In the 1990s, there were virtually no ski hills in China, but by 2016 there are 568. The sport of skiing is just starting to take off with the middle class in China. For thousands of years, a hunter/gatherer type of skiing was used in the Altai Mountains, where the borders of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia converge.
Sadly, this type of skiing is on the verge of being lost forever, while it’s modern counterpart is on the rise.
In this short ski/adventure film, Jordan Manley travels with fellow skiers Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots as they explore the current ski scene in China, and go back in history to the birthplace of skiing in China.
The film begins with aerial shots of empty mountains, and transitions into shots of a packed Chinese cityscape full of buildings, with text accompanying the images:
“By 2025, the Chinese government plans to move 250 million rural people from farms into cities. 1 in every 8 people on the planet will live in a Chinese city.”
The filmmakers land in Beijing, and catch a packed train and a taxi as they make their way out of the city to ski. We hear from China’s first ski champion, Shan Zhaojian, about the first time he made a pair of skis out of grass and poured water on them to freeze.
He also mentioned that when he first skied, there wasn’t any resorts or leisure activities. The closest thing for leisure at that time was collecting wood in the mountains for firewood.
In an epic shot, Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots are perched on the top of Mount Baekdu, an active volcano believed to be sacred and used to propagate myths about the former ruler of North Korea.
Then they visit Chongli, a 2022 winter Olympic venue. The majority of ski resorts, such as the one at Chongli, depend upon artificial snow. At Jackson Hole, about two hours north of Beijing, they visit the Nanshan Ski Resort, where their guide tells them:
“If you have difficulty breathing because of the smog, it will be better if you ski.”
Finally, they take a long journey to the Altai Mountains and the village of Khom. It is here that they discover the birthplace of skiing in China. They meet a semi-nomadic group of ancient skiers who carry Chinese ID cards, but introduce themselves as either Kazakh, Tuija, or Mongol.
The narrator Jordan comments:
“They are living connections to the oldest human transportation technologies.”
At the base of the Altai Mountains, they are led to a cave with artwork depicting life 1,000 years ago – a life that depicted men hunting animals on what looks like skis.
The locals say the ski was their ancestors tool for hunting. Tragically, the men in the village are not allowed to cut down trees to make skis. They are forced to find dead wood instead.
Around the same time the first ski resorts began to appear in China, hunting and trapping were outlawed by the Chinese government. Jordan Manley says:
“In the village of Kohm, the tradition of hunting with skis is just a memory now.”
In the film, villagers make skis from dead wood and hair from a horse’s leg. The locals reflect on the future of their tradition as siblings move to the city and as new technologies are introduced.
One of the locals named Murgal worries that in 10, 20, or 30 years, the ancient ski culture will be forgotten.
“If ancient ski is not taught to the next generation, it will be forgotten. We grew up in the mountains, our ancestors of thousands of years lived like that here, and we continue it.”
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