Plotting a course for greater numbers on the slopes

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Skiers perform during the opening ceremony of a ski resort in Changchun, Jilin province. (Photo/China Daily)

Ski operators upgrade facilities as they entice more visitors to experience the thrill of snow

Ski resort operators are plotting their course, just like those who take to the slopes, to improve service and facilities, as they seek greater market share in a growing industry.

Mountain China Resort, also known as Yabuli, is no exception. It has set up a snowboarding park, a conveyor belt, and renovated a high-speed cable car this year.

CEO Han Gang said: "We are considering setting up new trails, when we obtain permission, to meet growing demand. "

Han said visitor numbers are projected to exceed 144,000 in the 2016 winter season, up 20 percent over the previous year.

The resort, located in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, opened on Nov 3.

Also gaining momentum is Genting Resort Secret Garden, a ski center in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. The center has installed a new chairlift and opened a training park this year.

It added several automatic snowmakers and grooming machines to improve snow quality, according to the company.

Genting Resort, selected as venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics for freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, has also been working on projects for professional use.

"Equipment and facilities in Chinese ski centers are being upgraded," said keen snowboarding fan Liu Xihe, a PhD candidate at Tsinghua University. "Prices, however, are relatively higher compared to overseas."

He started snowboarding four years ago, and won medals at sport events in Beijing.

"What matters in the skiing experience most is the crowd. If the ski areas are crowded by beginners, it is not an ideal place for well-trained skiers." Liu said.

Liu's hope is very likely to be fulfilled in the next few years.

China's ski industry is set to prosper, as the government in November issued plans to promote winter sports.

The country aims to get 300 million people on the slopes by the time Beijing and nearby Zhangjiakou host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The plan proposed that there will be at least 800 ski areas by that time, with hundreds of brand new ones.

There were 568 ski areas and centers in China in 2015, an increase of 108 over the previous year, according to a white paper issued by China Vanke Co Ltd's Lake Songhua Resort.

Experts said ski resorts are likely to rake in more profits than ever before, while the key to winning the potential market is to increase customer retention-as important as building customer base.

"Many provinces, such as Hebei and those in the northeast of China, have the natural resources to develop skiing," said Li Yanli, a professor at Beijing Sport University.

Li added that they need to improve operations and facilities to hold onto skiers who will have more choice than ever before.

In China, one-time skiers accounted for a considerable portion of visits with 80 percent of skiers visiting just once a year, according to a research conducted by 36kr, a Chinese media website.

The first ski experience can often be disappointing for most beginners, with extremely low return rates, wrote independent consultant Laurent Vanat in the 2016 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism.

Vanat said operators should focus on teaching and developing skills to unleash market potential.

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