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The last resort

Ski resort developers in China are betting on the formula of bigger plus better equals success, as they believe the sector is about to take off. Photos Provided to China Daily

They are big in Europe, North America and elsewhere, but ski resorts in China are still finding their feet

If the magic of the snow will not pull them in, it seems you have to start looking for other ingredients. Duolemeidi Mountain Resort, one of China's most modern and advanced ski resorts, is providing its visitors with accommodation from this month in an attempt to offset its financial losses in the ski business. The resort, in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, has not turned a profit for its Italian investors since it opened in 2006. A lack of real snow, bad weather and China's lack of a ski culture make the country a difficult proposition, says Fabio Ries, co-founder and chairman of the board of Duolemeidi Mountain Resort.

Duolemeidi is not alone in this predicament. Only a handful of China's biggest 20 ski resorts are in the black, the Chinese Ski Association says.

But instead of packing up their skis and heading home, more and more resort developers are betting on the formula b+b=s, where the "b"s stand for bigger and better and the "s" stands for success.

The logic behind the equation is that the growth of China's ski industry coincides with the expanding economy, and that with more wealthy Chinese pursuing a healthy lifestyle and recreational holidays, the future of China's ski resort market can be only one thing: sensational.

Next to Duolemeidi Mountain Resort, VXL Capital, one of Malaysia's leading investment companies, is building a mega project called Secret Garden, and the company wants it to become to China what Whistler, the colossal ski resort in British Columbia, is to Canada.

The first ski slope of the Chinese resort, two hours' drive from Beijing, opened this winter, but the project of 82 ski slopes is not due to be completed for another 10 or 12 years, with investment of more than $1.5 billion (1.18 billion euros).

Dalian Wanda Group, one of China's largest property developers, is also a strong adherent of the theory, "If you build it, they will come". The group, leading five other Chinese investors, including Lenovo Group of China, the world's second-largest personal computer maker, is spending 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion, 2.5 billion euros), building a vast ski resort in Changbaishan, in Northeast China's Jilin province.

The resort features 43 slopes with a skier capacity of 8,000 people, and is expected to be the largest in China after it opens late this year.

Beidahu Ski Resort, also in Jilin province and one of China's largest ski resorts, with skier visits of 67,000 in the 2010-11 season, is also expanding, with new ski slopes, hotels and condo units, even though the resort has not turned a profit since its new developer took over in 2009.

Liu Xiaoshan, chairman of the board of the Qiaoshan Group of Beijing, which is developing the Beidahu resort, is confident about the prospects.

"The development of the leisure industry moves into top gear when a country's per capital GDP reaches $3,000, which China has already achieved. Experiences from other countries all demonstrate that."

In the US, just 2 million people visited ski fields in 1962, but by the 1980s that figure had climbed to 50 million, he says. In Japan, the rise in the sport's popularity was almost as phenomenal, a 20-fold increase in visits being recorded between the 1970s and the 1990s.

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