China Tourist

Downhill delights

Winter sports getting more popular – and dangerous – thanks to KOLs

Snowboarder-w

Zhang Yiwei: Burberry endorser

Anyone who has taken a family vacation to the slopes knows that skiing is an expensive sport. But with the Winter Olympics coming up, snow sports have seen a jump in popularity in China.

Fuelled by the build-up to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing and Zhangjiakou (in Hebei province), more and more people have embraced winter sports. Developers have also ramped up the construction of ski resorts. According to China News Service, as of the beginning of last year, there were at least 650 ice rinks and 800 ski resorts (some indoor) in China, up 317% and 41% respectively from 2015.

“Skiing is a sport that helps people forget about their worries and be in touch with nature,” says Zhang Yaqin, a Beijing resident who has been skiing for six years. “Even though my friends don’t know how to ski yet, they want to experience the fun of it more than ever.”

One staffer at Beijing Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort told Duozhu, a financial news commentator, that at least 2,000 people had visited the resort in the outskirts of Beijing on New Year’s Day. The influx meant many missed out on tickets to ski. Demand was so strong that many rental companies ran out of equipment too.

Ski-wear has also become another of the hottest fashion categories this winter, as hipsters wrap up in items like the Burton AK457 jacket, which comes in dynamic colours like electric blue and neon camo. The garb has been such a hit amongst local skiers that the more sought-after colours have surged in value on some second-hand platforms.

“The selling price should be Rmb5,000 ($785.78) but some second-hand AK457s on Idle Fish [Alibaba’s resale platform] can fetch Rmb7,000 or Rmb8,000. The main reason is that availability is limited but demand is high. And the more expensive the gear, the more popular it is with consumers,” Shenran, a contributor to 36Kr, reported.

Luxury brands are also looking to capture a piece of the winter sports market. This year, Louis Vuitton and Dior, both owned by LVMH, launched debut ski collections in China. Burberry tapped China’s snowboarder Zhang Yiwei as an image ambassador, and he was soon donning a Burberry jacket and ski goggles for social media campaigns.

The rising popularity of winter sports has also captured the attention of the country’s online influencers (also known as key opinion leaders or KOLs). Even influencers with no experience of skiing and snowboarding have ventured to the slopes in search of content for their online promotional campaigns. Few of them are doing much skiing, turning the ski runs into fashion runways instead. “For these influencers, it doesn’t matter whether they can ski or not. The most important thing is to check in and take pictures. They’re even wearing bikinis and ski pants to create the persona of a ski bunny. They borrow high-end equipment like snowboards made by Chanel, snap a lot of pictures and then go straight back to their hotels,” Duozhu noted of the influencers.

Such KOL infiltration has created hazards on the slopes, however, with seasoned skiers complaining that the online celebrities stand in the middle of the runs to stage their photo-ops, inconveniencing more serious skiers and contributing to accidents.

“A lot of them have never skied before and they never wear protective gear. I think that is very misleading for novices. After all, skiing is still considered as an extreme sport. Safety should always be a consideration,” another more seasoned skier told Shenran.

Meanwhile, mobile apps for winter sports enthusiasts have also been getting more popular this winter.

Huabei, for instance, offers information to its users like ratings on the ski resorts and on-the-ground reports on the snow conditions. There are other features in the apps as well, such as tracking data for the pistes that people have skied and the speeds they have reached…


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