Alpine ski hills wooing Chinese tourists

    Ski resorts from Switzerland to Austria are drawing in a new flock of Chinese winter sports fans.
    Ski resorts from Switzerland to Austria are drawing in a new flock of Chinese winter sports fans. Photo: Jason Wang
    Jason WangAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    He Yunxia recently visited Schladming Resort in Ski Amadé, the largest ski area in Austria, where she embraced the joy of skiing for the second time. Amid the picturesque slopes, lively après-ski gatherings, and delightful Austrian cuisine — the 36-year-old Chinese tourist and fellow novice Chinese skiers revelled in the unforgettable experience.

    “I was fortunate to ski at Schladming ski resort in Ski Amadé, because of its modern facilities, a vibrant skiing atmosphere, and stunning views of the Alps,” He says.

    Alpine destinations like Ski Amade are benefitting from a growing enthusiasm for winter sports in China.

    In its 2015 bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, China pledged to raise the number of people taking part in winter sports to 300 million. In fact, the National Bureau of Statistics says more than 346 million Chinese have taken up winter sports since the Games.

    The number of skiers in China has risen fast. Ski resorts in China recorded 19.83 million visits in 2022/23, a 66 percent increase compared to the 11.95 million visits in 2014/15, according to the China Ski Industry White Book.

    Snowy delights at Schladming Resort#

    “What sets it [Schladming ski resort] apart from other resorts is the presence of practice slopes on the mountains themselves, allowing me to experience the thrill of skiing while admiring the majestic snow-capped peaks and observing fellow skiers. This unique feature distinguishes Schladming from many other resorts that have practice slopes located at the base of the mountains,” He says.

    One aspect of skiing in Austria that she liked was the cuisine, which suited her Chinese palate. "There are many pork dishes and soups. In fact, for us, it’s like noodle soup,” she says.

    He believes ski resorts in Austria offer value for money compared to ski resorts in France and Switzerland. “This budget-friendly aspect makes it an attractive choice for Chinese skiers,” she adds.

    Exploring other alpine destinations#

    Chinese tourists often visit Ski Amadé, a region named after Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, when exploring Salzburg, says Emanuel Lehner-Telic, head of Asia-Pacific markets at the Austrian National Tourist Office.

    Lehner-Telic highlights Zell am See as a popular destination with Chinese visitors. It boasts scenic lakes, majestic mountains, snowy landscapes, and quaint village charm, offering an idyllic Alpine experience, he says.

    With over 80 ski regions, including five glacier regions, the Austrian state of Tirol has much to offer Chinese visitors, says Elena Protopopow, market leader of Chinese market at Tyrol Tourism Board.

    “Chinese interest in the winter product in Tyrol has increased in recent years,” she says. “However, it’s not just the outdoor activities that draw visitors to our regions; it’s also the abundance of indoor facilities, alpine huts, and our delicious traditional cuisine.”

    Austria welcomed 1 million Chinese travelers in 2019, the Austrian National Tourist Office said.

    The Oetztal valley, located in the Austrian state of Tyrol, is emerging as an appealing option, offering an international atmosphere, year-round skiing opportunities, and rejuvenating spa activities.

    Emma Boutwell, international market manager for the Oetztal Tourism Board, responsible for tourism promotion at the resort and in Soelden and Gurgl, shares that Oetztal offers diverse adventures and landscapes with three 3,000-meter tall peaks within the ski area — along with two glacier ski resorts. This means the winter season can span from October until May.

    The Aqua Dome in Oetztal. Photo: Oetztal Tourism Board
    The Aqua Dome in Oetztal. Photo: Oetztal Tourism Board

    Diverse winter experiences#

    The Alps appeals to Chinese visitors seeking a multifaceted winter holiday experience. This includes skiing adventures, fine dining, cultural exploration through museums, and rejuvenation at upscale spa facilities.

    Boutwell highlights Soelden as particularly appealing to Chinese tourists, with noteworthy attractions including 007 Elements, a James Bond museum atop the mountain, adjacent to the IceQ gourmet restaurant, Austria's highest awarded restaurant. Additionally, the Aqua Dome in the Oetztal Valley offers a distinctive wellness landscape and a four-star hotel.

    Li Yitao, founder of Mountaineer, a Germany-based travel agency assisting Chinese skiers, says Austria’s Soelden, Switzerland’s Zermatt, and France’s Three Valleys are the most sought-after European ski resorts among Chinese enthusiasts.

    Soelden Ice Q restaurant, Austria. Photo: Jason Wang
    Soelden Ice Q restaurant, Austria. Photo: Jason Wang

    He highlights an increase in Chinese tourists visiting Europe, prompted in part by the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which stimulated interest in skiing, resulting in more beginners hitting the slopes over the past couple of years.

    While many Chinese visitors arrive in the Alps already skilled in skiing, some start learning on European slopes, Li says. The appeal lies in the region’s robust infrastructure, magnificent Alpine scenery, and the classic European skiing lifestyle.

    “As visitors come more frequently, they tend to prefer high-altitude glacier ski resorts. Chinese people come to ski in Europe from afar, wanting to experience the feeling of skiing in the mountains and valleys that cannot be felt elsewhere. But after experiencing it once, they are more inclined to glacier ski resorts, where the snow conditions are more guaranteed,” he adds.

    Swiss appeal#

    Ski resorts in Switzerland are also popular among Chinese visitors.

    Daniela Chiani, greater China director at Switzerland Tourism, says, “The Chinese snow sports community is growing rapidly and hungry to venture out and beyond the known territories of domestic winter sport resorts. We are confident that we will see more and more Chinese skiers and snowboarders on Swiss slopes in the upcoming winters.”

    Chiani emphasizes Switzerland’s position as the cradle of modern winter sports – it boasts over 200 world-famous winter resorts, high-altitude destinations, and top-class infrastructure. This rich offering contributes to Switzerland’s appeal as a premier destination for snow sports enthusiasts worldwide.

    “Safety and comfort are a key factor for Chinese guests and absolutely play a central role in the decision process for a destination,” she adds.

    Currently, Switzerland welcomes most Chinese winter visitors in Zermatt and the Jungfrau region, including Schilthorn and Grindelwald. Chiani highlights these regions are iconic Swiss winter destinations that have been actively marketed to the Chinese market for many years. Notably, the Jungfrau region stands out as an early adopter in the Asian market with its top-tier services tailored especially for Asian guests, she says.

    • He Yunxia's recent ski trip to Austria's Schladming Resort in Ski Amadé illustrates the growing Chinese enthusiasm for winter sports, supported by the country’s bid to involve 300 million citizens in winter sports activities.
    • China has seen a rapid increase in skiing participation, with ski resort visits jumping 66% to 19.83 million in the 2022/23 season from 11.95 million in 2014/15.
    • Schladming's unique mountain-top practice slopes and Austrian cuisine that resonates with Chinese tastes make it a hit among Chinese skiers, who find value for money in Austrian ski resorts.
    • Ski Amadé, alongside other Austrian destinations like Zell am See and the Tyrol state, is gaining traction among Chinese tourists, combining outdoor adventures with cultural and culinary experiences.
    • With a million Chinese visitors in 2019, Austria's robust infrastructure, diverse landscapes, and specialized attractions like Soelden's 007 Elements museum are enhancing its appeal as a prime winter sports destination for the Chinese market.
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