Nepal may be the gateway to the highest peaks in the world, but on the difficult to access slopes of the Himalayas they are a rare sight: skiers. At most in Kuri, a village at 3.200 meters above sea level, you could count on people on two boards or a snowboard in the past few months: Here, about six jeep hours from Kathmandu, the Ski and Snowboarding Foundation Nepal NFSS operates the “ first ski area in the country ”- and with the simplest of means: in 2019 a 60-meter-long rope lift was built, which makes it easy to climb up an unprepared snow field to the Kalichnok mountain. Sherpas, trekking guides and tourism students learn the basics of alpine sports here. They are taught by German and Austrian teachers.

At the very beginning: Nepal has many mountains, but hardly any winter sports enthusiasts.

In Kuri, however, it's not just about having a little fun in the snow, it's also about building up winter sports expertise, says ski instructor Julius Seidenader: “Nepal could establish itself as a destination for ski tourers and splitboarders. The many 5.000, 6.000 and 7.000 offer perfect conditions and open a completely new season for Nepalese tourism. ”Initial feasibility studies had shown that ski resorts in Nepal could also be realized, but massive investments - including in snow-making systems - would be necessary. Therefore, the focus is initially on teaching the sport itself: So far, around 900 Nepalese have participated in ski and snowboard training, said Seidenader, "200 have come back and around 30 schoolchildren are being trained as ski instructors".

On all continents

One can only smile about the humble beginnings of Nepal in the largest ski region in the world, the Alps. According to Laurent Vanat, editor of the international report on snow and mountain tourism 2019, more than 10.000 lifts in the Alpine countries (Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Slovenia) ensure the comfortable summit transport of millions of alpine athletes. A good third of the 2.100 ski resorts worldwide are located here - these are ski resorts with more than four ski lifts - and 44 percent of the 350 million ski days annually are also consumed here. America is the second largest market. Around 21 percent of all ski days are mainly spent in North American ski areas such as Vail (Colorado) or Whistler Blackcomb (British Columbia).

Interview with Laurent Vanat, consultant

Alpine ambition

According to Laurent Vanat, an expert in winter tourism, ski infrastructure in new markets often develops faster than the necessary ski culture.

But globetrotters can choose from a variety of exotic ski destinations. Because there are slopes on all continents. 67 countries, from Australia to Japan to Cyprus, have at least one outdoor ski area with snow and lift. India's best-known winter sports resort, Gulmarg, located in the Kashmir region on the border with Pakistan, offers a gondola lift to Mount Apharwat. This takes you to 3.980 meters above sea level, making Gulmarg one of the highest ski areas in the world. In North Africa, more precisely 70 kilometers from Marrakech, alpine sport is no stranger: Morocco's traditional ski area Oukaïmeden in the Atlas Mountains includes ten kilometers of slopes and seven lifts - including a Doppelmayr chairlift. Ski tourists will also find something between the Sea of ​​Marmara and Central Anatolia in more than 30 ski areas in Turkey - the best is the winter sports resort Erciyes near Kayseri, which offers 55 kilometers of slopes, including the longest runs in the country, on the slopes of a volcano. And because of the reversed seasons, Argentina and Chile have long been popular training centers for ski and snowboard teams.

There were also lifts in Algeria, Bolivia and Colombia, but these were closed due to civil war, melting glaciers and a lack of interest - nevertheless ski tours are possible in these countries. In mountainous Afghanistan, an elevator was put into operation again in 2019 - after a break of 40 years. As in Nepal, it was only a small rope lift, but this made the local ski community in the Bamiyan province easier to climb and also gave it plenty of media attention.

In another 14 countries, including Bhutan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Kenya, Peru and Nicaragua, there are mountains on which skiing, according to the snow tourism report, would at least be technically possible. If you add the range of indoor and dry ski slopes, the list of winter sports resorts even extends to desert states like Dubai or Egypt or flat countries like the Netherlands. You could ski in around a hundred countries - even if the commercial potential is often very manageable.

Rising Star

Alpine know-how from Austria can be found in many small and large ski areas. For example, the Tyrolean entrepreneur Roderich Urschler helped build Afri-Ski in the Kingdom of Lesotho a five-hour drive from Johannesburg in the 2000s: the small resort (1,8 km of slopes) provides a little slope magic in southern Africa, the technical equipment comes from Austria . The ATC Austrian Tourism Consultants from Vienna again brought heli-skiing to Georgia, planned slopes for the Olympic Winter Games in Russia and created master plans for mountain resorts in Turkey. As is well known, the Doppelmayr cable cars from Vorarlberg are used worldwide: they transport alpine athletes to summits in Argentina, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan or Turkey. Skidata from Salzburg has implemented access systems for ski areas from Georgia to Japan to Argentina.

Vanat estimates the size of the global winter sports market at “around one hundred billion euros per year”. In terms of development potential, one country in particular is considered a beacon of hope: China. Hopefully, the fact that China's premiere as a venue for a Ski World Cup (in Yanqing) had to fall into the water in February 2020 due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic can only be seen as a temporary damper to a rather dynamic development: There was still in the 1980s in the People's Republic there are only a few slopes that were built by ski racers primarily for training purposes. Interest in skiing gained momentum when Yabuli in Heilongjiang Province hosted the Asian Winter Games 1996 was chosen. In addition to the infrastructure necessary for the games, ski slopes began to develop around big cities. And since Beijing won the bid to host the 2015 Winter Olympics in 2022, ski resorts and indoor ski halls have sprung up in almost all provinces. The China Ski Industry White Book, an annual inventory of the ski industry, already reported 2019 indoor and outdoor ski areas in 742. In the Greater Beijing area alone there are more than 20 ways to slide and wag.

Active in China

Martin Glatz,
Business delegate in Beijing

The majority, however, are probably practice areas and snow parks, in which Skinovizen snows past for a few enjoyable hours. Vanat says that around a dozen resorts such as Beidahu, Cuiyunshan, Fulong or Wanlong are “real ski areas”: in addition to slopes and lifts, they also offer accommodation.

Martin Glatz, WKO business delegate in Beijing, explains that "Austrian companies have established themselves well in China's very young winter sports industry", for example in lifts, access systems and snow-making systems. According to Glatz, ski resorts with a lot of equipment “Made in Austria” are the Vanke Lake Songhua Resort in the northeast near the city of Jilin and the Genting Resort Secret Garden in Hebei, one of the venues for the Winter Games.

Austrian Winter Sports Days
Every year the Beijing Foreign Trade Center organizes the Austrian Winter Sports Days, including ski races. This year, however, the corona virus led to the cancellation.

Doppelmayr has been active in China since the 1990s and has a branch near Beijing. "China is a very important market for the Doppelmayr / Garaventa Group," spokeswoman Julia Schwärzler explains. The company is building nine cable car facilities in the Yanqing National Alpine Ski Center and has already built a total of 30 facilities in Chinese ski areas. Sunkid also offers climbing aids that are primarily intended for beginners: The Tyrolean company produces conveyor belts for people, so-called "magic carpets", and according to spokesman Michael Peinter, has implemented around 20 projects in China, "especially in resorts with an international focus and one certain demands in terms of quality and security. ”China is also an important market for Axess, a ticketing and digital access pass specialist from Salzburg, which is serviced directly from Beijing and Shanghai: Axess has already equipped twelve ski resorts.

Chinese skiers are also attractive for domestic ski brands, especially “The Big Four” (Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer and Head), even if the market is still small. “Around 25.000 to 30.000 pairs of Austrian brands or Austrian production are sold to Alpine skis every year in China. This is currently a manageable amount, but the market is developing very positively and is growing rapidly, ”says Wolfgang Mayrhofer, Atomic boss and spokesman for the ski industry. The expected dynamic distinguishes China from other emerging markets such as India, Chile or Argentina, in which only a few thousand pairs of skis are sold each year. In China, according to Mayrhofer, the sales volume should be around 2023 to 250.000 pairs of skis by 300.000, and a good half of them could be labeled with Austrian brand names. In the case of Atomic, it is already a Chinese company: Atomic parent Amer was taken over by Chinese investors in March 2019.

Learning by skiing

By the way, the ski producers launched the Austria Snow Case 2022 project for a stronger positioning in the People's Republic. In the medium term, a thousand Chinese ski instructors are to be trained as part of the project, which is supported by the WKO and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Especially in countries where winter sports have no strong cultural roots, the basis must first be created: regular and enthusiastic skiers. Even a major event such as the Olympic Games is no guarantee of hustle and bustle on the slopes, warns Vanat: "The Winter Games in South Korea 2018 did not provide any positive impulses for the ski industry, and the number of visitors to the ski areas is falling."

In the medium term, China's Olympic bid promised to get 300 million people excited about winter sports, including 120 million skiers. Considering around 130 million skiers worldwide, this is an ambitious goal. After all, today China - after the USA and Germany - is the third strongest nation in the world with 13,2 million skiers and snowboarders.

Photos: Doppelmayr / Garaventa, NFSS, WKO (2)