Feb 27, 2010

Wanlong ski trip

One of the highlights of our lunar new year vacation was a ski trip to Wanlong ski resort in Hebei province. The place is about a 3-hour ride outside of Beijing, and without question the best skiing you can get in this area. I think the next best thing in China would be Yabuli, which requires a plane ride.

Here's a look at a couple of the runs in the early morning, after a very light snowfall the previous night.

The ski lodge at the base of the mountain is nice. They have a bunch of tables set up you can take a break at. There's a full cafeteria upstairs which even has pizza. It would be nice if the resort could limit the amount of people camping out at the tables all day long, or perhaps add more tables to accommodate this issue. It was hard to find a free table most of the time with all the old ladies and non-skiers hanging out at them.

It requires two chair lifts and around 15 minutes total to reach the top of the mountain. There's a very nice log cabin at the freezing cold, windy peak with a snack bar and espresso machine. Alternatively, you can sit at the tables and drink hot water for free and no one bothers you.

The ski resort at Wanlong is very nice. It's not exactly on par with the resorts in Lake Tahoe or Park City, Utah, but it is very enjoyable. The price is very close to what you'd find at the nicer places in the US.

Outside of the ski resort, lodging and eating is very simple. There is a lot of potential for the little town where the resort is located to expand and become more upscale. We stayed at a hotel that would be considered mid-range for Chongli, the town where the ski resort is.

This is the coal-burning stove the hotel used to heat the reception area:

A hotel worker scraping snow and ice in the morning with a tiny spade:

One advantage of Wanlong being fairly pricey is that it limits the number of people there. The slopes were not empty, but they were also not crazy-crowded, despite the fact that it was a holiday week. The people that were at this resort were for the most part very well-mannered and nice. They seemed to be the mid- to upper-crust of Chinese society. There was none of the stepping-on-the-skis-in-the-lift-line that you see at Nanshan or the other resorts closer to Beijing.

The majority of skiers were in the beginner to intermediate stage of their development, but there were more than a few advanced skiers.

Wanlong is considered the most advanced of the skiing options around Beijing, and I think that keeps some of the crowds away. That being said, the trail ratings are exaggerated by one degree over what they would be in California or Utah. For example:
  • Advanced slope at Wanlong = intermediate slope in Tahoe
  • Intermediate slope at Wanlong = easy slope at Tahoe
There are no back country trails, although you can ski between the trees that separate some of the groomed trails.

If you're planning a trip out to Wanlong, I'd recommend you bring the following:
  • ski goggles (It's very, very windy and cold in Hebei. I thought my nose had frostbite after the first five minutes down one of the runs at the top of the mountain.)
  • balaclava or other mask to deal with the wind (not to be confused with delicious baklava)
  • packets of instant coffee or instant hot cocoa (the resort provides free hot water and paper cups; you'll want to come inside very hour or so to warm up because Wanlong is so insanely cold)
My only other feedback for Wanlong ski resort is they modify their ski trail map. Currently, they don't mark the trail map with blue diamonds, black squares, or whatever according to the trail's degree of difficulty. You have to look at the map, find the name of the trail in Chinese, and then look in legend somewhere else on the map to figure out what the trail is rated as (easy, medium, advanced).

Here's a scan (click to enlarge).

Wanlong management: this here map, from The Canyons in Park City, Utah, shows how a map is supposed to be done. Colorful, useful graphics, easy to use — get yourself a graphic artist for one day and enhance your map.

In conclusion, I'd highly recommend Wanlong if you have some cash and enjoy skiing. Don't expect any sort of night life or high class dining whatsoever while you're there, but the skiing is a lot of fun. Also, ski a little more cautiously than you would otherwise. I'm not sure if I'd want to have a compound fracture set at the clinic in Chongli village, Hebei. In Beijing, you'll have absolutely no problem getting a broken bone set, but in a small podunk town, you never know.

One last observation. It seems like no matter where you are in the world — Lake Tahoe, Park City, Wanlong — one thing is always the same: those darn beginner snowboarders scrape every bit of powder off the slope during the first hour the place is open, and then there's just ice left. Beginner skiers scrape the powder, too, yes, I know, but beginner snowboarders are three times worse.

It drives me nuts. I guess there's no way around it unless you ski the back country or if you've got your own mountain.


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