Thaiwoo Ski Resort offers visitors a very special mix of old and new.
A first glance at Thaiwoo Ski Resort’s Facebook page or Instagram account, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at photos of a resort in North America, Europe or Japan. The resort’s high-speed lifts, pristine grooming and expansive runs compare favourably with some of the world’s best-known ski destinations – with one major difference.
Visible from Thaiwoo’s main gondola is the Great Wall of China, a landmark that appears in stark contrast to its shiny chairlifts and brand new infrastructure. In an exceptional case of old meets new, visitors to Thaiwoo can take in thousands of years of history whilst engaging in one of China’s most recently adopted pastimes. If there was ever a ski experience to tick off the China bucket list, this is most certainly it.
Thaiwoo is located in China’s Chongli District, a 3-hour drive from Beijing, and, incredibly, is one of 586 ski resorts in the country. It is just days away from closing its first season of operation and is by no means a household name, even in China.
That may well change soon. China’s skiers and snowboarders – a community that has inflated by 25% to 12.5 million, all in the last year – have more than just a few reasons to visit the newly-constructed resort. State-of-the-art chairlifts, an 8-person detachable gondola, and an enormous beginner area (serviced by 10 magic carpets) are an attraction in their own right.
Add in to this mix a professionally-built terrain park, an internationally-trained snowsports team, and a location only an hour-long commute from Beijing when a brand new bullet train line is constructed this year.
If there was ever a ski experience to tick off the China bucket list, this is most certainly it.
Thaiwoo has already been earmarked as a venue for Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games and is “a perfect facility for a lot of the tech events in alpine racing”, according to Deputy General Manager, Cesar Piotto, a 15-year veteran of the snowsports industry.
“We don’t have a lot of natural snow, but the snow quality has been as good as anywhere I’ve seen in the world. Obviously, really good, consistently cold temperatures and really low humidity allows you to make very high quality snow.”
“We can’t claim to have neck-deep powder but we do have the latest snow-making technology, the latest lifts, brand new grooming machines and drivers trained by the world’s best, and a variety of pistes to suit most skiers and riders.”
Piotto is an Australian whose career has spanned resorts in Australia, USA, Chile and New Zealand, and has been tasked with the job of bringing Thaiwoo Ski Resort up to the standard of its foreign counterparts.
As a ski instructor by trade, Piotto was behind the move to recruit snowsports instructors from New Zealand, the UK, Australia and Estonia.
“Our international team was brought in to improve the guest experience and show what is possible in the Chinese ski industry. The international instructors have all trained in recognised systems – New Zealand, British, American, Australian and Canadian – all of which focus on the needs of the student and all of which tend to aim at the same teaching and outcomes. We put the client first – we want them to have fun, learn and return.”
His focus on the application of international service standards and attitudes is unique for a place that, until now, has mostly been an attraction for mainland Chinese, but it is one that has served the resort well in its first year.
“The feedback that I have received from customers about our approach to the guest experience has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“Chinese resorts realise that they need to focus on the customer experience to stay appealing to a more educated and well-traveled local market, and to become more attractive to international guests. They have great facilities and infrastructure and the on-piste skiing is comparable to other parts of the world.”
It is a focus that Piotto hopes will pay dividends when the resort cuts the ribbon on two 4-star hotels and a youth hostel next winter, a move which is expected to attract visitors from all over Asia. A business-style Hyatt Place and more luxurious Hyatt Regency have been confirmed for 2017 and 2018 respectively.
These developments are part of a 5-year plan that will see construction of a Whistler-style walk-through village complete with bars, restaurants, shops, tubing facilities and an ice skating rink. Thaiwoo will eventually open as a year-round destination and offer summer activities including mountain biking, golf, tennis, zip-line and luging.
It’s an exciting timeline for a ski resort that was all but unheard of just months ago, and a clear indicator that momentum in China’s ski industry is building rapidly in the lead-up to Beijing 2022. Xi Jinping’s recently revealed desire to transform 300 million non-skiers into winter sports enthusiasts will require resorts like Thaiwoo to play their part, and the initial signs are good.
Piotto is likewise optimistic about Thaiwoo’s prospects as an Olympic venue and one of Asia’s flagship resorts, but candidly admits that “this is going to be a multi-year project”.
“There is definitely an excitement in the air. People also understand that there is much to do.”
That may well be the case. But if ever a reminder was needed that years of hard work can produce something that truly stands the test of time, one would only need to look past Thaiwoo’s chairlifts and over to a wall that has stood in place for a whole lot longer.