Beijing's Winter Olympics bid fires public's imagination

Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics has driven public enthusiasm for winter sports to new heights, boosting the business of outdoor rinks and snow carnivals in the capital.

With most of the giant stadiums in North China sitting idle in winter, 2008 Olympic venues in Beijing such as the landmark Bird's Nest stadium are filled with crowds enjoying winter sports activities, thanks to the publicity surrounding Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics bid.

At the Bird's Nest stadium, officially known as the National Stadium, more than 3,000 visitors attended the first day of the sixth Happy Ice and Snow Carnival on Jan 10 to enjoy 11 kinds of winter sports recreation, including skating, skiing and children's sledding.

Although a new 110-meter-long artificial ski slope has opened to the south of the stadium this year, the venue is still hard pressed to cater for the growing number of visitors.

"We've expanded our carnival site with more skiing areas this year, but we were almost over capacity during the first weekend," Li Zhiqun, assistant general manager of the National Stadium, told China Daily on last Monday.

"It's really a sweet headache," Li said. "We have to continue enlarging our activity areas with more investment and better design to feed the public's soaring demand for ice and snow entertainment."

Initiated at the renovated Olympic venue in 2009, the carnival has gained public recognition as an outdoor winter sports destination in downtown Beijing, attracting more than 1 million visitors.

It has also landed a series of high-end competitions such as the International Ski Federation Freestyle Skiing World Cup and the Air and Style Snowboarding Contest.

"This year we expect visitor numbers will drastically surpass last year's figure of 150,000, thanks to the city's Winter Olympics bid," Li said.

The carnival opens from 10 am to 9 pm every day with an adult ticket costing 120 yuan ($19) on weekdays and 160 yuan on weekends. Children under 1.2 meters tall enjoy free admission.

Other venues have developed urban rinks and ski facilities to meet the growing appetite for winter sports such as the MasterCard Center, formerly known as the Wukesong Arena.

Bloomage International Investment Group, owner of the MasterCard Center, which hosted the 2008 Olympic basketball tournament, introduced Iceworld Sports Land, a skating festival originating in the Netherlands, in early December, featuring a 15,000-square-meter skating park outside the venue.

Iceworld includes a 1,800 sq m main outdoor rink, a 600 sq m bumper-car rink and a 10 m high ice slide, which all feature Dutch ice-making technology that can maintain operation in temperatures up to 30 C. The rinks are mobile. They can be taken apart and reassembled in other locations.

The first day saw 2,600 skaters visit the site, which has a capacity of 900. Tickets cost 80 yuan for a 90-minute session.

"The crowds here show that the Chinese people are getting more interested in winter sports with Beijing bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, opening a huge market for us," said Tan Juhua, manager of Iceworld in Beijing.

Wilhelmus Hoeks, the founder and chairman of Ice World International, is confident about business prospects in China.

"It's a huge opportunity with so many people not used to skating in China but beginning to be interested," said Hoeks.

The Worker's Stadium in east Beijing, better known for hosting football matches, has also geared up to enjoy the surge of interest in winter sports by staging a snow festival for the second consecutive year on its adjacent 30,000 sq m frozen artificial lake.

The event offers winter recreation options such as dog sledding, snowball fights and ice lantern shows.

To offer amateurs advanced facilities and coaching, the winter sports administrative centre of China opened in December a 3,600 sq m outdoor rink, the largest in Beijing, outside the Capital Gymnasium, where the national short-track speed skating team trains.

"These accessible festival events offer the public winter sports recreation on their doorstep and demonstrate mass participation in winter sports, which is crucial for our bid for the 2022 Olympics," said Zhao Yinggang, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee.