NANJING, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- Decked out in a stylish snowsuit and ski goggles, 32-year-old Li Yang leisurely sampled the heady pleasure after hurtling down from a snow slope at a ski resort in the city of Huai'an, east China's Jiangsu Province.
"It's just trendy and cool to feel the joy of winter sports before the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics," said Li, an IT engineer who had driven about three hours from Jiangsu's Nanjing to participate in a local ice and snow festival, hoping to destress a bit from the day-to-day grind.
"It is my second time coming here. This time, I bought my gear rather than renting it. Many of my friends have their own equipment now," Li added. "My whole set is made by Chinese brands, costing no more than 5,000 yuan (about 785 U.S. dollars), and is of great quality."
The Beijing Winter Olympics will kick off in less than a month. Chinese manufacturers long ago perceived their golden opportunity as the Games have ignited unparalleled enthusiasm for winter sports and the country has made massive investments to enhance infrastructure.
Over 346 million Chinese people have participated in winter sports activities since Beijing's successful bid in 2015, making the country's goal of engaging 300 million in winter sports a reality, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics.
China has also experienced explosive development in recent years despite being a latecomer to the world of winter sports. It now has 654 standard ice rinks, a surge of 317 percent from 2015, and the number of ski resorts reached 803, up from 568 in 2015.
In Jiangsu, for example, where snowfall is often light in winter, local governments have encouraged private investment into snowmaking facilities to make artificial snow and issued vouchers to stimulate spending on winter sports, as the province has now built 45 ice and snow sports venues.
All this has fueled the business of equipment makers and bodes well for the long-term market. According to China's development plan, the total scale of the ice and snow sports industry will hit 1 trillion yuan by 2025.
Increasingly more stores selling winter sports equipment including suits, helmets, gloves and snowboards are now popping up in large Chinese cities, though sometimes the prices for skiing-related merchandise are considered a bit high.
"For average skiers, a whole set could run from 2,000 to 10,000 yuan, but I think most buyers are white-collar workers, earning above 10,000 yuan a month," said Wang Juan, a sales manager at a chained store in downtown Nanjing, Jiangsu's provincial capital city.
Data from the online marketplace JD.com showed that during last year's Double 11 shopping spree, orders for ski equipment increased by 23 times year on year on the platform, while the transaction volume for ice sports equipment increased 15 times year on year.
"The Winter Olympics is obviously a catalyst for equipment business, and also a springboard for the equipment makers," Wang said.
Global brands are trying to position themselves in the bonanza. Athletic wear giant Anta Sports, a sponsor of the Beijing Games, has made use of its deep pockets to partner with European equipment brands. Domestic brand Bosideng has also cooperated with German brand Bogner to establish a joint venture, planning to build about 80 stores across China.
A number of clothing brands like Toread and 361 Degrees have come out with their own ski suits, and others, including Running River and Vector, are producing varied personal ski equipment.
Data from the corporate information provider Tianyancha shows that China saw an increase of more than 1,000 ice and snow sports-related enterprises in 2021. And according to a national development plan for the ice and snow equipment industry, annual equipment sales are predicted to exceed 20 billion yuan by 2022.
The North American ski sports brand SPYDER started business in the Chinese market in 2019. It currently focuses on first-and-second-tier cities, opening franchise stores mainly in the local mid-to-high-end shopping malls.
"The upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics is heating up people's enthusiasm for skiing, which benefits SPYDER a lot, as our revenue is rising steadily. We predict that the opening of the Winter Olympics can further ignite consumers' enthusiasm for skiing, and we hope that it will also 'detonate' our sales by then," said Zhang Weicheng, general manager of SPYDER China.
TechnoAlpin, headquartered in Bolzano, Italy, is a global leader in snowmaking equipment with a 60 percent share in the global market. The company has served six of the last eight Winter Olympics and will provide snowmaking equipment and automation systems for Beijing 2022. "We have benefited enormously from the 2022 Olympic Games," said Pierpaolo Salusso, general manager of TechnoAlpin's Zhangjiakou offshoot.
Paolo Bazzoni, chairman of the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce, believes that the boom in winter sports provides opportunities for Italian brands to increase their offerings in the Chinese market.
"It is foreseeable that the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in China and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy will deepen the friendly exchanges between the two countries while promoting the development of tourism, education and other industries," Bazzoni said.
"As more customers are turning from thrill-seeking tyros to true-hearted enthusiasts, the future development of China's winter sports industry definitely has rosy prospects," Wang said. ■