BEIJING, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Guo Jun just greeted the New Year in a memorable way: skiing at midnight at one of the venues for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The 34-year-old amateur skier is a frequent visitor to Genting Resort Secret Garden, a popular ski resort where freestyle skiing and snowboarding contests of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be held. He used to drive about three hours from Beijing to the resort. But this time, Guo traveled in a fast way.
A high-speed railway linking Beijing and the Chongli District of neighboring Hebei Province became operational Monday, cutting the travel time from the Chinese capital to the newly-developed ski town to about one hour.
"It saves a lot of time and energy. I'll go skiing there more often," Guo said.
The opening of the high-speed railway supports the rapidly growing ski market. Genting Resort Secret Garden reported surging skier visits on the first day of 2020 over one year ago.
Shu Wen, senior vice president with Genting Resort Secret Garden, said skier visits to the resort increased by about 30 percent on average annually in the past eight years, with a surge in 2015 when the host city of the 2022 Winter Olympics was announced.
"We expect skier visits to soar by 50 percent to 100 percent once there are more high-speed trains traveling between Chongli and Beijing," said Shu.
A report released during the World Winter Sports (Beijing) Expo in October 2019 estimated that about 23.45 million skier visits were made in China during the 2018-2019 ski season, up 21.5 percent over the previous period.
China is expected to see more than 300 million people involved in winter sports by 2022, according to a development plan launched by authorities.
The huge market potential has attracted many players to get involved.
Chinese travel service and social networking platform Mafengwo, which has seen rising searches for ski content on its platform, have launched an array of initiatives including a media snow alliance to collaborate with ski clubs, media organizations and other players to build a sound tourism ecosystem and promote snow culture.
"Ski is more than a sport. Greater growth can be expected when it is co-developed with tourism and culture services," said Wang Bing, who oversees skiing tourism at Mafengwo.
A big challenge facing the ski business in a market such as China is the learning process, as the first ski experience is often disappointing for beginners, according to international ski business and ski resort management consultant Laurent Vanat.
"The industry needs to quickly develop a suitable ski teaching curriculum in order to be able to capture this huge market potential," he said.
Many schools in China, especially those in the west and north, have opened skiing classes. At the same time, training lessons targeting different levels of skiers are popular at ski venues.
Shu said Genting Resort Secret Garden is working with schools in Beijing, Hebei and Shanghai to offer professional ski training, sending coaches to schools and inviting students to ski at the resort.
"I'm committed to skiing for the long run," said Guo, who has taken several lessons. "We now have easier access to skiing services thanks to more venues and high-speed railways. Hopefully the prices for skiing services will gradually fall."