How Alpine après-ski culture is wooing Chinese skiers

    As China’s love for ski and snow sports grows, could après-ski culture provide an opportunity for brands?
    The Hoadl-Haus restaurant at Axamer Lizum ski resort in Innsbruck, Austria, offers stunning vistas for the après-ski crowd. Photo: Jing Daily
    Jason WangAuthor
      Published   in Lifestyle

    Two years ago, Hangzhou-native Sujia Qian embarked on her maiden ski trip to Austria with little knowledge of the renowned Alpine slopes. Her holiday took an unexpected turn when she experienced après-ski culture for the first time, forever intertwining it with her experience of skiing.

    The 36-year-old found herself captivated by the lively and convivial atmosphere at her first après-ski. That transition from the exhilaration of the slopes to the cozy gatherings and vibrant festivities of après-ski culture became an essential part of her skiing adventures.

    “To me, après-ski is more than just unwinding after a day on the slopes; it's a celebration of camaraderie, relaxation, and the mountain lifestyle,” she says of the warmth and hospitality she encountered mingling with fellow skiers and locals.

    The rustic taverns and mountainside lodges came alive with laughter, music, and the clinking of glasses, creating an ambiance that was both festive and welcoming.

    “I could not think of a better way to finish a day on the slopes,” she adds.

    DJs spin the tunes at Hohenhaus Tenne, one of Austria's liveliest après-ski venues. Photo: Ski Amade
    DJs spin the tunes at Hohenhaus Tenne, one of Austria's liveliest après-ski venues. Photo: Ski Amade

    A cherished tradition#

    Après-ski, a term originating from French, translates to "after ski" and embodies a cherished tradition among winter sports enthusiasts worldwide. It encapsulates the vibrant social scene that unfolds after a day of skiing or snowboarding, marking the transition from exhilarating mountain adventures to lively après-ski festivities.

    Rooted in alpine culture, après-ski has evolved into a celebrated ritual that combines relaxation, camaraderie, and indulgence against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks. As the sun begins its descent, skiers and snowboarders return from the slopes to gather at mountainside lodges, chalets, or rustic huts to socialize and unwind. The essence of après-ski lies in its convivial atmosphere, where friends and strangers alike come together to share stories of their mountain conquests over steaming mugs of mulled wine, or frothy pints of beer.

    Benjamin Jarz, manager of Hohenhaus Tenne, Austria's largest après-ski venue, emphasizes the role of music in creating the lively atmosphere essential to après-ski culture.

    He highlights the importance of DJs in animating crowds and the significance of familiar, easy-to-sing lyrics in songs played, spanning Austrian, German, and English tunes.

    “I think what distinguishes Austrian après-ski from other ski regions like those in France or Switzerland, is its intimate, traditional yet modern atmosphere, characterized by cozy huts and a welcoming ambiance,” Jarz says. He stresses the importance of people who enjoy après-ski fostering its vibrant culture, contrasting it with family-oriented ski areas that lack such offerings.

    Contrary to the stereotype, Jarz says après-ski is not solely about indulgence, or excessive drinking, but also serves as a platform for social interaction. Après-ski activities are melting pots of diverse individuals, where ski attire is the norm and everyone comes together to relax and enjoy themselves.

    Christian Steiner, co-owner of the mountain hut restaurant Sepp in Schladming, Austria, takes a unique approach to après-ski, drawing parallels to a beach club atmosphere with house music. He describes it as “like a beach club on the mountain.”

    Highlighting the social aspect of après-ski, Steiner underlines the opportunity to connect with others and forge new friendships: "It’s about meeting with other people, making new friends ... I think this is the sort of mindset you have after a couple of beers."

    Steiner attributes the essence of Austrian après-ski to the country's warm hospitality and welcoming culture. He believes it's more about the overall lifestyle and the inherent hospitality ingrained in Austrian culture.

    Ski pop-ups and brand innovations#

    In China, brands are leveraging emerging consumer trends and preferences through innovative lifestyle activations, including ski pop-ups. Dior, for instance, epitomized this strategy by unveiling a ski pop-up store at the esteemed Lake Songhua Seibu Prince Hotel in Jinling province, China, in January 2023.

    The creation of this ice-sculpted store resonated with local customs, echoing a traditional practice observed in Northern China during the winter months. Similarly, Fendi engaged consumers by launching its Winter Sports Capsule Collection pop-up space at The Westin Changbaishan from December 2021 to February 2022. Concurrently, Fendi expanded its presence by establishing a Fendi Café atop the Changbaishan Wandan Ski Resort.

    These activations underscore brands’ dedication to innovation and experiential marketing, and also cater to the burgeoning interest in ski and snow sports among Chinese consumers.

    Mark Thomas, managing director of S2M Consulting, a China-focused sports event company, sees opportunities for the country’s greater integration into the global skiing and snowboarding scene.

    He notes that international and domestic sports brands have expanded their lifestyle and luxury product lines, which can boost profit margins.

    Thomas points to Anta’s acquisition of Amer Sports, which provided the former with a range of international outdoor sports brands, such as Salomon, Atomic, and Arc’teryx. This strategy is evident in the recent announcement of Anta funding Salomon as a major partner of the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics.

    Looking ahead, Christoph Eisinger, managing director of Ski Amade ski region near Salzburg, Austria, says: “As more Chinese visitors embrace skiing in Europe, après-ski will become an integral part of their ski lifestyle and culture.”

    “It is more a certain ski- lifestyle and -culture that makes the skiing experience in Europe so special,” he adds.

    As for Qian, after more than two years of skiing in the Alps and immersing herself in après-ski culture, she feels comfortable discussing the topic with her European friends, bridging cultures through shared ski experiences.

    • Hangzhou-native Sujia Qian's first ski trip to Austria introduced her to the vibrant and welcoming culture of après-ski, making it an essential part of her skiing experience due to its atmosphere of camaraderie and relaxation.
    • Après-ski, translating to "after ski," is a cherished tradition in alpine culture, involving social gatherings at mountainside lodges or chalets to unwind after a day on the slopes, marked by music, food, and drinks.
    • Austrian après-ski is distinguished by its intimate and traditional yet modern ambiance, focusing on music, social interaction, and a welcoming atmosphere rather than mere indulgence or excessive drinking.
    • For brands aiming to connect with the evolving market, leveraging ski and snow sports through innovative lifestyle activations, such as Dior's ice-sculpted ski pop-up in China, can tap into consumer interest and drive engagement in luxury and outdoor sports sectors.
    • As Chinese consumers' interest in skiing and après-ski culture grows, there is potential for greater integration into the global skiing scene, with Europe's ski lifestyle and culture offering a unique experience that could attract more visitors and influence future trends in the ski and après-ski sectors.
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