Did Skiing Originate in China?

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Skiing has always been historically linked to Scandinavia, and particularly the country of Norway. Nordic skiing has long been regarded as the earliest type of skiing recognised, and there is lots of historical evidence to back this up. But now this widely held belief is being questioned by the father of Skiing in China, Mr. Shan Zhaojian.

Mr. Zhaojian was the first national ski champion in China, and has been dedicated to the winter sport ever since he began sliding on snow. Now he serves as a national level director of skiing in China, and has dug deep into the origins of skiing in China. With the help of his colleague, Mr. Wang Bo, the pair have collected enough evidence to put forward a claim that the first skiers were actually Chinese.

Now, this may seem a bold claim, given the status of China as a skiing nation. It is not often that you see last minute ski breaks to China advertised, even though there are many ski resorts in the country. The focus of skiing as conventionally been centred on Scandinavia and the European Alps, and in more contemporary times the mountains ranges of North America. But the case for skiing originating in China is put forward with some strength in the book, ‘ The Original Place of Skiing – Altay Prefecture of Xingjiang, China’ published at the beginning of 2011, the high mountain range towering in the west over the Silk Road route of ancient China.

Ancient rock drawings hold the key

Rock drawings of skiers dating back to around 3,500 BC have been discovered in Norway, and an ancient ski thought to be 4,500 years old was found in Sweden. But a relic of skiing was also uncovered to the east of the Ural Mountains in Russia, at a place called Vis. The ski that was dug out of a peat bog there was analysed, and later confirmed to be at least 8,000 years old. This alone is strong evidence against the traditionally held view the first skiers were from the Nordic regions.

But it is rock drawings found in China that lend the most weight to the opinion that the world’s first skiers were from Asia. Carvings in rock have been discovered in the Dundebulake river valley, located within the Altay, sometimes referred to as Altai, region of northwest China. These ancient pictographs depict men sliding on skis, and one even shows a figure with rockered skis and a pair of ski poles in his hands. After analysis of the rock carving by specialists, it was confirmed that the drawings were at least 10,000 years old, and maybe even older.
Skiing in the Altay region

The Altay region of China has a long history of skiing, which has been revived with the newly introduced ‘Ancient Fur Ski Race’ held in January each year, in which all the competitors must use traditional skis and no modern equipment is allowed. The traditional form of skiing stills survives in the remote areas of the Altay Mountains, and many people still use the crude but versatile skis that were used thousands of years ago.

There is no abundance of ski resorts or lifts peppered all over the mountains here though. Still very much an isolated region of Asia, the Altay region has fantastic skiing potential for skiers that want to slide across fresh powder with no-one else in sight. It’s just getting to the top of the mountains that is the problem here.

China as a ski holiday destination

China has been often overlooked as a ski destination, but this situation is changing as more and more ski resorts pop up around the country. The Yabuli Ski Resort, in Heilongjiang Province, is China’s largest dedicated ski area, and has groomed ski runs that total up to around 30 kilometres of skiing and snowboarding terrain. There is something for all levels at Yabuli, and it is the training area most used by the Chinese national skiing teams. Another of China’s best ski resorts in the Alshan Ski Resort, a resort nestled within a forest and often used by the Chines Olympic ski team.

There are also resorts located very close to the capital Beijing. For people living in the city who want to ski on the weekend, the Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort is largest and often regarded as the best ski terrain within easy driving distance of the capital. Another option for skiing near to Beijing is the Beijing Huabei Ski Resort, located just 70 kilometres from the city. This resort is best suited for beginners, and enjoys having the Great Wall of China as its back drop. For something different to the usual European or Canadian ski holidays, consider heading to China for your next ski adventure.

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