While skiing down the mountain at weekends is a new trend in China, skiing in cities is unheard of for most Chinese, and a recent event also raised more than a few eyebrows here in metropolitan Beijing.
The four-day FIS Cross-Country Skiing China City - Sprint Capital Group event, which concluded in the Chinese capital this weekend, attracted thousands of ski fans and interested onlookers.
"This is a great competition, great sites, great atmosphere and great audiences," said competition director Georg Zipfel.
The event took place across three different neighborhoods in and around Beijing; the Bird Nest stadium, which hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Shougang area where the organizing committee of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is based, and the city's northern district of Yanqing, with each stop featuring thousands of fans eager for a look at the action.
"I think the competition is well organized, especially the Yanqing stop, which has the most difficult trail," said Haavard Taugboel of Norway, who won two of the three stages.
"The Yanqing trail has many curves, which require good technique," said James Clugnet of Britain, who finished second in the Yanqing stage. "I think all three stops are very good. I've competed in Norway and Germany, and I think the Chinese event is almost at the same level."
Cross-country skiing is a new activity in China, which had only previously hosted one trial contest. The Beijing event was one of exploration for organizers as well as fans.
The Yanqing stage ran inside the Badaling Beijing International Convention and Exhibition Center, along a 1.4km-long track in which the roads are situated between blocks in order to make the race more competitive.
The stage at Shougang ran around the perimeter of a lake inside a former steel factory, and the first stop was at Beijing's Olympic Park, on the pedestrian sidewalks besides the Bird Nest stadium.
"This is a world-class competition, even though we staged it inside this small area in the center," Georg explained. "The 1.4km-long track is big enough for the race and we could also leave enough space for fans and children. After the race was finished, we had more than 2,000 children taking to the track to practise skiing, which is very important to develop cross-country skiing in China."
One of the oldest winter sports events, cross-country skiing typically takes place in woodland and mountainous areas. "Bringing cross-country skiing into cities brings the sport r to fans, and when the fans love the sport, they might go back to the nature to enjoy it," Georg added.
"And secondly, we'd like to show how to build world-class snow trails in the city. At Shougang, we taught some Chinese drivers how to drive the snow plows in order to make the snow compact."
To host the 2022 Winter Games, China needs not only athletes, arenas and audiences, but also a technical supporting team to provide ice and snow services for all competitions.