When temperatures head south, winter lovers set off for Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival (哈尔滨国际冰雪节), held every year in China's northwestern Heilongjiang province. Kicking off on January 5, 2011, the upcoming 27th annual festival will be divided into five parts and consist of over 100 activities, as diverse as "snow weddings," an international film festival, Asian Ice Hockey League games, and ice sculpting. Put on by the Heilongjiang provincial government, the China National Tourism Administration and the Harbin municipal government, this year's festival straddles more than 40 ski runs and three snow basins, encompassing Harbin Ice and Snow World, Yuquan Ski Resort, Wujimi Ski Resort, Yueliang Wan (Moon Bay) Ski Resort and Erlongshan Ski Resort.
Heilongjiang province has made a strong push in recent years to promote its nascent ski industry, with the Yabuli Ski Resort, near Harbin, investing US$100 million in upgrades and reaching out to foreign and domestic Chinese tourists alike. Though the Heilongjiang ski industry has so far seen mixed results, following the recent opening of Club Med's first resort in China at Yabuli, the region looks set to attract more upwardly mobile Chinese to strap on skis for the first time. At this year's Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, look for Yabuli's 18 slopes to play host to a series of alpine skiing competitions.
In addition to skiing, hockey and ice sculpture, another popular draw should be the festival's tie-in with Disney, which will see the creation of the largest Disneyland built from ice and snow. This isn't the first time Disney has teamed up with the festival, having sponsored a similar "ice park" last year. We'll have to wait and see whether the draw of Disneyland and Yabuli are enough to entice more tourists to head north in China this year, or whether the harsh Siberian weather proves too much to bear.