CHINA’S BONER FOR SNOWBOARDING | FEAT. THE BRUNERS



By William Fraser | [o] Photos by Joseph Roby

China has the potential to be a serious player in snowboarding’s future. It’s a massive and somewhat undefined market wanting to be developed. Since the mid ’90s, they have been pushing for it. And, in light of taking the 2022 Winter Olympics bid form Almay, Kazakhstan, China has been haulin’ ass trying to become a winter sports haven. It’s nuts. In the mid ’90s there were fewer than 10,000 skier visits and only 11 resorts. Now there are 703 resorts and a reported 17.5 million skier visits in 2017! Build it and they will come.

At least you hope they will come. Those numbers seem really impressive, and from a development perspective, I’m sure they are. But China is also a very, very interesting place. Why? Well, although some of those hills are busy with people, others are straight up empty, like walking through a mall after hours. It’s eerie and makes you question where the money to build these hills is coming from. How can they build places like this and just have them sit?

But that’s not even the half of it. China has whole cities that sit empty. Cities that were make-work projects developed for two reasons: 1. Stimulate the economy by providing jobs, and 2. centralize healthcare and education. Because, apart from China’s lofty Olympic goals, it has been building cities in the hope of being able to move 100 million people from rural areas into these cities by 2020. To put that number into perspective, Canada has only 36.7 million people living in the whole country! All this to say, it’s a totally different world over there. They are down to build things, ski hills included. Doug Sharpe, Darcy Sharpe’s brother, who has been living and working at resorts in China for eight years, calls it, “The wild, wild west.”

You could say that if there are 703 resorts in China, but many are not being used, does it really matter? That’s like having eight Nintendo 64’s but only ever using one. However, vacancy is absolutely not the case for many resorts, especially the newer ones that were built close to cities. China and private companies have been putting a lot of man hours into being ready for the Olympics. Actually, according to President Xi Jinping, being “ready” isn’t even the right word. He said that his country won’t just be “ready,” but that he will turn 300 million of his people into winter sports enthusiasts and have 800 operational ski areas before the torch arrives.

Quick math, that means building 97 more resorts in four years.

China is going to be a winter sports mecca, and potentially a very strong force to reckon with. Hills in China are recruiting people all over the world to work as groomers, instructors, and park crew. Last year, The Bruners spent two weeks over there promoting a resort. That’s right, the resort was willing to fly them out there, put them up, all-inclusive style, to hype the place up. Here’s a little of their perspective.

Food is not very good, it’s not like Japan.” —Joseph Roby, Bruners photographer.

Deep.

Axel Stall, Fastplant

But in all seriousness, the Bruners were hired to promote Tiger Ridge Resort, located in Northeast China. They showed up for contests, road the park, and generally gave people a perspective on Western snowboarding. Although it was definitely icy, a little windy, and a majority of the snow was man-made, it sounded like a pretty awesome gig and great experience. They were hired by a guy named Dan, a Canadian, who is the GM of Tiger Ridge and also helps produce Fix Bindings and Public Snowboards out of Asia. When the Bruners arrived, they said it was like another world. So foreign. But also so full of flattery. Roby said, “White people on a snowboard are like superstars over there. Everyone wants to take a picture with you, even though you won’t be able to understand a word they say. I’d say everyone is just stoked. You say hi to everybody at the resort, give a lot of hi-fives and a lot of thumbs up.”

Most people in China have never met a western snowboarder, so when they do, it’s rad. Not to mention, in the Bruners case, the resort also had a massive movie-theatre-like screen with the The Bruners Video 2 playing on repeat for the two weeks they were there. Pretty awesome.


Marc-Andre Seguin, Ollie

In China, you can’t just access websites like YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram, so getting your video playing at a resort on repeat is a win. The Chinese government makes it very hard for its people, and visitors, to get outside of their country’s internet silo. To do so, you have to download what’s called a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. What a VPN does is allow you to get behind what some people call China’s second Great Wall, their firewall. Unlike the Great Wall, which was built to keep barbarians out, this wall blocks access to foreign websites. It is the largest system of censorship in the world! This censorship makes it hard for Chinese boarders to get outside inspiration, which is another reason why resorts are bringing people over and holding contests; they want to show people how snowboarding can be done.

The silencing caused by the great firewall also makes some pretty funny snowboard trends pop up in China. For example, like five years ago, so many Chinese snowboarders were diehard XXXL Technine fans, when pretty much no one in the West was. And, right now, so many of them are into Snowboard Addiction and its tall style. A fad that died years ago in Canada. But those companies become popular because somehow they slip through the firewall cracks, and once they do, they seem important. It’s kinda like when you’re a kid and your parent finally lets you watch the Spider Man movie you’ve been dying to see. It becomes the most important thing, and you start spraying invisible webs and wearing red and climbing walls… Like most of us, Chinese boarders wanna be exposed to what’s cool, but their censorship laws can make that hard. And, if it’s cool, that usually means it’s expensive.

Seb Picard, Layback

Snowboarding in China is pricey. China is home to one of the most expensive resorts in the world, coming in at about $140/day, Canadian! That’s right, no matter where you go, ticket prices suck. We’re all being straight up universally robbed. But it gets worse. In China you don’t often pay less than $800 for a new board, and usually new doesn’t even mean it’s this year’s model. It means it’s three years old, but never ridden. A hard pill to swallow for a westerner. Less hard, however, for our pals out East.

Not long ago, China was under communist rule. That meant that there were no real class distinctions. Everyone was, theoretically, equal. However, since China’s shift from Communism into Capitalism, or what they call Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, in 1978, people have been able to accumulate wealth for the first time in a long time. So, materialism, and the expression of wealth, i.e., ballin’ out, has a different meaning there. Unlike in the West, people living in China haven’t been able to frivolously purchase goods for the sake of self-expression. This makes being able to buy things and show them off important to them. It’s part of what’s called “face,” and snowboarding is good because it creates face. When you buy an $800 board or get new gear every year, it makes you look rich. It distinguishes you. That’s why if you go to China, you’ll see chairlifts full of people wearing newer gear than you.

Seb Picard

In some way, this may mean that China’s current interest in snowboarding could be short-lived, like an Olympics fad. But, if it holds out, the 1.38 billion people in China could open up a really big market and change how we do business in the West.

Public is a rad example in this case. We all know that it is the sickest company, and that Joe Sexton’s part was so damn good this year. But we also all know that his company will never beat out Burton or Nitro or Salomon in sales. It will most likely remain a niche product that makes great boards but may never make any real money. However, when The Bruners were in China, they noticed that Public and Fix made up the rental fleet, which is amazing. Why? Well, imagine if Public was able to catch some legs in China. Imagine if it even was a little popular, while remaining the same size in Canada. With this outside cash, it could be able to be a niche board for boarders, and have some money to pay team members, travel, and throw a couple contests. Which would be a win for snowboarding.

Marc-Andre Seguin, Axel Stall, Seb Picard, Party Time

All and all, China is so unique, and so untapped, and so in love with boarding. There is no other country in the world putting as much effort into winter sports. I mean, they literally just built the world’s largest indoor ski resort, last year, and they already have plans to trump that with a building that’s almost 1 million square feet in size. It’s ruthless. But that’s all part of the plan to make 300 million snow sport enthusiasts and 800 resorts by 2022.

Axel Stall


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