The subtropical city of Guangzhou is hot all year round. Here, the temperature rarely falls below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
But indoors, they’ve built a winter wonderland.
Sunac Snow Park, located in hot and humid southern China, is the world’s second-largest indoor ski resort, measuring over 800,000 square feet. That’s equivalent to seven soccer fields.
Despite the hot weather—or perhaps because of it—there’s an appetite here for winter sports. The Chinese government has been heavily investing in facilities around the country ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
Its goal is to build 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022, and to get 300 million people involved in winter sports.
But it’s a steep hill to climb. Only about 12 million people, less than 1% of the population, have tried skiing at least once, according to a 2017 white paper.
At Sunac Snow Park, that much is apparent. The beginners’ slope is the most crowded, packed with skiers lined up tip to tip. For many of them, it’s their first time trying the sport.
Indoor skiing dates back almost a century to 1927, when a Norwegien ski jumper named Dagfinn Carlsen opened the world’s first ski dome in an abandoned train station in Vienna.
It was built on a wooden ramp and took up about 32,000 square feet. There was no lift back then, and skiers had to walk up to the top themselves.
Since then, indoor ski resorts have popped up around the world, including in Dubai, where the punishingly hot desert climate means the average summer high is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoors, the ski resort maintains a temperature of about 32 degrees.
But few countries are as resort-crazy as China, which owns about a quarter of the world’s indoor ski resorts. The largest is in Harbin, at over 860,000 square feet, an even larger one is being planned for Shanghai.
“In the past two years, I’ve noticed more people, especially in the south, doing winter sports,” says Daiyu, a skier at Sunac Snow Park. “People in the north have already been doing a lot of winter sports, but they’re also doing more, and since the country is trying to promote winter sports, they’re funding a lot of facilities and venues.”