China has a ton of high mountains and it is just a matter of time before someone develops a world class resort. Ping Tian Resort located about 1 hour's drive from Urumqi, the capital of China's westernmost province, XinJiang, could be it.
The Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountains) range is one of most picturesque ranges in China and compares favorably to any range in the Rockies or Alps. To see first hand, we traveled to Urumqi in May to trek the mountains and visit the Ping Tian site.
Ping Tian is surrounded by 13,000' peaks and ridges and is an area of year round snow cover in the highest elevations. Unfortunately, the top of the ski mountain is at about the bottom of the continuing snow cover elevation so it will rely on seasonal snow and snow making for cover. The Tian Shan mountains divide two great deserts, the Taklamakan and the Gobi. Its western and northern slopes and peaks wring out whatever moisture comes down from Siberia. Ping Tian is located within this band and will thus get snowfall even though the general region is one of the driest in China. However, it is questionable whether the deep snows and off-piste adventuring that make the Rockies and the Alps world class will be consistently available. In addition, it is located at about the same latitude as the northeastern China resorts. This means it will be cold, in the -20 to -30 C range for a good part of its season. However, with a dry climate, lots of sun and limited wind, this might not matter, but, as such, it will still require good clothing and protection.
Development at Ping Tian will be staged over several years. For the 2008-2009 first winter season 5 lifts are planned. These will service both the lower beginner/intermediate terrain and the upper intermediate/advanced terrain. Trail cutting and lift and services installations are expected to commence soon and continue through the winter and into 2008 with an opening by December. For the first year, the first phase of the alpine village will be open with lodging and ancillary services. As an alternative you can stay in Urumqi and take a shuttle the 1 hour each way to the slopes. By the second year, you should expect to see what looks like a real alpine village in place with full services and accommodation in at least one flagship hotel.
The other aspect of Ping Tian is its marketing focus. It is generally assumed that a Chinese ski resort must attract Chinese skiers to be successful. Whether they will travel to Xinjiang will remain to be seen. However, unlike the other major Chinese ski resorts, Ping Tian incorporates a Western style real estate development and Alpine village that will appeal to both Ex-Pats and affluent Chinese. With the potential for first class golf courses and other year round amenities, Ping Tian might just become enough of a destination resort area to attract non-Chinese in sufficient numbers to be viable without a large Chinese only skier base.
Even though it is located very far from most people's idea of a China itinerary, getting there should not be difficult. Urumqi is a city of 3 million with a new air port and growing tourist base. There are 11 flights per day from Beijing (5 hours, $100 - $160 each way) and 6 from Shanghai (7 hours, $140 - $220 each way) so it is about like being in NY and wanting to go skiing in Colorado. Not a big issue if the skiing is good enough.