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Poma

THE SECRET OF CHANGBAI MOUNTAIN

Thursday 12 February 2015

The Changbai Mountains in north-eastern China are set among the forests of Jilin province. The region's continental climate results in severe winters suitable for skiing and other tourism activities – only two hours' flight from Beijing!

THE SECRET OF CHANGBAI MOUNTAIN

We will start with the most recent of the region's resorts, Changbaishan. Developed by the Wanda group – whose activities focus mainly on real estate, tourism, hotels and leisure services – the resort only opened in 2011. Despite the site's obvious newness, it offers a complete and well thought-out tourism product.
The tourism concept of Changbaishan is based on a service-oriented village, a range of property types and a challenging ski area. Ice sculptures are the identifying feature of the resort: you find them everywhere you go during the day – and at night too, when they are lit up. Access to Changbaishan is by direct bus service from the airport (12 km). The bus makes a circuit to drop visitors off at the different sites making up the resort.
关心顾客之所想
The centre of the village is a small square occupied by a few locals; pedestrian streets swept clear of snow lead away from the square, with market stalls for tourists. Some of the businesses in the village have been launched by the Wanda group, such as the cinema, but other companies have also opened branches in this new destination. There are plenty of services for non-skiers: massage parlour, shopping centre, souvenir shops and restaurants to suit every pocket, not least the standard-bearers of American fast food!

雪道及其高档次配置

 

Customer services

The real estate properties are located around the edge of this central pedestrian precinct. There are nine hotels of different levels (four 5-star, two 4-star and three 3-star) including Sheraton, Westin and Holiday Inn to name but three. You can also find simpler accommodation: the resort offers a wide range of apartments as well as 200 chalets.
Before describing the ski area, we will mention the almost obligatory call of all Chinese tourists when they visit a ski-resort: equipment hire. On entering the huge equipment-hire building, you can start by warming up on ski-trainers in the hall, next to the bar and lounge areas, before you go down to the lower level: your magnetic tag entitles you to a locker and allows you to fit yourself out from head to toe – literally, because a helmet is included! The management has made helmet use compulsory since last season. You can also hire skis, boots, sticks and clothing.
Once you are kitted out, it is only a few metres' walk to the snow outside. The altitude of the pistes ranges from 870 to 1,210 m. The backbone of the ski area is the first leg of the Poma cable-car, which takes you to the top of the slopes. The second leg serves the other slope, not visible from the resort. The two legs of the cable-car meet at the summit. There are also five high-speed, slow-boarding chairlifts, some fitted with bubbles, to serve the ski area, which consists of 5 green runs, 9 blue and… 10 black (equivalent to black and red runs in Europe). There are no drag lifts at Changbaishan. The two nursery slope areas, which have moving carpets for beginners and their instructors, offer wide pistes with a very gentle slope ending at the resort. They are strictly separated from the main pistes.
This safe environment is necessary to cater to the large number of beginners rushing to try their skills on the nursery slopes.

Customer services

 

Top of the range skiing and infrastructure

While the resort offers two large areas reserved for beginners and ski-schools, competent skiers will find that the rest of the pistes offer a fairly challenging ski area. Besides, the general level of the skiers is by no means what you would expect in a beginners' resort. The fact that 3 of the 4 snow-groomers (Prinoth) are fitted with winches serves to confirm the relatively high standard of skiing. The area is completed by a halfpipe, a sine qua non for all ski areas which aspire to a certain standing! The resort is also equipped with a network of artificial snow machines, mainly Demac-Lenko, TechnoAlpin and SMI Snowmakers. (In 2013, 700,000 m3 of water were needed to keep the pistes covered with snow to a depth of around 50 cm).
Beginners are the centre of attention at the resort: there are 200 instructors to teach the rudiments of skiing (and snowboarding!). And this attention pays off, as customers quickly develop loyalty to the resort. Phil Chengand, who was then general manager, found proof of this when he recognised some customers who had come from Shangai (a 5-hour flight) last year, and returned this season with their wives and children!
Other forms of snow sports are being considered for the other slope: a large format luge run – a sort of alpine coaster – should come into service shortly, once it has received regulatory approval, for summer use. Starting from the resort, tourists will use the two legs of the cable-car in order to speed down the other side, where a chairlift will bring them back up from the long descent – with their luges. This attraction should boost use of the back slope, which is considerably less frequented in both winter and summer.
Changbaishan resort reports 150,000 skier days, with an average stay of around three days… but the most important thing is that visitors spend around 1,200 RMB per day, not including equipment hire! Because there is more to Changbaishan than its ski area, which is matched by the facilities in a large number of other resorts. In the eyes of foreign tourists, what makes the site special is not its ski area but all the other activities!

Top of the range skiing and infrastructure

 

Simply sliding…

According to the resort's management, "visitors do not just come for the skiing"; 20% of the tourists using the resort are non-skiers. And in Changbaishan, they are perhaps the most spoilt group. We have talked about the accommodation and the ski area, but there is no lack of leisure activities for those who neither ski nor snowboard. First of all, there is a large theatre offering a show which tells the legendary story of the lake; then there is the cinema opened by the Wanda group.
And only a short way from the resort there is an entertainment park which invites non-skiing families and couples to come and enjoy the simple pleasures of snow and sliding. On the programme: rubber ring toboggan runs, tubing, games based on golf, bobsleighs, with or without motors, for skating across the ice, remote-controlled swing seats, quads, luge runs, sleigh rides drawn by horse or reindeer, ski-bob rides, animals to admire and feed, and houses and a maze all built of snow! And there are monitors for every activity. You will catch yourself feeling as excited as any of the children as you move from one activity to another! What will the next attraction be?!
Also dotted around the park are the resort's trademark ice statues, which are lit up at night. In this park, the Chinese come to discover the simple pleasures of snow and ice, and of sliding, long forgotten by our sometimes blasé western clientele. And everything is designed to provide easy access to these activities: in most cases entry for children is included in the price of the hotel room. And it is not only Chinese customers that you find in this snowy recreation park: whole families, with children and teenagers, come from South Korea and Russia to enjoy the simple pleasures of sliding (Vladivostok is "only" 6 hours away by bus…).
Are you tired of the resort and all its forms of sport or amusement? The region, set in the heart of the Changbai Mountain nature reserve, offers the tourist other discoveries! If you head out on the road towards northern China, crossing the taiga with its unique forest, patient nature-lovers will be rewarded by the sight Tianchi Lake (the Lake of Paradise). This jewel is well worth a visit, lying as it does at an altitude of 2,600 m in the crater of a volcano! It would seem hard to reach, but the Chinese tourist industry offers several successful products to take you there.
A huge building down in the valley welcomes the large numbers of tourists who come to seek clean air and a return to nature, together with their private vehicles or buses! A wide screen slide show displays the magnificent panoramas promised to visitors. In one corner a souvenir shop waits discreetly for hesitant stragglers to be convinced by the views at the last minute. No equipment? Or not warm enough? No problem! The shop has hats and gloves for sale, and you can even hire snowshoes!

Simply sliding…

 

Climbing the Changbai waterfall

Once you have your ticket in your pocket, the first part of the climb is in a bus which takes tourists to whichever of the many viewpoints they have chosen to visit.
For the less adventurous, the first attraction lies far below the summit: a well-maintained path on the theme of wood follows the side of a dell – the bottom remains invisible... A broad wooden platform overlooks a small frozen lake beneath a cascade of ice. (No doubt the place lives up to its name better in summer – Green Deep Lake.) It is an obligatory photo stop for whole families and couples alike! If you are feeling a little more daring, you can climb to the top of the Changbai waterfall. After a few more minutes on the bus, warmly dressed and shod, the beautiful view will quickly make you forget the cold. As you climb the perfectly signed stages of the path to the waterfall, garnished with illustrations and commentaries, you will not even notice the gradient.
Children are delighted by the little snow houses along the path leading to the first hot springs (Hotspring Foot Spa Zone). This is the first stop, and the first sign of subterranean volcanic activity. The water from these thermal springs can reach 83°C; it is rich in trace elements and recognised for its therapeutic benefits.
A little further on – patience, it is only another 900 metres to the waterfall – is the Julong hot spring with similarly beneficial waters. They are well-known for their therapeutic properties – and are also useful for boiling eggs! The sulphur-laden atmosphere reminds you at every step that you are on the slopes of a volcano; so do the vivid colours of the bed of the spring, conjured up by the algae and bacteria which proliferate in the sulphurous waters. Gathering Dragon Springs is the final stop before you see the Changbai waterfall at the head of the valley. A few metres more up a windy, snow-swept ramp in increasingly wild surroundings, and the roar of the waterfall reaches your ears. Because it is partly frozen, from a distance it appears fixed. It is only as you come closer that you can make out the falling water of the majestic cascade.
Climbing the Changbai waterfall

 

Contemplating Tianchi Lake

But the most beautiful sight is yet to come – the craggy heights of the crater. A short bus ride brings you to an intermediate visitor centre, where you must buy another ticket. The long winding queues are reminiscent of the entertainment park. The summer season seems certain to be very busy, witness the dozens of 4x4 vehicles waiting to take visitors up to the crater. The ride up the sharply zig-zagging track takes a quarter of an hour in these off-road vehicles, driven "enthusiastically" by the local staff. At the top, there is another visitor centre, set in desert surroundings. Not far away is a military base. Curiosity to see the volcano is overwhelming. In winter, hat and gloves are essential as you set out on a well-made path which winds up through the snow to the rim of the crater... If the landscape up to now has been magnificent, what words can describe the sight that meets your eyes as you approach the lip? In the heart of the volcano, the crater walls plunge down into a huge, frozen natural lake! Wrapped up warmly as you are, your first impulse is to follow the edge of the crater to get obtain views of the scene from different angles, but this desire is swiftly quenched by a particular feature of the site: you are standing in a limited space whose boundaries are strictly controlled, because you are only a few metres from the North Korean border! (Changbai Mountain and its lake are actually cut by the frontier.) The images of the site in summer projected onto the screen in the first visitor centre show that the view in July and August is very different – but just as impressive! The drive back down in your 4x4 vehicle will do nothing to efface this unique moment overlooking the lake. Therein lies the whole magic of Changbai Mountain...

 

Dossier conducted by Mickaël Frottier

 

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