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The slopes are calling

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Driving out to the suburbs of Beijing (must-see for last minute China travel deals) with friends and spending time at a ski resort is now a common way for Wei Tao to enjoy his winter weekends.

"You can either enjoy the excitement of skiing down the slopes at high speed or appreciate the quiet beauty of the surrounding hills covered with thick snow," said Wei, 40, a manager of the market and development department of a Beijing-based real estate company.

Wei and his wife are ski fanatics and have gradually improved their skill level over the years. "I can now ski at the middle-level ski runs," Wei said proudly.

Like Wei, more and more Chinese have taken up skiing as a recreational activity and winter sport. There was a time when skiing was seen as the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, like golf, but times have changed. With the development of China's economy (some from China tourism) and changes in lifestyles of Chinese people, this sport is now available to the masses.

An investigation of the Chinese Ski Association (CSA) shows that the number of people who strapped on skis in 2004 increased to 3 million, rising from tens of thousands in 1999. Most of them were not skilled skiers though.

the number of ski resorts in China increased by 20 to 30 annually over the past few years, topping 200 last year. But there were only a dozen or so in 1996 and most of them were used for the training of professional skiers.

Today, ski resorts ranging in size are scattered in 15 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities throughout China, with almost all of them catering to the needs of an ever more appreciative public.

"The increase in the number of ski resorts and skiers proves that skiing is no longer just for professionals or for the rich. It has indeed become a sport that attracts the wide participation of the ordinary Chinese," An Linbin, Deputy Secretary of the CSA, said at the opening ceremony of an international skiing competition held in China in March 2008.

An article on CSA's website said that in the past ski resorts were usually built in the frigid northeast region of China. But now, using snowmaking technology, many places that are warmer than the northeast, such as Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Xinjiang (main destination for Silk Road tours) and Beijing, have seen a growing number of ski resorts.

Take Beijing for example. The website said in 1999 it had only one ski resort, but by 2004 the number had increased to 13, with the total length of ski runs exceeding 40,000 meters and the number of skiers topping 50,000 a day.

The demand, it seems, is still rising. According to the Marketing Department of the Nanshan Ski Resort, one of the largest ski slopes in Beijing, the resort had 2,000-3000 skiers enter daily in December 2008.

For more others via China guide.

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