Feature: American snow flying in Chinese skies as Beijing 2022 Winter Games take shape

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-03 15:55:10|Editor: Mengjiao Liu
Video PlayerClose

By Peter Mertz

ASPEN, United States, April 2 (Xinhua) -- As preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics ramp up, perhaps no business exchange better embodies global progress than America producing the snow that falls from China's skies.

American ski industry executives are crossing the Pacific more than ever to help Chinese officials gear up for the upcoming Beijing Winter Games.

"I've made two trips to China in just the past few months," said Brooke VanderKelen, who spearheads sales and marketing efforts for Snow Machines Inc., or SMI.

SMI is a family-run business in Michigan that designs, builds, installs, and supplies snowmaking equipment and systems to 800 resorts on four continents worldwide, and is the American industry leader.

When SMI sold China's Yabuli Resort two Standard PoleCat snow guns in 1995, it became the first American snow maker to jump the Pacific.

Yabuli, located in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, was one of only a handful of ski resorts in the country back then.

Today, there are 568 ski areas across China, according to government data, representing a stunning growth that parallels China's economic explosion in the past 20 years.

The sport is especially popular with young business managers from China's burgeoning middle class of 300 million, according to BusinessinAsia.com.

With most of China's resorts located north of Beijing, urban millennials from as far away as Fujian and Zhuhai, as well as Shanghai and Hong Kong, fly north to resorts to ski regularly, the business website observed.

And, with the 2022 Winter Olympics just a few years away, the push for more Chinese people to hit the slopes has been sounded from the highest office in the land.

China aims to have a staggering 300 million winter sports participants and 1,000 ski areas by the 2022 Games.

By comparison, the U.S. currently has 52.8 million ski visits at 463 ski areas.

America made the world's first "artificial snow" in 1952 at Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel in New York State, and since, has perfected the art.

Snowmaking is the production of snow by forcing water and freezing, pressurized air through high-speed fans and are called "snow guns" or "snow cannons."

"It's a great marriage - one country that has a history of making snow, and another that has millions of skiers," said Aspen Mountain's snow making manager Harry Link.

"Northeast China is cold, but it doesn't get much precipitation," said Link, who made snow last month at 8,000-feet for the prestigious World Cup downhill finals.

Aspen, a world-renowned European-style ski village that dates back to 1946, is home to many famous celebrities and was called the "No. 1 Ski Resort" in America by Ski Magazine in 2017.

"China's climate is very similar to Colorado's - dry and cold - good for making show," Link told Xinhua, who said he uses snow guns and cannons made by both SMI and Italian snow maker TechnoAlpin.

Meanwhile, SMI has equipment in about 100 Chinese resorts today, and is actively designing and building snow making systems at the newest, most sophisticated ski resorts ever built.

"They're really doing it right in China and it's tremendous to see the growth and the efforts they have made to build world-class ski resorts," VanderKelen said.

SMI is waiting to hear from Chinese officials to see if 2022 will be its fourth straight Winter Olympics - where their machines will have an exclusive contract to supply snow for alpine events.

SMI has been the "go-to" ski making company for three straight winter games: Vancouver, Canada (2010), Sochi, Russia (2014) and the Games set for next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

SMI officials hope 2022 Beijing will be the icing on the cake, or in this case, the frosting on the mountains.

"They're the reliable, well-built, easy to repair (and) industry standard," said Frank White, who compared SMI to a Cadillac or American "muscle car," and TechnoAlpin to a Ferrari.

White, 68, an industry veteran who said the equipment gets better and better every year, has been running snow making operations at Snowmass Mountain for 20 years.

"TechnoAlpin is state of the art, with high-tech equipment and all the bells and whistles," White said.

"Efficiency...that's the most important advice I'd tell the Chinese," White told Xinhua.

"When you focus on efficiency then you're also being a good steward of natural resources and energy," said White, who says 'efficiency' covers many areas.

That includes ease of servicing equipment, reliability of equipment, design of the system, and even the quality of its operators, according to White.

"In my book, you have to make more snow in less time, all the time, which means you have to focus on efficiency," White said.