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Olympics Chinese ski simulator chain reaps winter sports buzz – Reuters

SHANGHAI, Dec 23 (Reuters) – The announcement in 2015 that Beijing had won the 2022 Winter Olympics sparked an idea in Shanghai entrepreneur Ye Kai’s mind.

That was realized in 2018 when he opened a store centred on an indoor alpine simulator, basically a supersized treadmill to train snowboarders and skiers. Teaming up with partners from Austria and Italy, he hoped to attract Chinese urbanites looking for a taste of the slopes.

His chain Snow51 now has 23 outlets in high-end shopping malls in cities including Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. It is one of many homegrown winter sports businesses that have sprung up since China was awarded the Winter Olympics. They hope the enthusiasm persists beyond the games in February.

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At the time, Beijing set a goal of getting 300 million citizens involved in winter sports and building more than 500 ice skating rinks as well as 240 ski slopes by the start of the games.

« It gave us a lot of confidence, because the Olympic spirit is the spirit to promote sports, » Ye said.

« Local governments gave us access to introduce winter sports at schools, invited us to work with them to set some industry standards and even granted us some financial support, » he said.

Ye is targetting urban Chinese who are curious about skiing and snowboarding but deterred by the training needed and the travel required to visit the slopes.

Snow51’s store locations mean that members can ski 365 days a year, at a cost of up to 30,888 yuan ($4,850) for an annual pass that allows them to take up to two classes a day, he said. The shops also sell food, drinks and clothing from outdoor sports brands such as Helly Hansen and Salomon.

He hopes to expand to more than 300 stores in the next five years, and is also looking to launch apparel and equipment lines to break into an industry dominated by foreign brands.

One typical member is 30-year-old snowboarder Mark He, who said training at Snow51 sharpened his skills.

« What’s special about training in shopping malls is that it catches the eye of onlookers, and it could never happen at a gym … if you ski well, it feels pretty cool, » He said.

Six-year-old Li Wenxuan skies and snowboards at a Snow51 outlet six times a week. She now dreams of becoming a professional athlete, her mother Li Tianqing said.

« She is super excited about the Winter Games and has been talking a lot at home about her desire to participate. »

($1 = 6.3689 Chinese yuan)

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Reporting by Winni Zhou and Brenda Goh; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.