2018 will mark the beginning of an era for Asia in the global ski community.
Europe and North America have long been the heavyweights of the ski world, but 2018 is shaping up as the year that Asia steps into the ring. A series of events and initiatives are set to turn public attention to the ski resorts of Korea, China and Japan in what could well be a defining year in Asian snowsports and the beginning of a new era.
In February 2018, the world’s eyes will turn to PyeongChang in South Korea for the biggest winter sporting event on the planet. It will be the first Asian country other than Japan to host the Winter Olympics, and just the third time in the event’s 94-year history that it will be held outside Europe or North America.
The political situation in North Korea, Russia drug bans and sluggish ticket sales have ensured that PyeongChang has remained in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. But as the opening ceremony draws nearer, story lines that have the potential to make this one of the most memorable Games on record are beginning to take shape.
Lindsey Vonn, the most decorated women’s skier of all time, will compete in what will likely be her last ever Winter Olympics. She’ll be sharing the spotlight with American teammate Mikaela Shiffrin who, at 22, is already (somewhat provocatively) being called the greatest skier of all time.
We’ll also see performances from two of the world’s brightest young stars in Chloe Kim and Kelly Sildaru, get acquainted with the Games’ biggest underdogs – the Nigerian bobsled team and the North Korean figure skaters, and discover what a Korean-flavoured Winter Olympics really looks, feels and sounds like (in the case of the latter, probably K-Pop).
Interested? Read our 10 reasons to get excited about PyeongChang 2018.
Freeride World Tour Hakuba
2017 saw Hakuba host its first Freeride World Qualifier event, in which Travis Rice took out an emphatic win with a 96-point ride. In 2018, Hakuba will take centre stage as the first of five stops on the flagship Freeride World Tour.
It will be the first time that an FWT event has been hosted in Asia, and is a reflection of Japan’s growing place in the global freeride scene – both as a favoured travel destination for the world’s best skiers and also as a hotbed for domestic talent. When FWT first announced its partnership with Hakuba it was described by organisers as “one of the most important milestones in Freeride World Tour history” that would “open the door to the possibility of seeing one day a Japanese Freeride World Tour (FWT) World Champion.”
“….one of the most important milestones in Freeride World Tour history”
FWT organisers are also eyeing off other locations in Asia. Earlier this year, videos were released of Xavier De Le Rue and Sam Anthamatten scouting terrain for a possible event at Changbaishan – a volcano located in China’s northeast which shares a border with North Korea.
A relationship between Asia and the Freeride World Tour is definitely blossoming, and we may look back one day and recognise Hakuba 2018 as the place and time it all began.
Japan’s stellar start to the season
Japanese ski resorts have started 2018 on a high, reaping the rewards of an early season that locals are calling the best in recent memory. Niseko recorded an astonishing 6.6 metres of cumulative snow before New Year’s Eve, while official reports put the November/December total as the largest in the last 12 years. A video update from Mountainwatch.com on January 6 placed Myoko at more than 7 metres for the season.
By Japan’s standards, these numbers are excellent. By international standards, they are almost hard to believe, and would make higher-ups at resorts like Whistler, Chamonix and Aspen green with envy. At a time when global warming is putting the future of our sport in doubt, Japan is looking like the safest bet for a ski holiday. And the world is taking note.
China’s growing market
On December 26, 2017, Baishan City in China’s Jilin province announced plans to construct a world-class ski resort complex with more than 20 ski resorts, 50 outdoor skating rinks, 12 snow-ice tourist towns, 10 featured tourism villages and 50,000 beds. This will all happen over the next three years.
It is yet another play in a grand plan to create 300 million skiers in China by 2022, an initiative launched by Xi Jinping in early 2016 which, among other things, has included compulsory snowsports participation for Beijing school children and even for some university students.
Four years out, and with the nearby PyeongChang Olympics serving as a reminder of the commitment involved, 2018 will be a critical year in China’s Olympic preparations including plans to boost interest and participation in snowsports around the country. We’re expecting many more big announcements over the next 12 months.
The beginning of an era
PyeongChang 2018. Beijing 2022. Sapporo 2026.
It would be symbolic of the times if Sapporo were to be successful in a bid to host the Olympics in 2026, thereby keeping the iconic event on Asian shores for three consecutive Winter Games. As it stands, the city is only “considering” the bid, which was announced following official approval by the Japan Olympic Committee.
Regardless of the result, PyeongChang 2018 will mark the beginning of an era for Asia in the global ski community, with international events, increasing snowsports participation, and rising international tourism set to define the next decade.