Google and NASA team up to give us a bird's-eye view of ski resort development from 1984.

Asia’s ski industry has come a long way in the last three decades. Sleepy Japanese ski resorts are now bustling international hotspots. Skiing in China has gone from being a virtual unknown to reach a point where there are now 500+ ski resorts in the country and and a projected 300 million skiers by 2022. And South Korea, once a genuine minnow of the ski world, is preparing its slopes for all to see at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Yet there is no one metric for “growth”, which is why Google’s latest mapping initiative, Timelapse, is particularly telling. By combining satellite images from NASA with some sophisticated software, we can now observe changes in the earth – or to its ski resorts – over a 32-year period. And the result is fascinating.

We’ve picked four of Asia’s most popular ski resorts – Niseko (Japan), Hakuba (Japan), YongPyong (South Korea) and Wanlong (China) – to give you 30 years of Asian ski resort development in 30 seconds.

Niseko United, Japan

The Niseko region has an interesting history, starting as a sulphur mining town in the early 1800s before becoming known as a hot spring resort later on – when, in 1885, the first intermittent spring was found in the southern foothills of Mt. Chisenupuri. Skiing was eventually introduced to the area in 1912 by Theodore Edler von Lerch, an officer of the Austro-Hungarian Army.

In recent times, there have been some significant milestones, many of which are evident below. Look out for the construction of Niseko Hanazono, which is visible on the map from 1991 – later opening to the public in 1994.

Look closely and you’ll also see the construction of the Hilton Niseko Village in the lead up to its opening in 2008 (though it doesn’t appear on the map until 2009). Even the most recent developments – the addition of a new Niseko Village ski run and two state-of-the-art lifts – appear to emerge in the final capture (2016).

Also note the incredible speed at which Hirafu Village has grown over the last decade thanks to an injection of real estate investment (that doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon…).

Hakuba Valley, Japan

In the centre of the map below, you’ll find Happo One – the largest of the resorts that make up Hakuba Valley. It is also one of the older resorts in Japan, with more than half a decade of history.

Happo One shot to prominence during the Japanese skiing boom of the 90s, and never more so than in 1998 when it hosted the men’s and women’s downhill at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

In recent times, Hakuba has benefited from a huge amount in international interest, and is one of the most popular winter destinations in Japan for inbound travellers. Like Niseko, it has been a target for real estate development and investment during the last decade, which is depicted in a very obvious way in the time-lapse below.

YongPyong, South Korea

YongPyong opened to the public in 1975, making it the oldest ski resort in South Korea. Its opening generated plenty of interest amongst locals, but it wasn’t until 1992, when speed skater Ki-Hoon took home Korea’s first Olympic gold medal, that winter sports really took off.

The ’90s saw not only an uptake in interest, but a significant amount of ski resort development in Gangwon-do or Gyeonggi-do, Korea’s two northernmost provinces. World Cup events at YongPyong in 1998 and a successful Gangwon Asian Winter Games the following year set the platform for Korea’s Olympic ambitions, which will finally be realised (after two unsuccessful bids) in PyeongChang in 2018.

Much of the recent development of YongPyong, which, again, is very clear in the time-lapse, has been in preparation for these Olympics, where the resort will host the slalom and giant slalom events.

Wanlong & Genting Resort Secret Garden, China

Skiing is a very young sport in China, and never is it more evident than in this time-lapse of Chongli, a district that provides access to the area’s four main resorts – Wanlong, Genting Resort Secret Garden, Duolemedi and Thaiwoo. All four will play significant parts in the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Once a poverty-stricken region where the primary industry was agriculture, Chongli has been a major beneficiary of the successful Olympic bid and has seen its property prices double in the time since. Over last year’s spring festival, it welcomed roughly 530,000 tourists – roughly seven times its population – most of whom are drawn in by the allure of the ski fields.

In the time-lapse below, you’ll see Chongli (far left) transform from a rural Chinese town into a genuine tourist hub. On the right side, keep an eye out for the construction of Wanlong, China’s largest ski resort, and Genting Resort Secret Garden, which was opened for the 2011/12 winter season.

Chongli timelapse

Where we are now. A Google timelapse shows Chongli, Wanlong and Genting Resort Secret Garden in 2016.


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