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Skiing in China, far from the hoped-for windfall for French companies

They dreamed of a big leap, but have to be content with a small step. Eldorado fantasized by French mountain industries, China has not, for the time being, met the immense expectations. And the Covid-19 pandemic should prevent the Beijing Winter Olympics (OG) from playing the role of catalyst dreamed of by the central state and European developers. Of course, not everything failed. China entered the world’s top 10 for “skier days” before the pandemic, and the number of skiers continues to grow, reaching 13 million, experts say.

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This is far from the 120 million targeted by the State in 2030, an ambitious figure which would amount to doubling the number of skiers in the world. Another reason for hope: the population of skiers is young, much more than in Europe. “There is considerable growth potential and it is the only developing market, observes Laurent Vanat, consultant for the ski industry working in Chinese resorts. There will soon be ski resorts in all the provinces and, with the ski-domes, the sport has come within reach of the populations of the cities. »

For fifteen years, wealthy businessmen have, at the instigation of the state, developed integrated stations in the province of Hebei, where the Olympic Games will take place, an hour by train from Beijing. They called on European know-how. Supply of gondolas, planning of resorts, training of instructors, artificial snowmaking, diversification of tourist activities: the SMEs of Rhône-Alpes have taken their share in this market, like their Swiss, Austrian and Italian competitors.

“Very limited contracts”

But the economy is embryonic. Of the nearly 800 “ski resorts” in China, only about twenty come close to European standards. The 120 kilometers of slopes across the country are equivalent to a medium-sized ski area in the French Alps. And the geography of the Chinese mountains is unfavorable. In the North-East, near the Russian border, the length of the journey and the temperatures at −30°C, in the pioneer resort of Yabuli, do not suggest a massive practice.

“We wonder whether the ski product offered is in line with what Chinese tourists want” Edouard Dovillaire, manufacturer Poma

In Hebei, there are only gentle slopes, conducive to initiation, and the snow is only artificial on all areas – as the Olympians are about to see. “It was not an Eldorado, rather showcases, believes Benoît Robert, director of the Cluster Montagne, which brings together French mountain developers and has carried out evangelization missions in China. The Olympics market was much smaller than those of Sochi [2014], in Russia, where it was necessary to build stations from A to Z. There, they are more snow stadiums. We go around a station in one morning. »

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