By Zhang Yueshan
BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhua) -- For 76-year-old Zhang Baohua, skiing has been a daily routine during the snowy season in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for six years.
For Zhang, who lives in Changji, it's a 90-minute drive from home to the Xinjiang Silk Road ski resort, where he has become something of an icon, known well to all of the resort staff and to his fellow skiers.
Zhang took up skiing after his son bought him a new set of equipment. Skiing has since become the favorite outing for Zhang's family at weekends.
Zhang's family is among the many families who are beginning to spend more of their spare time on winter sports in the northwestern region. Xinjiang, which boasts areas of both ice and snow, has stepped into the fast lane in terms of developing its winter sports.
In an echo of China's overarching ambition to encourage 300 million people in the country to participate in winter sports ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Xinjiang Sports Administration has taken measures to provide a better environment for people in the region to partake in winter sports. During the 2017 spring festival, tourist visits to the Silk Road Resort reached 42,000, a year-on-year increase of 30 percent.
Xinjiang has also been making efforts in winter sports infrastructure construction, with projects to build venues for ski jumping, cross-country skiing and freestyle skiing. Xinjiang is also planning to host a winter sports meeting for teenagers called Stars of the Future, in a bid to stimulate youngsters' interest in and passion for winter sports.
As the main venue for the 2017 edition of Stars of the Future, China's northeast province of Heilongjiang has always been one of the main forces behind winter sports in China. Stars of the Future attracted 37 delegations from different provinces and regions in China this year.
"I have never seen such heavy snow before. It is freezing here, but it is so much fun," said Zhang Yang, a youth from Wenzhou in southeastern China's southeast Zhejiang Province.
Sports officials say they have high hopes for competitions like Stars of the Future.
"Stars of the Future is a great platform to encourage children to take up winter sports," said Liu Fumin, director for youth sports at China's State General Administration of Sports.
More winters sports curricula is also set to be introduced into schools in the Chinese capital, a task that is especially important given the fact that Beijing is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics along with nearby Zhangjiakou.
"Winter sports in schools had their day years ago in Beijing, but by 2022 we will bring it back to schools," said Wang Jun, an official with the Beijing Municipal Education Commission.
China plans to have more than 2,000 schools that feature winter sports prominently by the year 2020, and over 5,000 by the year 2025. This blueprint is not only meant to be carried out in developed areas, but also intends to plant seeds in underdeveloped and remote areas.
Kangle is little-known village in western China's Qinghai province. Locals can often be seen skiing at local resorts, as was the case on the fifth day of the Chinese lunar New Year holiday. A group of cousins enjoyed the slopes together, with the eldest brother continually slipping on the ground over and over again, much to the amusement of his family members. One of the six cousins, 19-year-old Guo Nina, has been skiing for three years. She is quite agile on the snow, and is always happy to show off her skills.
"There are more winter sports places popping up in recent years, which has provided us with new places to go for our family gatherings," said Guo.
Youngsters are not the only group of people who are enjoying winter sports in China's rural areas. 45-year-old Li Ruyong from Gansu province took his family on a vacation at Kangle resort, and says it caused some great childhood memories to come back.
"When I was a child, we had nothing to do during winter, the only thing that we could do for fun was to ski on a shovel. Now that I am skiing again, this deja vu makes me feel much younger," said Li.
Kangle has become a place for people from Gansu, Sichuan, Ningxia and other nearby provinces to take to the slopes and create their own memories. "We had about 2,600 visitors everyday during the spring festival, 1,000 more visitors than last year," said Liu Pingli, vice general manager of Kangle ski resort.
China's sports governing bodies say they are willing to go the distance and take responsibility in order to get more people to take part in winter sports.
"We will work hard to carry out the five-year (2016-2020) plan on public fitness, and pledge efforts to introduce winter sports to the public," said Liu Guoyong, director for public sports at the country's sport governing body.
China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has mapped out a detailed plan to consolidate a mass base of support for winter sports. More skating rinks and ski resorts will be built, more winter sports schools will be established and more courses will be opened.
The push for development of winter sports infrastructure is not only limited to China's colder provinces. Guizhou in southwestern China will also build more indoor skating rinks and outdoor ski resorts, according to Song Guoqiang, deputy director of the Guizhou Sports Bureau.
Above all, more people taking part in winters sports means more talent at the professional level.
Yang Yang, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the first Chinese Winter Olympic champion, believes that mass participation will help spread Olympism and help China become competitive in international competitions.
"We made a commitment to bring 300 million people into the fold of winter sports in our bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. We are now on the right path, but the task will take patience, hard work and require the whole society to collaborate," said Yang.