TAIZICHENG, China (AFP) – High on a barren mountainside, a red flag marks the spot where China hopes ski jumpers will launch themselves to glory at the 2022 Winter Olympics. But hosting the Games would require a giant leap of its own.
For now, the bitterly cold valley is home to Taizicheng, a sleepy community of about 100 houses where traditional Chinese music drifts on the biting wind. On the opposite hillside — where biathletes would race and shoot — peasants weighed down by loads of firewood are the only sign of life.
According to Beijing’s bid document, the site would see 30 gold medals decided in the nordic skiing events, and become the base for a bustling Olympic village, complete with a newly erected bullet train station.
Six months ahead of the International Olympic Committee making its decision, Beijing 2022 has emerged as the front-runner in the race after a string of European cities withdrew, leaving it facing off against only the Kazakhstan city of Almaty.
The Chinese capital has financial muscle and the kind of political support that only a one-party state can provide, and officials say public backing is overwhelming.
But the country has few top-class facilities for outdoor events, little snow in the bid area, and even less of a tradition in winter sports.
Only about one metre of snow falls annually in the mountains north of Beijing, leaving an average depth of 21 centimetres (8 inches) in Zhangjiakou, the city which includes Taizicheng, and just over five centimetres (two inches) in Yanqing, where the alpine skiing events would be held.
“I think from a natural conditions point of view this is definitely not the best place to have a big winter activity, at least for snow sports,” said Fabio Ries, the general manager of the nearby Dolomiti Mountain Resort.
But officials have outlined a bold plan to carve world-class skiing facilities into desolate mountainsides and weave a bullet train system through the rugged terrain — and they claim to be confronting the notorious smog of China’s northern rustbelt.
According to the bid document, if Beijing wins a new resort will be built on Yanqing’s Xiaohaitou mountain, including a piste with a vertical drop of 830 metres, just scraping in over the International Ski Federation’s minimum for a top-class men’s downhill race.
It will have an elaborate artificial snow-making system and be a tourist destination “on a par with Tokyo’s Fuji”, said Beijing planning official Ma Jinghua.