skiing events.
He picked up the sport quickly, becoming an instructor and even training in Switzerland.
Now he says China is ready to make skiing a national pastime.
“Skiing is hip,” Yi said. “From the apparel to the equipment, there’s a lot of freedom.”
He recalled that when he first discovered the sport, most Chinese people were unwilling to try it because the gear was expensive, and they needed a car to reach the mountains.
But after the country’s economic reforms, people had more disposable income and more time to take vacations, he said. They bought cars and stopped viewing skiing as “dangerous.”
There were about 40 people on Ice and Snow Park’s slopes on a recent Tuesday. Some carved through the firm and “sticky” snow with ease, while others struggled to get their skis on.
An agile snowboarder helped a stumbling skier to the bottom.
The slopes are equipped with a chairlift, a sledding area and a bunny hill, not to mention a ski lodge bedecked with faux wood.
For average visitors, the cost to ski for an entire day, including all rental equipment, is 488 yuan ($74). The most popular package is a three-hour visit at 300 yuan ($45).
The average disposable income in China was 23,821 yuan ($3,619) last year.
According to Yi, 13 professional teams from across the country have also been coming to train in the mornings since the slopes opened.
And then there are groups like Kane’s, which trains with the Beijing-based International Ski Academy and hopes to make it to the Olympics.
The prepubescent athletes planned to spend nearly a month in Harbin, skiing four hours a day at the indoor park.
“At the moment the government is very supportive of skiing,” said Zhao Quan, the principal of the ski academy. “They’re vigorously promoting the development of the sport in primary and secondary schools around the country.”
Zhao added: “Also, for a child, skiing is a ‘heroin sport’ — it’s very addictive.”


Spanish striker David Villa set to retire from Japan club

Updated 13 November 2019

Spanish striker David Villa set to retire from Japan club

  • Villa scored 59 goals in 98 appearances for Spain from 2004-17, including five goals at the 2010 World Cup
  • Before signing with Kobe, Villa played at Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before spending four seasons with New York City FC
KOBE, Japan: Spanish striker David Villa says he will retire from Japanese club Vissel Kobe next year, ending the career of Spain’s top scorer in international play.
The 37-year-old Villa, who joined Kobe last December, said he plans to retire after the season ends in January.

“It’s better to leave football before football leaves me,” he told a news conference speaking in Spanish. “I’ve been thinking for several years — when you reach 33, 34 or 35 — the moment can arrive at any time in a game, in training, or with an injury.”

Villa scored 59 goals in 98 appearances for Spain from 2004-17, including five goals at the 2010 World Cup as his nation won the title for the first time.
He scored four goals for Spain en route to the 2008 European Championship title.

Before signing with Kobe, Villa played at Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before spending four seasons with New York City FC, scoring 80 goals in 124 MLS appearances.

“It’s a decision I’ve thought about a lot,” he said. “I spoke about this with the people who care about me, with my family, and the people who have been with me for my whole career.”

Villa repeated several times that it was not a knee-jerk reaction. He scored 12 goals this season for Kobe, a decent scoring output for a struggling club. But he said he knew the retirement time was near.

He was asked about the quality of play in Japan and was laudatory.

“I was surprised at the level of play in the J-League,” he said. “Not only in terms of the veteran players here, but the young players here that have enormous potential. It’s not that I was expecting less. I was expecting a top league, but it surpassed by expectations.”

Villa has also mentioned his interest being an investor in a new club based in the New York area — Queensboro FC, which will play in the second tier of American soccer.

“Queens always showed love to me and my family while we were in New York,” he wrote on Twitter. He said it was “a dream to build” a new professional team.