Desert creates fun and fortune in Inner Mongolia

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As Li Dongwei skied down a snowy slope, he gazed far away over the vast desert.

"It's unbelievable that the place where I used to enjoy sand sledding has become a ski slope," he said while visiting the desert ski resort for the first time.

Xiangshawan Ski Resort is in Dalad Banner of Ordos City in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The ski resort is part of Xiangshanwan Resort, which opened 18 years ago and has thrived in recent years.

Xiangshawan, literally translated as "Whistling Dune Bay," is in China's seventh-largest desert, the Kubuqi, which covers 18,000 square kilometers.

Nearly 100 people came to the resort for the opening day of the ski season on Sunday.

It has two slopes for beginners and one slope for intermediate-level skiers, as well as an area for people to play in the snow, Wang said.

"Visitors can have fun skiing, driving snowmobiles, and riding camels," said Wang Na, deputy manager of the resort.

"Before Xiangshawan opened, it was just a desert. Few people came here," said Yang Haijun, who now has a stall selling fruit at the entrance of the resort. "But in recent years, more and more tourists have been coming, and the desert has become a popular place."

Summer is the busiest season, and it is necessary to book in advance for a hotel. In summer, tourists enjoy sand sledding, camel rides, and riding motorcycles in the desert. Some tourists also stay overnight to watch the stars.

"I heard about the resort on the Internet, and I am curious about what fun a desert can bring, so my family came here," said Cai Andun from the Philippines, who visited Xiangshawan this summer.

Last year, tourists made about 810,000 trips to the resort, 770,000 of which were in the summer.

Not only has the desert brought fun to tourists, but it has also brought fortune and a better life to locals.

"My family used to grow corn in the village, but now we are managing a beverage store at the resort," said Li Zhengwei, 29, from a local village.

His family only made about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (about 3,000 to 4,500 U.S. dollars) each year in the past, but now, their annual income can reach 100,000 yuan, he said.

"I have bought a new apartment in the city, a car, and still have savings," he added.

In fact, Li's family is just one of the 100 local households to benefit from desert tourism at Xiangshawan, which has created jobs in hotels, restaurants, and other services.

According to the local cultural and tourism office, there were five desert resorts in the banner as of 2016, creating new jobs for more than 1,000 locals last year.

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