Developers have ploughed mountains of money into the snow business. Will it melt away?


In much of the world the business of running ski slopes has, like most of tourism, been crippled by lockdowns and travel restrictions. China is no exception. Visits to Chinese ski areas slumped by 38% in 2020—steeper than a global decline of 14% after covid-19 hit. Two in five winter-sports businesses lost more than half their revenue as a result of anti-virus measures, according to the Beijing Olympic City Development Association, an official group set up to champion sport. One in 14 ski areas, especially small ones, gave up the ghost in 2020. As China prepares to host the Winter Olympics, which open in Beijing on February 4th, its ski-industrial complex is hoping that this celebration of all pursuits below freezing will mark the end of a short-lived icy patch.

Unlike Europe and America, where the winter-sports sector’s downhill slide predates the pandemic, Chinese skiers were taking to the slopes in record numbers. The Beijing Ski Association says that people paid more than 20m visits to China’s ski venues in 2019, twice as many as in 2014. Eileen Gu, a teenager raised in San Francisco who has chosen to represent China, where her mother was born, in freestyle skiing, has recalled that just a few years ago she knew virtually all the freestyle skiers in the country. Now the gold-medal contender suggests they are like snowflakes in a blizzard.