Ski industry prepares for China to reach its winter sports potential |

Ski industry prepares for China to reach its winter sports potential

During a trip to China with the Utah Office of Tourism last fall, Esthur Checksfield of the Park City Chamber/Bureau eats dinner with tour operators in the Sichuan area. The Chamber/Bureau has sent representatives to China for the last three years to better understand the emerging winter sports industry there.
Courtesy of Esthur Checksfield

The Chinese government announced earlier this year that it plans to create 300 million new winter sports enthusiasts before it hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022. What that would mean for the ski industry in America? More skiers, more gear and more money being pumped into the industry.

Ski industry and tourism officials have been keeping their eye on the untapped market for the last decade. The future of winter sports in China is uncertain, but most agree that if even a portion of China’s population fell in love with skiing, the impact would be drastic.

There are currently 100 million skiers and snowboarders globally, said Nick Sargent, president of the trade association Snowsports Industries America, which is headquartered in Park City. If China were to even come close to reaching its goal, it would affect the entire supply chain of winter gear.

“When you think about the amount of product that exists in the world today for 100 million users, to triple that, you are going to triple your resources, you are going to triple your production, you are going to triple your logistics, you are going to triple your warehousing, your retailers,” he said. “If it was possible, it would be incredible for our business. It would be the biggest thing since the birth of skiing, maybe even the birth of a chairlift.”

“If it was possible, it would be incredible for our business. It would be the biggest thing since the birth of skiing, maybe even the birth of a chairlift.” — Nick Sargent, SIA

SIA plans to prepare its members for the growth by hosting a trade mission to China in September. Winter gear manufacturers, retailers and industry leaders are expected to attend, including Nathan Rafferty, president and chief executive officer of Ski Utah.

Maria McNulty, chief operating officer of SIA, said that the association is partnering with the U.S. Embassy for the trip. Resort owners, retailers and e-commerce specialists will talk about the state of the winter sports industry and the economy in China. The U.S. ambassador to China is also expected to visit with the U.S. group.

“We are giving them a platform to form their own opinion on what sort of opportunities exist for them and their brand,” McNulty said. “It is opening people’s eyes to what the reality of the China winter industry is and where it is going.”

She said that SIA hopes to make the trade mission an annual event.

The Park City Chamber/Bureau is also finding ways to make sure that Park City is prepared to handle the influx of visitors if the number of skiers and snowboarders grows in China. Being “China ready” is a phrase that is often discussed, said Jim Powell, vice president of marketing for the Chamber/Bureau.

For now, most Chinese visitors come during the summer months, stopping by the Tanger Outlets and the Utah Olympic Park on their way from Yellowstone National Park to other national parks in the West. Powell said that the Tanger Outlets already has signs in Mandarin and also accepts credit cards from China, which is something businesses such as restaurants and hotels might need to start doing soon.

Esthur Checksfield, senior international sales and marketing manager of the Chamber/Bureau, visits China with the Utah Office of Tourism every year to see where the country is headed. She said that skiing is starting to explode in the northern part of the country, particularly as it prepares athletes to win medals at the Olympic Games.

She said that time and economic growth are both necessary to see the explosion take place on a more broad level, but she does not doubt that it is coming.

“Even if it is 1 percent, that is Texas,” she said. “All I need is the 1 percent to start with right now until we hit the masses.”

McNulty said that the infrastructure is also lacking in China, from ski schools to transportation that allows people to easily access the mountains from the city. But China is on the right path. There are currently about 600 resorts already, with plans to complete another 100 or so before the Olympics in 2022. High-speed trains under construction are expected to connect Beijing to Zhangjiakou, which will host many of the skiing events during the Olympics.

Sargent and McNulty say the industry shouldn’t count on an explosion of skiing interest in China within just four years , though. They said that it would be a stretch for such a drastic change to take place so quickly. Plus, Sargent added, a spike in enthusiasm during the Olympics, followed by an instant decline if the Chinese government stops prioritizing winter sports, is possible. That could lead to a recession in the industry.

Sargent said that it is going to take a while for China to develop passionate skiers, but getting people interested in winter sports would be a step in the right direction.

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