The Altay Mountain Backcountry Ski Park
Shimmering in the sun, the light, powder snow on the 1,400-meter high slope of the Altay Mountains is like diamonds for skiing fanatics. They slide down the hill and draw perfect curves in the air.
Since cave paintings of Stone Age skiers were discovered, Altay Prefecture in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has been regarded as the birthplace of skiing. Local herders still preserve the traditional way of traveling with skis made of pine wood and horse hair.
Today Altay is attracting skiers worldwide with its vast area of natural powder snow, which is prized by skiers.
"It is no less than a winter wonderland for ski fanatics like me," says Tang Zhigang, general manager of the Altay Mountain Backcountry Ski Park.
The park was open in January 2017. It is the first resort in Xinjiang boasting a primitive skiing area without constructed pistes or artificial snow, ideal for off-piste skiing.
Located at a similar latitude to the world famous skiing destinations such as the Alps and Hokkaido in Japan, the park has a natural mountainous landscape and suitable oxygen level. The average annual snow fall in the area ranges from 1.5 meters to 6 meters.
To ensure safety and offer better service, the park has built 30 rescue sites and camp sites.
"This is my first time to ski off-piste. I feel free here," says Liu Zehao, a tourist from east China's Qingdao City.
Since the season began in October 2017, the park has received more than 4,000 skiers not only from China but also the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.
The Skiing industry also provides jobs in remote Altay. Yargyabug Nima, a native of Altay and excellent skier, became a guide in the ski park last year after taking professional training.
"Many of my colleagues were herders before. At that time life was tough in winter when heavy snow cut off traffic. But things have changed a lot since the local government improved the transport and infrastructure," says Yargyabug.
The park is also the first in China with a helicopter service. Each flight costs about 10,000 yuan (about 1,560 U.S. dollars) per person.
"Despite its expensive cost, the service is gaining popularity among skiers. There has been 200 helicopter trips in 2017," says Tang, adding that one more helicopter will serve tourists this year.
Apart from the skiing park, Altay Prefecture has three ski resorts, and two new resorts are under construction.
According to prefecture tourism department, Altay's winter tourism programs received 3 million tourists in 2017, accounting for 19 percent of the tourists received by the prefecture.
(All photos by Li Jing)