Downhill skiing in Shanghai. It sounds ridiculous, but a local development company is investing 300 million yuan (US$36.2 million) to make it possible, with the new trails scheduled to open, naturally, during the sweltering heat of July.
The indoor ski facility will be the second of its kind in China, following in the trail of Largeski of Alps in Shenzhen, a company with a balance sheet as unimpressive as its name.
The new facility will be the second- largest of its kind in the world - second only to an indoor ski area in suburban Tokyo - offering a 40-meter-high hill with trails that run more than 300 meters in length, according to the developer Shanghai Dashun Hokkaido Skiing Co. Ltd.
The company won't say exactly how large the ski area will be, or how many trails it will house, but one local news-paper reported that the new facility will cover an area of 60,000 square meters, with 26,000 square meters reserved for skiing.
The facility will be capable of generating 450 cubic meters of synthetic snow every day of the year, and the developer expects to attract 2,000 people a day.
Foreigners - tourists and expatriates - are the targeted clients, according to project director Gu Rongde.
"There are about 60,000 foreigners in Shanghai, they will be our major customers," he said.
That business plan raises many questions considering the history of Shenzhen's indoor ski area. Alps' major visitors are domestic tourists and skiers from Hong Kong. Foreigners only account for a small part of the company's customer base, according to Qin Xiaozhu, general manager of Alps.
Alps charges a 100-yuan entry fee plus 100 yuan per hour. Despite those charges, which are relatively high for local residents, the two-year-old company is struggling to stay in the black.
The Shanghai venture will charge a 150-yuan entrance fee, but hasn't announced its hourly rate yet.
"It's rare to see snow in Shanghai, so it may be interesting and I would like to have a try," said Jay Xu, a salesman for a local software company. "But the price is too high. I think 50 yuan per hour will be a reasonable charge."
On the tourists' front, Dashun Hok-kaido's Gu said the idea has been warmly received by domestic travel agencies. He said 16 domestic travel agencies have shown interest in the attraction and tickets for a one-month trail run in July are already in short supply.
However, some major local travel agencies surveyed by Shanghai Daily said they were not aware of the project at all.
"We haven't heard of the place," said Wang Zhicheng of Shanghai China International Travel Services Co. Ltd.
Wu Bennan of China Youth Travel Service said her company also hasn't received any information on the new facility.
"Indoor skiing can not be exciting enough because the ski run is limited," said Brett Rodges, an Australian currently touring Shanghai. "If I come just for skiing, I prefer going to China's northeast."
(eastday.com May 2, 2002)